When my fashionista daughter got a $40 gift card to DSW for her 13th birthday, I knew the stage had been set for battle. We had been arguing over the “appropriateness” of sky-high heels for two years already. She was pro; I was con.
A few weeks later, our trek to DSW for back-to-school tennis shoes started out serenely enough. Avy quickly picked out a pair of Nikes. My husband and son, also in tow, naively headed toward the cash register.
Not so fast, guys.
A quick search of the store found Avy sprawled on the floor in the clearance section, tenderly strapping on five-inch, slingback cork wedge sandals with thick black straps, shiny gold buckles, and a small round peep toe.
“Do not say anything!” my daughter grinned mischievously when she spotted me above her, a dreamy expression plastered across her face. Resisting the urge to put out my hand to assist her, I watched as she carefully stood and edged toward the full-length mirror, where the preening began.
This wasn’t our first brush with the land of towering heels. When Avy was 11, for Christmas, my sister-in-law wrapped up a pair of shiny black 6-inch peep-toe stilettos that her daughter had been enthralled with at Avy’s age.
By the look on my daughter’s face, you’d have thought there were a dozen puppies stuffed into that shoebox. My husband shot me a “WTF?!” look — a look that failed to evaporate when I confessed I’d pre-approved the gift.
“OMG! I love them! I look amazing!” Avy declared the next afternoon as she clicked across our hardwood floors in her new kicks. “I’m wearing these out to dinner tonight!”
“No you’re not,” my husband and I chorused in response.
“Give me three good reasons why not!” our master-negotiator-since-birth retorted.
“They’re just not…appropriate,” my husband and I harmonized, pointing out the risk of broken ankles and ripped tendons. When that argument failed miserably, we found ourselves tossing out words like “cheap,” “easy,” and “wrong impression” — even explaining about “ladies of the night,” for god’s sake.
Honestly, I felt conflicted myself. While I certainly did not want my preteen leaving the house in stripper heels, I was having trouble making a solid case against it. She wasn’t going out naked. It wasn’t illegal. They were simply high heels, right?
Ultimately, I gave our daughter the go-ahead, after my husband ceded the decision to me. And she did wear them out of the house. Twice — once out to dinner, and once to see a play in the city.
On both occasions, she got a few quizzical looks. Mostly, though, she got kindhearted comments from grown women who enjoyed her spirit, admired her confidence, and who commiserated and agreed when she admitted the shoes were a bit painful — but totally worth it.
Two years later, back in that clearance aisle at DSW, my husband asked me, “Are you really going to let her buy those?” Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I chose not to reply, and he walked out of the store.
As I explained to my husband later, I told Avy yes because I saw the look on our daughter’s face as she preened in that full-length mirror. She was gazing at her face, not her feet. She was seeing her future all-grown-up self, anticipating all the possibilities on her horizon. She was brimming with confidence, reveling in her own beauty.
I said yes because, for several years, Avy has been lamenting how much she hates being too old for the little kids’ fun stuff, but too young for the grown-ups’ fun stuff. Somehow those cork wedges give her hope that she won’t be stuck in limbo forever.
I said yes because it was her birthday money, and she has to be allowed to make her own choices.
I will admit that walking around the mall beside my 13-year-old in 5-inch platforms makes me a little self-conscious. Part of me wonders what the other moms are thinking, and if they’re judging me for letting my daughter strut around in shockingly high shoes.
On the flip side, Avy knows her sandals are a bit inappropriate, but she’s always prided herself on going against the flow. (She steadfastly refused to read the Harry Potter series just because everyone else was so enthralled with it.)
Here’s the best part: Moseying along beside my suddenly 5-foot-10-inch teenager, we can’t help but giggle as she occasionally reaches for my shoulder to steady her gate. I try to keep a straight face as she throws her arm around my shoulder — over my shoulder, to be precise — and when I roll my eyes, she laughs and so do I.
We both understand all the subtexts at play — how outrageous it is in one sense, and how utterly meaningless it is in another. And it brings this mom and this teenage girl even closer.