the orange shoes lessons in parenting letting kids make decisions

The Orange Shoes

The Orange Shoes

We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up. We weren't poor exactly…

We were fed and clothed and took the yearly family road trip. But what we did buy we were stuck with for a while. There were no do-overs when it came to clothes or shoes.

I remember my dad taking me shopping because softball season was starting soon. Cleats were part of the required softball uniform and I am  sure that we ended up at Meijer's that day to get the essentials. We were living in Michigan at this time (I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life in MI).

I remember suffering through the endless grocery shopping that needed to be done just so we could just get to the aisle that had sports equipment. Finally we made it.

There were rows and rows of black cleats. They were not leather. They were not expensive. They were not even that well made. But they were what was available at this mass market retailer at the time back in the early 80's.

And suddenly in that never-ending sea of black, I spied a flash of orange. What was this? I gingerly retrieved a pair of orange cleats. The last pair they had (or maybe the only, I will never know).

They were different. They were beautiful! It took me at least 20 minutes to convince my dad to let me get them. He must have somehow channeled his inner sixth grade girl because he surely tried 100 ways to reason with me and convince me to go with the black….At least 100 times. He must of known what was to come.

But I was having none of it. I wanted those orange cleats. It must have been fate that they were in my size. I was determined. They were the coolest shoes I had ever seen, I probably thought to myself. I really had to have them.

So like any father who loves his daughter and supports her sixth grade independence, he threw them in the cart. And of course I quickly took them back out and carried them all the way to the checkout, much like one would carry a newborn baby.

I couldn't wait for the first practice.

The day finally arrived and we all suited up. I heard some snickers in the locker room but it wasn't until I made it to the field that someone said the words that have stayed with me the rest of my life, “Those are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen.”

It was as if a dam broke in tweenland. I was teased mercilessly….made fun of constantly. I would do everything I could to leave those orange cleats at home and not wear them to practice or games. I was benched for wearing tennis shoes after “forgetting” my cleats at home. I would even play sick from school so I didn't have to go to practice.

I attempted to take a marker and color over them several times but we had no Sharpie(s) back then. The marker washed off at each practice, exposing the orange glow.

I may have failed to mention earlier that this was at a Catholic school where there was a clear division of class. Those that had money and those that (…me) did not. We wore uniforms to school and while there were not many opportunities to be different, you still knew who had money and who did not from our clothing. This scholarship student only wanted to fit in at the time. And as a lower income, sixth grade girl teetering on the brink of puberty, fitting in was not all easy for me.

Those orange cleats made my life hell for as long as my feet fit in them. Each day I grew to hate them a little more. I let some girls whose names and faces I cannot even remember now convince me that I now hated something that I was immediately drawn to….something that I had absolutely loved.

I thought that those cleats screamed I was poor when in fact they showed I was different, that I had personality. Instead of going with the pack, I was an individual. But that year, I let those girls convince me that I was not an individual; I let them convince me that I needed to be like them.  I needed to be part of the pack, a conformist.

To this day I am still annoyed with myself for all those unresolved feelings about the orange cleats. To this day, I really don't like the color orange; but I am a shoe and clothing lover. I hoard shoes. Beautiful, well made shoes. None of them orange, mind you, but I love me some shoes nonetheless.

Fast forward to 2011.

Today I took my son shopping for shoes. He is eight going on 16 and has definite opinions on what he wants to wear. We let him pick out the majority of his clothing. Well from his closet anyway. I enjoy seeing his personality shine through. In fact, I love it!

He needed tennis shoes and ran off to the section with the boys tennis shoes. Have I mentioned his favorite color?  Orange… bright, glowing, beautiful orange. I see his little head poking over the rows going down shoe by shoe. Looking at what was available and weighing his options.

Finally he screamed, “I found them. I found MY shoes. I LOVE THEM!”

“Try them on first and then come show them to us” I say to him over the rows as I help his sisters find shoes.

He comes running over, as fast as he can, a little out of breath and says, “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THESE ARE!!!!”

And for just a few seconds I have a flashback….a bad flashback.

The look on my face must have startled him because he said, “What's wrong? You don't like them?”

And his face fell.

I had to stifle the urge to tell him to get what everyone else is wearing. To get what all of the little boys at his school wear. I saw those kinds of shoes everywhere. But I bit my tongue instead of telling him to go with the pack.

Because the pack is crap.

Because if someone is going to make fun of him for the shoes he wears, then that someone doesn't deserve to be his friend or a part of his life.

Because my son is creative. He is intelligent. He is wonderful. He is just an all around fabulous kid. I could gush for days.

Because damn it, if my kid wants orange shoes, he should have orange shoes.

So I did what I had to do. I knelt down, looked him in the eyes and said, “These are about the coolest shoes in this entire place. I cannot imagine a more perfect pair for you. Mommy was just having gas pains.” I smiled and I meant it. I ruffled his hair as he took off to run around.

“I am pretty sure that these shoes make me run much faster” he said excitedly.

I am pretty sure I just did the right thing I thought to myself.

And I am seriously considering getting myself a pair of orange shoes.


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129 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. Stacie, what a story. (And funny too because I grew up in Michigan, now living in Atlanta and I remember Meijer trips. :-)) It brought back my memories of trying to fit in as a 6th grader and wanting to be cool but never having the money to do so. Or the confidence. Thank you for sharing and what an example to be to your son. Continue to pour on the love and confidence that he needs to grow up as an individual and pray that kids are nicer these days. 🙂

  2. I wonder if our kids will have it easier. It seems like kore and more individuality is more celebrated than it was when we were kids.
    You made the right choice today. And also, those shoes are bit chin’. Do they have them in my size?

  3. This is such a great post, Stace! I love what you said to Huntly after he showed you the shoes (LOL at the gas pains)! You are an amazing mom and it has to be said….all three of your kids are amazing as well. Mike and I were actually talking about how adorable and sweet and polite all three of them were at Lucas’ party.

  4. Great story! I could totally relate…as a child, I always stifled my individuality to fit in and I, like you, am determi not to create an environment where my children feel they have to do the same.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. You go, girl!! I can totally relate. And those shoes ROCK!

  6. cottages

    Shoes are awesome

  7. Don’t you love these moments. It’s a nice nostalgic moment. Mine normally happen when my little one causes mischief.

  8. Des

    Girl…go get yourself some orange shows. NOW. Orange is bright, fresh, full of energy–just like YOU! It’s one of my favorite colors (yellow and orange–just like the sun) and you are one of my favorite people. You deserve to go together. I hate that people were mean to you ever, but know that’s part of growing up. I remember a similar stinging comment when I was in 8th grade. It still hurts. But now I’m wiser and know not to listen to such trash. I wish you lots of luck passing this message on to your son.

  9. One of the hardest things about parenting is putting aside our own experiences and letting our kids experience life on their own.

    I’m sorry that those girls made fun of you, and I’m sorry you spent so much time trying to hide those orange cleats. I hope you go buy a pair of bright orange shoes.

  10. Next time I see you, I’ll be wearing orange shoes. I know exactly what it was to be on the 6th grade and to be teased. To me it was 5th grade and I wore the coolest shoes I had ever seen, the Converse Chuck Taylors. They didn’t sell them in Finland yet, and my aunt brought them me from the US. I was teased so badly for them that you can imagine my surprise that by the 7th grade all of the cool kids wore them – and then of course mine had gotten too small, and my mom wouldn’t buy me a pair because they were too expensive.

  11. Aww, I think I just got a little teary eyed, darn you, cuz I’m at my office computer! I think he picked out a great pair. I would totally wear those shoes.

  12. Kids can be incredibly cruel. I had some shoes that I couldn’t “live without” either. Doc Marten boots covered in colored flowers. Yes, it was that bad. But this is your memory lane, not mine so…

    I think it’s very cool that your kid has a bold, unique personality just like his mama, and that you let him be free to be his own awesome self. You totally did the right thing. Kudos.

  13. First of all, LOL at the gas pains. And second, I think you did the right thing!

    When I was in Kindergarten I injured my ankle. So in first grade, due to the injury, my doctor recommended me wearing high tops (like the black converse ones). One day on the bus this boy started in on me (I have no idea why). And he started making fun of me. He joked about me having on “boy shoes” and made fun of me bc I wore the same type of shoes everyday (like he didn’t).

    And then sure enough, another BOY on the bus was wearing MY shoes! Seriously, on MY bus! I thought I’d never hear the end of it….

  14. what a story! This brings back memories how ensecure I was about my clothes in middle school.

    these are amazing shoes

    my 4 year old already is very concious ablut her clothes, sometimes she is concerned that someone migt lough at her clothes. I will have to work on that one

  15. I love those shoes…and I probably would have loved the orange cleats. Yes! 🙂 You’re a great mom!

  16. Such a sweet story! I love it! I think you did a great job!

  17. That is so funny. What’s even funnier is your son following in your footsteps! That is priceless. I’m glad you allowed him to be an individual. That’s the important part of this story.

  18. That is an incredible story Stacie. My mom used to make our clothes and I recall getting teased about that. I worry about my kid’s being teased in school but if Sebastian wants to wear a baret on hat day, I let him and if Madelyn wants to wear two different colored socks, I let her. So far so good!

  19. Tania Bugnet

    Hello, I’m your newest follower from the Welcome Wednesday Blog Hop. Please follow me back. Thanks,


  20. julie/just precious

    I LOVE how you handled that. LOVE. major pat on the back to Stacie!

  21. Mandi @ Boredom Busting Mommy

    I got a little teary eyed there… This was beautifully written. I’m sharing it with everyone, thank you.

    My little guy thinks his shoes make him “run faster” too, by the way. 🙂

  22. You really need to write more posts like this. 🙂

  23. This was a very heartfelt post. Your working through that difficult memory quickly will forever be a blessing. I used to have the neatest pair of lime green tennis shoes ever. I got teased quite a bit but then went out and bought a red funky pair too. Some of us are always a bit different than the crowd…wouldn’t have it any other way ;).

    Your son has a brilliant mother!

  24. Stacie I just want to give you a big ole HUG right now. We always see each other, but never have time for a real conversation and damnit now you have me wanting me some orange shoes!!!! 😛

  25. Jennifer @Mami2Mommy

    I’m buying my whole family some flippin’ orange shoes! I am so glad you wrote this. I grew up in a middle-upper class community where my family was always a tad different. My parents were working so hard to give us everything everyone else had but I didn’t have the name brand stuff and I was never interested in it. I wanted what I thought was cool, much like you did. I am so glad you let your true you shine through because it made you the woman and mom you are today. Good for you! Love this post, thanks so much for sharing!

  26. I have a kick ass pair of orange shoes NOW! They are ADIDAS. But….I can totally relate to not having the cool clothes or whatever in school. Middle School was a miserable experience…I’m so glad that is behind me and I hope my kids don’t suffer like that.

  27. Yes, you did do the right thing, I would have done it too. Now go out and get your self the BRIGHTEST ORANGE shoes you have ever laid eyes on!!! MUAH!

  28. This post? Makes me love you more!

  29. I’d definitely agree you did the right thing 🙂

  30. I love how you told the story–you’re a great writer! Funny how you don’t like orange now =) But what an AWESOME mom you are!!

    Thank you for linking up on the w/w hop! I have another hop going on today (Fridays) called “Flash-back-Friday.” Link up an old post for a flash form the past! It’s like looking in an old scrapbook. Feel free to link up! I’ll choose a random blog to feature each week. See you soon!

  31. Lindsay

    Is it wrong that orange shoes made me tear up a little? You did absolutely the right thing for your son. And they really are about the coolest shoes I have ever seen.

  32. You definitely did the right thing. You dared him to be different and nothing could be better. Hopefully that feeling of not being afraid to stand out from the crowd will stick with him in harder decisions he is sure to face in life!

  33. You did the right thing, I could write a very similar story to the one your wrote. And like you I have decided to let my kids be independent and let them be themselves.

  34. RJ

    I’ve always been the dorky kid or the weirdo. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that I’ll never fit in and going with the crowd, well it’s just not worth it. I’m learning to accept that I’ll always be the one who stands out. But I’m okay with that.

    Loved this post. And I loved your story even more! 🙂 And you know what? I’m probably never going to look at orange shoes without thinking of you again! Those shoes are the coolest orange shoes I’ve ever seen. 😉

  35. I feel the same way…and they look cool to me.

    Some people will always try to bring others down, that is their nature (it’s something about them that makes them only feel ok with themself if they criticize others)

  36. I was teased to and there for am extra sensitive to trying to help my kids pick out the stuff that is least lilkely to get them teased that we can afford. But we also encourage them to be themselves. It’s a hard line sometimes but you HAVE to encourage them to be different when they do know what they like. I think the shoes are great. Hope he continues to love them. Good job letting him get them Mama!!

  37. aww Stacie, Im emotional anyways, but a total tear jerker story, thanks for sharing.