if the shoe fits
27 September 1999
Damian’s walking really well now, although it obviously takes tremendous concentration -- if he’s tired, he’ll fall on his diaper-cushioned butt after a few steps, but if not: go get ‘em boy!

He often insists on training wheels; he grabs for my hands. So I walk behind him holding both his hands while he strides forward with utter confidence, sometimes at a near run.

On his own, he’s a lot more tentative, his posture shouts out: "I’m gonna try this but I really don’t know what I’m doing here, guys." And once he’s reached his destination he grabs onto chair, ottoman, doorknob -- anything to steady himself in the "whew, I made it!" of a marathoner at the finish line. Reminds me of myself when I touch the far wall of an Olympic length lap pool. "Can’t believe I came all that distance! Can I rest for a while, say a year or two?"

He’s probably walking about half the time these days. He’s discovered that it’s easier, more efficient and -- the best part -- he can hold toys while he walks instead of sliding them across the floor while he crawls. Besides, crawling hurts your knees.

I find it so fascinating to watch the transition (transformation?). Like most things in life, when you hear about it in the abstract, it sounds like one day he crawled, the next he walked. But it just ain’t so. Not with walking or talking or becoming a professional writer. About the only abrupt transitions in life are marriage -- "I now pronounce you" linked in law and society -- and birth -- your kid is outside your body now, not inside. Say hello to your brand new son. I guess death too: the heart stops. Everything else is gradual, one small step and then another, and you feel more comfortable on two limbs rather than scooting along on four, and one day you need shoes.


We went shoe shopping yesterday.

First stop: Baby Gap. They have two choices: nerdy looking little tennies just calling out for miniature tube socks and stretchy pants; and soft felt winter booties with fake fur lining. Very cozy and totally adorable. I drove Dan and my mom nuts last winter running around to THREE different Baby Gaps in horrendous post-holiday mall traffic snarls trying to snag a pair for Damian before we headed to the Bay Area for New Years. But that was before he could even crawl, let alone walk. Now they’re hardly practical. So the tennies are a possibility, but I’d wince every time I saw him wearing them. Let’s call them Plan B. No, Plan Z.

Second stop: Foot Locker. (Sounds nuts, right? Well, we tried the little person’s store, that didn’t work. Why not the grown people’s sneaker store?) Turns out they have toddler versions of everything. You want Air Jordans for a one year old? No problem. Pumas? Check. Reeboks? Yup. For forty bucks a pop, they cost as much as mommy and daddy sneakers. I don't know, I think he’s a mite too young for a baby round of hoops or a jog around the Hollywood Reservoir. Just a hunch. We found some on sale, though, and nabbed a twenty year old punk salesman, who looked peeved about it all.

Him, bored: "What size?"

Us, incredulous: "How would we know? It’s his first pair of shoes."

Him, seeing an easy out: "I can’t get a pair of shoes without a size."

Us, not letting him off the hook: "Don’t you have any way of finding out?" (IE: do your job, bozo.)

Him, dubiously: "There’s this." -- shoving one of those sliding measure foot doodads in our faces.

Us: "Okay, measure him."

Him: "No, you measure him."

I kid you not.

The guy acted like he’d get cooties if he touched Damian’s foot. So Dan stood Damian up on the device, I slid the rule in close.

"Uh, Five. I think. Or ten, if you look upside down. Does that sound right?" Ask a brick wall, you’re more likely to get a response.

Him, grudgingly admitting that he has to do his job after all: "Which ones did you want?"

Us: "The Pumas. They’re on sale for $20."

Him: "No, they’re not."

Us, showing him the tag inside the shoe: "See, it’s right here."

He went off, grumbling.

Came back, triumphant: "They don’t have fives in the Puma."

We sent him off to look for the other sale shoe. No fives in that either. It’s an anti-toddler conspiracy.

Time to get the pros involved. We asked at the information kiosk, turns out the Beverly Center has a children’s shoe store. Who’d have guessed?

It’s a small store but there are dozens of varieties of sneakers, soft shoes, dress shoes, and they’re all small. Big sigh of relief. Sneak a look at the price tags. Another big sigh, not relief this time. They’re as expensive as the Forboding Fetishist Foot Locker.

We went up to the (older, earthy) saleswoman.

"Do you have anything for, say, twenty bucks?"

"I’m sorry, no." Apologetic, not condescending: "This is an upscale sort of store."

We nodded, discouraged.

"Is it his first pair?"

Nod, smile. She smiled too. And went on to explain -- not a heavy duty sales pitch, much gentler -- that there are good reasons for the price point (which is absurdly high considering these shoes are going to fit a maximum of six months).

One: it takes as much labor for a small shoe as a big one. Granted. Still, though...

Two: Stride Rite, the ultimate baby shoe, I think it was my first shoe -- is specifically designed for beginner steps. The sole is flexible in the right way, stiff the other right way, and weighted just so. First steps tend to be flat-footed, clump clump clump, not heel-to-toe. The right shoes teach good walking form. Who knew? If we’d gone back for the Baby Gap nerd tennies, we could have scarred the kid for life.

Yeah, I’m a little skeptical too. But I’m a sucker for anything that’ll do right for my child. And it does make a kind of sense. A formative first shoe, if it’s balanced wrong, could teach bad posture, bad posture could lead to back problems. We’re starting a cascading chain of dominoes here. What’s forty bucks compared to that?

She knelt, measured his foot. Made googly eyes at him while she did so, in a friendly sort of "hello, I’m not going to bite you" way. Her verdict: five and a half. She slipped the shoes on, warning us that many kids don’t take to having their heretofore free and untrammeled feet bound in stiff leather boxes. So we played with Damian, distracting him from the operation at hand, and then suddenly there he was. Transformed: a small boy standing up in his brand new shoes. Very cute shoes: white leather sneakers with high tops for ankle support and rainbow colored shoelace holes and little trains decorating the sides. But still shoes and all they convey about moving in the crowd, walking into the street, on his own two feet out in the world.

I held his hands so he could try it out. He walked around the store, headed for the door. We walked out into the mall proper, he was delighted to see the bustle of a Sunday crowd from toddler height; directing the action, pointing the way for once instead of being nestled in the sling and passively going where mommy chooses.

Well, until I nixed the notion that it would be fun to go down the up escalator. He’s not quite old enough for that.

So we headed back in the store, paid for the new shoes. Then Damian walked a little more through the mall. When he wanted to get down on all fours and crawl, I scooped him up and popped him back in the sling. It was a funny feeling, those shoes bouncing against my hip. My baby, my toddler, my child all in one complex bundle of boy.

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