My Shoes-Optional Son

February 20, 2020

illustrations by Emily Helquist

We were halfway to school when Foss suddenly announced that he had forgotten his shoes at home. Cooper, ever anxious at the thought of arriving late to school, groaned aloud in horror and irritation. I mentally took stock of the time, the traffic, and my current level of parental stress, and then declared that I would drop the older boys off at school first and then take Foss home to get his shoes. “Then everybody will be happy. Except me, because this is annoying. And actually I don’t want Foss to be happy, I want him to be…chagrined.” At this point Foss was already daydreaming (un-chagrined) out the window, but Cooper looked visibly relieved that his little brother’s forgetfulness wasn’t going to mar his own zero-tardies street cred.

“Oh hello, little wiggly shoe-less foot!”

Some notes regarding my rules for forgotten items: If the kids forget their snack, they’re out of luck. Enjoy your low blood sugar, Spacey McSpacerson! If they forget their backpack, I’ll bring it to them once but Never Again. They have all had a turn forgetting a backpack (which is weird, right? how do you walk out the door without realizing the absence of that one essential thing?), and the unsettling sense of emptiness they felt as they walked onto school grounds backpackless was unpleasant enough that there was no recurrence. But shoes?? I can’t send my kid into school with no shoes on! Even if I wanted to, I’m guessing a concerned call from the school would not be long in coming, asking why I had let an unshod child get out of the car in the first place and requesting that I please return, footwear in hand, posthaste.

But back to the forgotten-shoe timeline. After dropping the older boys off, I wondered briefly whether we ought to make the thirteen-minute drive home and back again to get the shoes, or just go to the Walmart directly across the street and buy a cheap new pair instead. (Note that somehow it didn’t cross my mind that it might be weird to take him barefoot into a Walmart.) There are better and worse Walmarts in the world, and it just so happens that the Walmart across the street from our school is one of the worst. There are always bad drivers in the parking lot, or shopping-cart-retrieval-employees who cut in front of your car to slowly push the world’s longest train of shopping carts down the lane towards the store. The lighting inside is depressing, there seems to be no logical flow to the departments, and even when you find the department you’re looking for it seems that things are never quite where they ought to be. Case in point: I had trouble finding gallon-sized bottles of water for our RV trip in that store. Water. (I finally found some in the baby department, with baby-themed branding on the label, and the boys got a kick out of pouring themselves a nice glass of “baby water” for a little while.) The checkout lines are messy, the employees are odd, and the patrons seem disheveled and stressed (yours truly sometimes included). On the rare occasions when I’ve been forced to go there, I leave vowing to never return.

actual photograph of the Walmart by our school

So, we didn’t go to Walmart. We made the 26-minute round trip instead, and while we drove home Foss lamented the fact that we don’t go to a school closer to our house. “Then, whenever I forget my shoes, it would be really easy to go back and get them,” he said, and I was like “Um, that is not the answer.” He looked back out the window. “Well, it would be nice,” he said.

I keep laughing about this, how his solution wasn’t “how can I be better at not forgetting things?” but “how can I rearrange the world so my mistakes are less troublesome?” I started to point this out to him, to wax philosophical about how learning from our mistakes builds character etc. etc., but he was busy daydreaming about a world where we live near school, or where he goes to a shoes-optional school, or where we have an infinite number of pairs of shoes lying around so that losing and/or forgetting them could be a non-issue. I opted against the character-building lecture and turned on some music instead.

This was the first time he forgot his shoes for school, but it’s NOT the first time he’s left the house without them, and he misplaces his shoes in one way or another on the daily. Foss isn’t the only one either — he’s got brothers who are just as likely to lose track of their footwear, and I keep saying that the lost shoe situation in our house is going to be the thing that drives me over the brink as a mother. Shockingly, my slow descent into madness has not been enough to whip anyone into shape just yet, and we still have misplaced shoes on a very regular basis. Perhaps the awkwardness of arriving late at school on this one particular occasion will be enough to bring about change? To cause Foss to be more attentive to all things shoe-related?

Or maybe not. When I picked him up after school, he told me that by some happy coincidence, he had already completed the material that his class was working on first thing that morning, so even though he was tardy he essentially missed nothing, and no one even asked him why he was late. Basically, the consequence of forgetting his shoes was that he got to hang out in the car for longer with me, listening to music and chatting, and he got to have a shorter day at school, all without accruing any extra work or even a smidge of embarrassment. Forgetting his shoes meant he had a pretty great morning.

Hopefully that shoe-less morning profited him in some character-building way. Hopefully it helped to oil the gears of his forgetful little mind. But it’s also possible that I might need to start carrying a pair of backup shoes in the minivan for now. Just in case.

  1. R Schaefer

    February 21st, 2020 at 3:24 am

    Driven over the brink by missing shoes. Yep, this is exactly what is going to do me in. This morning I chose to let the child with only slightly bad eyes go without contacts (he’s had them 2 weeks) instead of making the same 26 minute journey. What is it about that length of time? It’s not quite 30 minutes, which is justifiably too long to retrieve a forgotten item, and yet so much longer than 20 minutes where it would be easy to do! You’re definitely not alone in this phase of life! (Don’t know if it helps or hurts, but my forgetter is 10).

  2. elisajoy

    February 22nd, 2020 at 2:28 am

    26 minutes is the magic (and uniquely irritating) number! Haha. It’s always good to know I’m not alone. 🙂

  3. Cassia

    February 22nd, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Well! I am told by my mother-in-law that her eldest son… My husband, that is… Got into to their car to make the 35 minute commute to his private HIGH SCHOOL. That’s right, he was 17 years old when he went to school without his shoes.
    A very angry mother, who happened to be traveling late to her job at the same location as her embarrassing son ( School administrator ), found a brilliant way to maintain “the chagrin…”
    She would not turn around. She would not buy new shoes. She would not risk the injury or a lecture of a barefooted son. She took him straight to the principal who she knew would be able to LEND him a pair of his shoes! So her 17-year-old son spent the entire day walking around in oversized loafers, to his great chagrin!
    She had a thorough and hearty laugh at his humorous embarrassment, and he never again forgot his shoes. 🙂

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Elisa Joyful 

Hi friends! You have landed at elisajoyful.com, and if you are looking for some warm and witty words to read, you’ve come to the right place, so get comfy and settle in. If you’re looking for the SiNes of Life podcast, you’re almost in the right place - just click on the “Listen to Podcast” link below. And if you’ve come here because you’re interested in having me speak at your event, you can contact me below!

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