“Would you like to wear red shoes or blue shoes?” I ask my two-year old, dangling the options in front of him.
“Orange!” he chirps with a smile.
“Orange wasn’t a choice. Red or blue?”
The orange shoes: our family’s participation in the rampant Crocs trend. At some point during the summer, my son’s appreciation of them blossomed into a full-blown crush. No matter the weather, no matter the outfit, they are the only shoes he wants to wear.
On this particular morning, I make the choice for him, lacing on blue sneakers once he is trapped in his car seat. As soon as he comes home from daycare that evening, he makes a beeline to his true love. “Hi, orange shoes!” he coos. He’s thrilled to be reunited.
The next morning he issues a pre-emptive strike. Before I’ve even lifted him from the crib, he makes his wishes known.
“Orange!” he declares. “Shoes,” he carefully adds, making sure to close any possible loophole.
I appeal to the seasons. “Sweetie, the orange shoes are summer shoes. Summer is over. It is too cold to wear the orange shoes. Your feet will be cold.”
He considers that. “Socks,” he says firmly.
It’s not about the weather, of course. Autumn has only just begun, and he is right that socks with sandals (ack!) would keep him plenty warm. It’s about me—me and my vanity. In the summer sunshine the neon orange was cheerful and fun, the perfect finishing note to his brightly colored outfits. But with the sky turning grey and summer colors giving way to the drabness of fall, they’ve become a clear fashion liability. I worry what people will think of me. I want people to see my child in his affordable-yet-charming outfit and think I’m a good mom. A mom with taste and a touch of style. A mom whose child is always appropriately dressed. A mom who has her life (and her child) under control. A mom who doesn’t lose battles over a pair of shoes.
Before I became a parent, I said I would never quench my children’s creativity. I would encourage self-expression; I would never impose my own ideas. I would value them as individuals, not merely extensions of myself. I was also determined that they would always be impeccably dressed. I somehow never saw the obvious conflict headed my way.
I’m learning that becoming the parent I hope to be means not seeing every choice of his as a reflection on me. I want to be able to look at whatever weirdness and uniqueness and creativeness he comes up with in the coming years with an honest smile, saying, “That’s my son.” No matter what the rest of the world thinks. Letting him become whoever he wants to be means I must let go. And thanks to the inherent grace of parenting, I am allowed to start small. Tomorrow it may be going goth or bucking college to find himself. Today it’s just a tiny pair of mismatched orange shoes.
So on this day I tell him, “Of course you can wear the orange shoes.” We head off to the library for story time. It’s a windy, rainy day—coats have been pulled out of closets and sweaters donned. My son’s scuffed sandals get a few curious looks as we enter. I check my resolve.
At the end of the songs and stories, the children crowd around the librarian to have their hands stamped. I lose track of my son, his generic shirt and jeans blending in with all the rest. Then I think to look down. In an instant I find his cheerful orange feet working their way though the jumble of look-alike brown and blue shoes. I watch the orange shoes’ tiny dance of joy when his hand is stamped, see them turn to run back to me and jump into my arms. “That’s my son,” I think with a smile.
Maybe standing out isn’t such a bad thing after all.
*This post is my entry in the Write-Away Contest at Scribbit. The September 2008 theme is "Colors" and this memory seemed like just the right fit.*