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When finding the shoe isn’t about finding the shoe

By Heather Oman

It was a Chick-fil-A for dinner kind of day.

You know those days. Those days when the kids have back to back evening activities, sometimes maybe even doublebooked so you have to decide which one to attend–the first basketball practice of the season or tae kwon doe or scouts (basketball won) and you run through the drive-thru in between because even if you had put a meal in the crockpot at the beginning of this crazy day nobody has time to actually sit down and eat it.

This particular crazy evening started with a 4:30 ballet class.

My daughter gets off the bus at 4:05, and the ballet school is about 8 minutes from our house, so it’s always a mad dash from the bus to the house, a quick snack, strip down to the skivvies, pull on tights and the leotard, twist and pin hair into the requisite bun, find the ballet shoes, and off we go.

We have yet to make it on time.

And in case you are wondering, in that entire scenario, the hardest part is finding the ballet shoes.

Usually I take the time before my daughter gets home to have everything laid out, so the entire production can take place in the kitchen (yes, I dress my kid in my kitchen—wanna fight?) while she’s eating a snack, or at least trying to take bites in between me stripping clothes off of her. She’s become a master of eating celery with peanut butter on it while I brush her hair into a bun, and I feel an odd sense of maternal triumph that she no longer cries when I get to a tangle.

(What can I say, my mother made me tough it out as she brushed, I expect nothing less from my daughter. Hairdressers routinely comment how unperturbed I am when having my hair brushed. This makes me feel strangely proud of my hard head. It’s the little things in life, people.)

But today, I’d had a busy day of my own. I got home only moments before my first child walked in the door, and didn’t have a chance to dig out the ballet stuff before I went and fetched my daughter from the bus stop. I gave her the required snack, then dashed around the house, trying to locate her leotard, tights, and those ding dang ballet shoes.

It didn’t take me long to find the leotard and tights, but the shoes, oh, the shoes. I looked in the closet, I looked in the car, I looked in her ballet bag, and I searched her room. All the while I grew more and more agitated trying to dig up those stupid shoes.

At one point, I decided to take a break to get my daughter’s hair done, figuring that if all else failed, she could wear her too small shoes (which, naturally, were folded perfectly together in plain sight in the closet). While I was braiding and twisting and pinning, the dog farted. It’s a sign of my stress that when my daughter started laughing and fake snorting at the canine flatulence, I snapped at her to be quiet and hold still.

Because it’s not about the shoes.

I’ve tried to explain this to my husband. When I can’t find something for my kids, it makes me unreasonably anxious, because it’s not about simply having lost something. It’s a sign of my overall failure as a mother.

See, a GOOD mother would have all the ballet stuff together in a designated space, perhaps a drawer or a closet shelf or a bag. It wouldn’t take over 20 minutes to get the child ready for ballet because everything would be coordinated in one smooth movement.

Good mothers don’t have to go hunting for shoes in the dark pit that is my daughter’s room, which right now is a virtual sea of clothes, books, artwork, markers, toys, and other various bits of plastic that are unidentifiable yet inexplicably priceless to my 6 year old.

Good mothers have daughters who have clean rooms and sparkling furniture, not rooms with walls that still bear the marks of a child’s “creativity” when she was three and smuggled the nail polish into her room to “decorate” her door.

Good mothers don’t lose shoes. Or their tempers. Or, for that matter, have farting dogs.

It’s an imaginary person I’m batting at, I know. It’s an imaginary judgement, I know. Every mother I know has had to hunt for shoes, it’s part of the world of parenthood.

But still, every time I pull out three shoes from the closet and none of them match, I feel like a slipped one notch down on the good mother ladder. Because there IS a good mother ladder somewhere. SOMEBODY is keeping score, doncha know. I’m not sure who, and I’m not sure how, and I’m not sure when this invisible competition will come to an end, but IT IS VERY VERY REAL IN MY OWN CRAZY HEAD.

And don’t even get me started on clean socks.

Tonight, after I picked up my daughter from ballet (and yes, I finally found the shoes buried under some pile of detritus in her room. We were ten minutes late to ballet class.), I drove her and my son to my son’s basketball practice. I had put clothes in the car for my daughter to change into, so she wouldn’t have to hang out in the gym in ballet clothes. I even had some slip on shoes for her to wear over her tights.

She refused to wear her clothes, preferring to skip from the car, twirling in her ballet skirt, but did put on the shoes.

We lost them in the gym, and left without them.

I hope whoever finds them doesn’t judge me too harshly.

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

13 thoughts on “When finding the shoe isn’t about finding the shoe”

  1. I love it. That you let her twirl and skip to a chaotic public basketball game . . . right there is the evidence that you are a wonderful mother.

  2. Just this morning, my husband tells me, "We're out of cereal." I flipped. Because it wasn't just about the cereal, it implied neglect. I ranted: "There were 4 boxes in the pantry yesterday." This was true. But they all had less than 1/4 cup of cereal in them. How would I know? I'm hypoglycemic, so I eat protein for breakfast. I don't eat cereal. 10 minutes later, my husband explains: "I'm just sitting here, happily eating my cereal. What's the big deal?" And then there was the FLIP OUT on Wednesday when I discovered the dog had gone 24 hours without water: ranting, chart making, family meeting, restructionist history that perhaps our last dog (who did die of kidney failure) was dehydrated due to our neglect. Hugs and hugs and hugs to you and all the moms trying to manage a million details at once, and just ONE of them getting out of wack negating the other 999,999 effectively running details. (Great voice in this piece, as always.)

  3. I keep my daughters dance shoes in her dance bag, we put them on at dance and take them off and put them back in the bag after dance. The bag then either lives in the front seat of the car or hangs on her bed, next to the pile of stuff I dumped in her room because she left it all over the house. We usually are late to dance because we struggle to find dance clothes (that means argue that jeans don't work) but at least I can always find the stupid shoes. Now if we could get to school on time daily…

  4. I wish there was a good way for my kids to understand that it's not about the shoes. That I spend so much time harping on them to pick up their stuff because my life is busy and stressful and a cluttered house just makes more stress. That I don't have another adult to help me and I really get overwhelmed having to do all the cooking and cleaning and parenting. That I'm worried they will grow up to be lazy slobs who don't know how to take care of themselves and their things. That the fact that they can't take care of the house means I'm a bad mom because I haven't taught them to be more self-sufficient. That I love them and want the best for them.

    But they don't hear that–they just hear that I spend a lot of time saying "put away your things and do your chores!"

  5. Love, love this. Absolutely true. We face this daily….homeschooling a chronically ill kid BY a chronically ill mom? With a four year old? Which four year old is…..let's say neurologically intense. That sounds nicer. So glad other moms still have these problems with comparison to the imaginary ideal…

  6. Some days are just crazy with kids. With six of my own, all with activities, I tried to teach them ownership of their life, which included their stuff. It was THEIR soccer practice, THEIR uniform, THEIR soccer shoes. They were in charge of THEIR stuff. If they couldn't find their shoes, bummer, they might be late for their practice. If they forgot to put their dirty uniform in the laundry, bummer, they had to wear a dirty uniform. We found out pretty quickly if the activity was really important to them. Being scolded by the coach for being late to practice is the best kind of remedy for keeping track of their stuff and being prepared. I figure my job as a mom is to raise them to be independent, responsible adults. I've found that letting them suffer the natural consequences of their actions whenever possible is the best way for them to learn. Perhaps it was never your job to find the ballet shoes in the first place????. There will be times when it's really hard to stand back as a mom and let your kids learn. For me it was also a necessity. There was no way I could keep track of everyone's stuff. I'd give them suggestions, "try putting it out the night before", but it was ultimately up to them to carry through.

  7. I have bought new dance shoes twice this year because someone who shall not be named could not find hers in the mad dash out the door to dance. In other news, the insistence on following a dress code for dance (like no missing ballet shoes) only went into effect when the dance teacher opened a dance supply shop next door to the studio. I think they prey on moms like me. And for my kids, chick fil a is a good dinner.

  8. This was spot on!!!! When I found myself crying over lost shoes or crumbs on the piano, I realized that it was about more than the shoes or the crumbs. How twisted that we let these small instances somehow indicate that we are not a "good" mom. Who gets to decide that anyway? So my daughter went to ballet for 2 weeks barefoot and then on Sunday wore feathery dress-up shoes to church because she couldn't find her church shoes. Pfft. Take that good mom. We're all just doing out best.

    This was a fantastic essay, true to the core. Thank you.

  9. So, so incredibly true. Oh, the shoes. THE SHOES! Right now our good mom measuring stick is the kindergarten homework folder. It's been done on the floor of the entryway every Friday morning for weeks. How would it be to be one of the "good moms"?

  10. For years I kept a cartoon from the New Yorker called "Bad Mom Cards," and thanks to the internet, you can collect them all, too! Here is the link: http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Bad-Mom-Cards-Collect-The-Whole-Set-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8534374_.htm

    Literature has a way of distilling and focusing. Just as it's not about the shoes, I remember being struck by an incident from Gabriel Garcia Marques' Love in Time of Cholera, in which the main character and his wife go for months without speaking to each other over the question of whether she had let the soap run out in the bathroom. I'm not sure what it's going to take in my own life for me to remember to look up from the (missing) shoes, or from the (missing) soap, and ask myself, what is this really about? I can't help thinking that when I can consistently get to that question, I'll be a lot closer to finding the answer.

  11. oh I vascillate between "fighting" that mom and "being" that mom. when my 6-year-old hopped out of the car this morning (we had to say family prayer in the car…while I was driving…had to promise my 10-year-old two times that I wouldn't shut my eyes before she would agree to say it) I got my first view of her clothing "ensemble": black soccer shorts, her older sister's neon yellow Hello Kitty t-shirt, fuzzy blue and purple socks with giant penguin heads…just peeping over the top of her brown ankle cowgirl boots, complete with metal studs and heels. Say nothing of the fact that it was 40 degrees today, and where was her coat?… On a faraway planet called "The-hook-in-the-mudroom-with-her-name-on-it". I stared in disbelief at her ensemble as she RAN at full speed towards the crossing guards. My first thought was, "How did I let all THAT get past me???" And then I started laughing hysterically and jumped out of the car and ran after her and snapped a picture. She thought she looked awesome, and I was so glad that for once, I made a "good mom" choice to just roll with it and (try) to love it


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