A MOTHER and daughter went shoe shopping. Only one of us left with a bag, and it wasn’t because nothing fit my mom’s style.
It had happened before, although I never thought about it. She’d take me to the one store in town that sold name-brand athletic equipment, and I’d pick out soccer cleats or trail running shoes. She would set a price limit before we walked in the door, but sometimes fudged it even though she knew I would outgrow the pair within a year.
That day, I had been selected for the Wyoming U14 Olympic Development Team, playing up as a 12 year old. In a few months, I would be trying out for the regional squad in front of college scouts and youth Olympic team coaches. Even those players selected for the regional squad without a call up to national tryouts would travel to Costa Rica for an international match.
I was ecstatic. I also needed new cleats.
My toes curled slightly in my current pair, which had old-school, round plastic studs. My friends wore shoes with oval spikes to reduce abnormal forces on the knees, lace guards for a cleaner strike, and ultralight synthetic materials to run faster. Then there was the cool factor. My pair were an ugly black-and-maroon. I was a tomboy with stunted fashion sense, but even I knew that neon orange and “mystic blue” cleats were way cooler.
Just to be different from all my friends who swore by Nike’s Mercurial Vapor line, I chose to be an Adidas girl. There on the wall was the perfect pair for me: bright white calf leather, an embossed lace guard and oval spikes in bright red — the color of my team. $175. Twice as much as the other Adidas pair in a dull black.
“I know these are outside the limit,” I remember telling Mom before leveraging the prevent-a-knee-injury angle, which I don’t think she bought.
“Let me do some math,” she said.
As she used her phone’s calculator to crunch numbers, I tried to stomach the idea of wearing the cheaper pair. A dull black. Round studs. Nothing special for what I hoped would be a special summer. I imagined it would start my rise out of small-town Wyoming into the sightline of big college coaches and maybe even include watching the sun set on a Costa Rican beach.
“Ma’am,” I heard the clerk say to my mother. “Are you buying shoes today, too?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, chuckling. “Not when my kids outgrow theirs so fast.”
The clerk persisted.
“Are you on your feet a lot?” he asked. I started to listen closer, still facing the wall of cleats a few feet away.
My mom raised us on her own after the divorce. My dad moved more than thousand miles away. Although she was a gifted florist that once had unlimited budgets to decorate Phoenix mansions for Christmas balls, she had started cleaning houses so that she could set her own schedule, working during school or while we were at practices. Some nights, my brother and I did our homework in office lobbies while she gathered trash bags, or in the car while she swept up a welding shop. We earned spending money by dusting oak armoires, oiling the rails of a grand staircase and polishing silverware. As a cleaner, she figured she could still be there for games and concerts, like a normal parent. She could still take us to church on Sundays and volunteer to run a free daycare once a week so other mothers could have some time alone to do shopping, get a haircut or take a nap.
My mom didn’t need to answer for the clerk to know she worked long hours.
“When was the last time you bought new shoes?” he asked, pulling one off her foot before she could protest.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” she said, pausing to remember. “I think I bought these when Scott started first grade. So four years ago?”
My gut shriveled.
I looked out of the corner of my eye as I feigned interest in a blue pair of Lottos. It was the first time I remembered looking at my mom’s shoes.
The sole had worn through to the stained white foam on most of her heel. The grippy pattern was erased to a smooth surface on what remained of the rubber.
That meant my mother was at risk for slipping, the clerk said.
The Walmart-brand tennis shoe did not sit flat on the ground. It leaned. The result of favoring one side of the foot.
That meant my mother could experience knee, hip and back pain from the way it misaligned her bones as she walked.
The cloth sides were misshapen and soft.
That meant my mother did not have the proper support to guard against an ankle sprain.
The clerk pushed three fingers through a gash on the side.
“I bet your socks get wet when snow gets in here,” he said, jokingly.
“I carry an extra pair in my purse,” my mom answered.
“You really need new shoes,” he said, reaching for a pair of cross trainers on the wall.
“Not today,” she said.
When? I wondered.
“We’re just here for cleats.”
I wiped tears from my eyes. I stopped thinking about how much faster I would run with cleats that weighed 6 ounces rather than 10. For the first time in my life, I did some mental math on the dent my dream shoes would put into the $900 a month my mom earned before child support. It would effectively wipe out the $200 a month sent by my dad.
“Get some shoes,” I told her.
“No, I’m okay, honey,” she insisted. “I would rather you get the cleats you need.”
[“source – houstonchronicle.com”]