Today we went to get new school shoes. Something that Elliot and Bennett hate, and Sawyer and I LOVE. Shoe shopping? Hello? Does anything get better than that, I think not.
We have a bit of a history with shoes, Sawyer and I. So I’m always trying to be very present and very aware while we are doing it.
I watch his body language. Study his face. Watch where he is pulled to and where he ultimately ends up going.
As we walked toward the shoe section, I was keenly aware that we would be passing the “girls” racks before we got to those intended for “boys.”
As we walked past the rack with the killer pink, purple, sparkle, and metallics, I watched Sawyer’s face.
He lit up. His little body instinctively moved towards him, but he caught himself every time, and kept walking by toward the “boy” section.
I asked multiple times if he’d like to stop, if there was anything he’d like to check out or try on, but he remained shy to let loose. And so, he made his way to the “boy section.”
Shoe after shoe. Style after style. The process was the same. Slip them on, walk around, and then, when asked what he thought, he would shrug his little shoulders and say, “They’re okay, I guess.”
No excitement. No energy. Just existence in a space he wasn’t happy in. And every time I watched his reactions, drew myself a little closer to his eyes, I was struck by how early we are taught who we are and are not supposed to be. What is made for us and what is not. What we are permitted to find appealing and what we are not.
And this is a kid who comes from a home where this isn’t “a thing.”
Colors aren’t gendered.
Glitter isn’t off limits.
And there is never a time when he’s not permitted to be fully and wholly himself.
Yet here we stand. Trained. Conditioned. Unhappy in the middle of the shoe aisle. Being who we are not.
As I watched him, a line I had recently read from Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed rang clearer and clearer in my mind:
“Ten is when we learn to be good girls and real boys. Ten is when children begin to hide who they are in order to become what the world expects them to be. Right around ten is when we begin to internalize our formal taming.”
He was being tamed. And I was letting it happen. So, I said, “Wait here just one second, buddy,” and I took my tear filled eyes around the corner.
As I walked, the internalized narrative I had been taught by the world flickered in my mind:
“What if he gets made fun of?”
“What if his friends don’t understand?”
“What if the world crushes him?”
“Maybe we should just stick with the boy shoes?”
But this time, I let another voice speak louder.
What if he thinks I’m taming him?
And that was enough for me. I can help him if kids are cruel, I can help him if people break his heart, I can teach the world one little rebellion at a time. But what I can’t do is be the one who tames him.
So, with that, I found the sparkly, holographic high tops he’s had his eyes on and I prayed they had his size.
Then, I scooped them up and walked around the corner … “Look what they have in your size, Bear!”
Then it came. All the good stuff.
THE EXHALE. The powerful release from holding his breath. The profound freedom that came with feeling validated and really SEEN.
We tossed those suckers in the cart faster than you can imagine and ended up even getting a second pair of pink and black shoes to use indoors. Then, we happily collected the rest of our items at Walmart with him excited to get home because “he knows a shirt and tie that will go perfect with them.” And my heart was happy.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s not about the shoes. It’s about challenging the narratives that the world has ingrained in us. It’s about challenging the status quo and being who we are instead of who the world thinks we should be.
It’s about showing our children the power of knowing oneself fully and completely and providing the space and the freedom for them to be exactly who they are.
In the new The Chicks song, “Young Man,” there is a line that says “You’re of me, not mine. Walk your own crooked line. It’s gonna be alright.”
That’s my job. He’s of me, not mine. And my job is to ensure that there is never a moment of question about whether his mom and dad have his back. And it is to — one small rebellion at a time — show him he is not here to be what the world wants, but instead to walk his own crooked line, to wherever the happiness lies.
Period. Full stop.