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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What I Did When my 6-year-old Boy Wanted Pink Sparkly Shoes

Gomez never gets new stuff. He gets the stuff that survives Mars. Clothes, coats, skis, and shoes. Except, I suddenly realized the shoes he was wearing were beyond unreasonable. They were torn. They were too small. They looked like a homeless person took pity and took of theirs and offered them. And because I'm cheap and awful, I briefly considered whether he might get through the summer with sandals so we could avoid buying him shoes until school started.

But Gomez heard me say he needed new shoes and wanted them before camp started this week.

"Please, mommy?"

The only thing I'm more of than cheap and awful, is a sucker for that boy's sweet cheeks and even sweeter please.

So we went to the shoe store.

I'd told him that he could look for light-up sneakers and he wanted them to be velcro so he wouldn't have to tie his shoes. It had not occurred to me that he might pick out "girl" shoes.

*I've always said that my kids can do what they like and I've always thought if we had a transgender kid that we'd be the perfect people to do that because we don't care about anything but our kids being healthy and happy and exactly who they are. I had this wonderful vision of myself as so progressive and willing to accept my child determining that he was she or that he likes boys. I've painted their nails and dyed his hair.

But somehow this felt different. He picked out a pair of sparkling, glittering, pink, purple, and teal light-up Sketchers.

What if kids picked on him? He was set to go to a different school the next day to start a camp with kids around the community, a camp run by teenagers. What if the camp counselor, a teen, said something stupid like "those are girls shoes?" What if the kids picked on him? What if this was his "thing" now instead of being smart and capable, what if all they saw were his shoes?

"Let's look at other shoes too."

"But I want to try these on."

"Yes, and you can try them on but let's make sure we try on more than one pair so you can see which fit best and which you really like."

We walked the "boy" aisle. The prices went up and I felt my chest tighten. There had to be a simple pair of blue, light-up, velcro boy shoes for around the same price.

Then we saw the Superman and Spiderman shoes. They lit up. A solution. I figured he'd be sold in no time but I was torn. I am supposed to be progressive, damnit! And also, an occasional snob. Ever since my childcare provider said that she wouldn't buy Walmart trash shoes for her kids with characters on them I wanted nothing to do with character shoes. Which would win? Gender norms or snobbery? What race to the bottom was going on in my head? Yuck.

He tried the Spiderman shoes. I checked the price. We were in range. I began breathing a sigh of relief. Of course he'd pick the characters. They were trashy maybe, but not any worse that the ridiculous mohawk he'd convinced me to give him combined with the horribly torn apart homeless guy cast-off shoes he'd worn into the store. A little of my heart let down and I felt both relief and a bit of shame at my own reaction. I told myself I'd be okay with him getting the pink shoes. I just needed a few minutes to adjust. But the need was about to be averted.

"They're too big," he said and I felt, in his whine, the desire for the other shoes. I suspected my reluctance had made them even more attractive to him.

Teal sequins and a blue and silver sparkle tongue. What would people think? Would Rob think I should have just said "no"?

I helped him pull out the cardboard and paper packing in the shoe and try them on. A grin spread.

Huge. A huge grin.

"You have to put both shoes on to make sure they fit." I could feel myself shifting as I began rehearsing ways to justify the purchase. He really wanted them! and then laughter that you had to laugh along with. That's Gomez! It wasn't really any different than the blue hair dye. I could do this.

"They fit!"

I softened, his delight contagious. "Walk all the way down the aisle and back just to make sure."

He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him.

blurred pink, teal, and purple sparkly kids shoes
I pulled my phone out and texted him a hastily-snapped, blurry photo. No amount of blur could undo all that shine and flash. "Gomez wants these shoes. Thoughts?"

No response.

"They fit! Can I get 'em?"

"What are gonna do if kids tease you and say they're 'girl' shoes?"

I flashed to his male kindergarten teacher telling the kids pink wasn't a girl color and how he'd worn pink to prove it. Maestro Martinez wouldn't be at camp though.

"They're not! I'll tell them there's no such thing as girl colors."

"Ok, but what if lots of kids pick on you?"

"I don't care." he twisted confidently sideways as if to ward off the comments and protect the beautiful shoes from the fictional children picking on him. "I'll tell them to stop. And if they don't, I'll tell on them!"

I wished the camp counselor was going to be his Kindergarten teacher, knowing he'd already gone back to Spain.

"Ok."

As we approached the counter to pay, I felt excited for him, at the same time as a little of me hoped he'd change his mind. And then I regretted my hope. I'm supposed to not care about these things. There are no girl and boy colors. Something I'd repeated to my children many times.  Do you operate it with genetalia? Yes, Then it's not for children. No, then it's not for girls or boys; it's for both. Yet, here I was, fighting myself, not wanting him to wear the "girl" shoes, wanting him to not get picked on or seen as "a gay kid." Which is extra stupid since I really think I'd be unsurprised and perfectly pleased to find out someday that he's an actual gay kid.

"Gomez, if we buy these shoes, these are the shoes. If kids tease you and you come home and don't want them anymore, there's no going back. Once you wear them, these are the shoes."

"I know!"

I thought of a relative who had recently denied her three-year-old son the sparkly shoes he wanted to wear so that he wouldn't wear them at school. And those were gold, not even pink. Not to mention how far superior I think of her judgment as compared to my own.

"So, you want them? You're sure."

"YES," he handed the woman the box and grinned from ear to ear as I handed her my credit card. His excitement was so palpable no one could resist his smile.

I watched him run, RUN all the way to the car with the joy of his purchase.

That evening, I watched him speed off on his red bike wearing his red shorts and his red long sleeved fleece shirt, with his pink and purple and teal sparkle light-up shoes--his favorite outfit was complete. I thought of my own parents not allowing me to leave the house mixing red and purple or red and pink together.

I let him stay at the park by our house and walked the few houses down to ours. I saw our 18-year-old neighbor (male) wearing pink shorts and told him about Gomez's new shoes.

"I'm so glad to see you wearing those right now," I told him.

Four days later, he's still going strong on his love of the shoes. He gets up each morning and puts his clothes on so he can put his shoes on before he's even peed yet. He's still that excited about these shoes. And the unexpected part for me is, I feel this tremendous pride at his individuality. It swells in me every time I see the shoes. He's braver than me. I'd never have known I might face teasing and gone toward it.

Maybe, Gomez just is who he is and I'm awfully proud of the fact that he is willing to follow his own tastes no matter what anyone else thinks. And that's what I really think about when I look at his new shoes.