“All we can do is walk with our children.” – jnb 5.10.12

One should never underestimate the power of comfortable shoes. They are an essential tool in getting us from point A to point B. Shoes need to possess everlasting powers of not only conveyance, but of strength and fortitude as they are the basis for the one certainty of parenting: our ability to walk with our children.

Up until now, I have never had a favorite quote, yet the power of those nine words – all we can do is walk with our children – and the headiness of their quote-worthiness increases exponentially the longer I reflect upon them. As they were spoken, I literally felt my ear-high shoulders drop down just that much closer to their proper location. Something clicked in my brain which felt like slipping on a pair of well-worn shoes. Growing up, my parents always told my brothers and me that it is not what you say, rather how you say it. As a parent myself, I would embrace and, further, elaborate and add to the importance of those words by also taking into account who is doing the “saying”.

It was during an emotional (is there any other kind?) discussion with Jessie’s therapist, one during which I was feeling particularly vulnerable and failure-laden, that he said it: first in the context of his role as a therapist and then, and perhaps more poignantly, in the context of my role as a parent. All we can do is walk with our children.

It begins when they are just several months old and take those first tentative steps, excitedly reach for the counter only to yank to the ground the vase of flowers that were intended to brighten your day but instead make a gigantic mess. It is incredible to watch them pull themselves up by whatever means possible and to toddle over to whatever destination they choose, with us at the ready to catch them when they trip, tumble or head toward danger. Those early days we may be barefoot, or perhaps in slippers as we are so consciously aiding in their steps. Creature comforts go a long way in those early years and having agreeable footwear only aids in the game.

As the years go by and the obstacle course becomes more complex, the urge to steer (as opposed to accompany) them has to be stifled a bit in the quest for independence that is vitally important (and frightening) to expound. With my kids, it was not long before walking with them proved impossible. I vividly recall being at our local Stride Rite store, in the midst of paying (too much) for shoes for Harrison, my wallet perched on the counter, when I was forced to kick off my own sandals in order to dash out into the hallway to catch my sprinter before he headed down the escalator or, worse, hopped over the railing just so he could see what would happen. In hindsight, I realize I was merely “walking with my child”, but at the time, I had a few other thoughts running through my head: like vowing to never go to the mall with a child under eighteen ever again. It turned out okay, though: I caught, stopped and returned him to the store to delightfully discover that neither my shoes nor my wallet had been abducted. Thankfully, the other moms were too busy walking alongside their own children to even notice my quick workout. Someone was looking over me when I chose my shoes that morning…while I was ill-equipped to run in them, it was easy enough to escape their confines and do what I needed to do: save my kid from a mall mishap of some sort.

Perhaps this sheds some light on why so many women, I among them, have a deep love, desire and need for excessive shoe ownership. Since our primary goal as a parent is to walk with our children, we truly need to be prepared for every conceivable (and, inconceivable, for that matter) situation that may arise. Some of the walks are leisurely and can be done in flip-flops. Others are more brisk requiring a halfway decent pair of Nikes. Still others require boots, picks and rappels. And then there are the times when you are pedicured-up in flip flops but truly need Timberlands. It happens to all of us and may, in some deep psychological way, having the perfect shoes may well be a part of our desire for preparedness.

So I am here to say, that we should all embrace our love of shoes – be they from TJ Maxx or Saks – since they are the groundwork from which we are able to walk with our children. It should be noted, as well, that truly comfortable shoes all but elude me thanks to a huge benign tumor in my foot. Coincidence? Methinks not.

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