Last night we had our first snow, which means for the next six months I don’t have to feel guilty about the weeds in my flowerbeds. Sadly, it also means I have to wear real shoes, the kind with closed toes, solid backs, and saddest of all, socks.
I truly fear this moment every year, and put it off as long as I can. For the first day of my new job, I pulled out all the stops and wore some nice officey loafers designed to make me look like the professional ID badge around my neck wasn’t stolen from a real teacher, though the effect might have been rather spoiled had they’d known I’d actually left the house in fuzzy leopard slippers and had to return home to change. In the end I minced around all day on stinging feet, with a fixed smile on my face, running on nerves and pure adrenaline. However, being so aware of my own feet, I did pay particular attention to the feet of the other female teachers, and there I discovered my salvation. Lots and lots of barefoot sandals. I couldn’t believe my luck, surely this was the right profession for me.
I know at least a quarter of you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “Put on your big girl pants and get some comfortable shoes!” Well, therein lies the rub.
I have big feet, I mean big feet, and wide enough to house a circus. I used to be terribly embarrassed of this as a kid. There were all the other girls twittering around with their dainty size four, five, or six feet, making even trainers look like fairy princess shoes. I’d go to the store and ask for the same darling Mary Janes in my size, and the salesman would bring out a boat with “Titanic” printed on the box. That was back when all shoe stores had people with a shoe horn and a measuring tool, who scurried into the back to bring out a stack of shoeboxes with pairs to try. Nowadays a lot of stores keep all the sizes on the display shelves so you can try shoes to your hearts content without bothering anybody . . . and slink away in private shame when you discover anything that fits in the toes is sliding sloppy right off the heel.
I was an adult before I knew shoes came in widths, genuinely believing that toes were meant to be pinched, and suffering was an integral part of a matching outfit, rather dreadful for a fashion design major. I actually had an easier time when I moved to Brazil because Brazilian feet tended to be more wide and blocky, which probably means there is a subset of Brazilian women with medium-wide feet, running around believing that shoes were meant to be super loose so you have to curl your toes to hang on.
Moving to China meant shoes simply did not exist in my dimension, and had to be brought in my suitcase or shipped from the United States. We arrived in China with a handful of possessions, thinking our shipment would be arriving any day, and a year later we were still waiting, which left us rather short in the shoe department. My daughter, Abby, had feet at the top of the Chinese shoe range, so her shoes did exist in the physical realm, and my boys, Porter and Chase, were nine and ten, so their shoes existed too, for the first year and a half. Then the DNA came crashing in, and suddenly Chase needed a new pair of trainers. Off we went, confidently scouring the shoe floor of the commodities market, one vendor after another shaking their head in disappointed amazement. Finally, we sat in a shop, trying the last shoe of a hopeful seller, watched by a horde of shoe shopkeepers who had crowded into the store to gape. When Chase-arella couldn’t get the last shoe on his prodigious foot, the salesman dipped his head in defeat. That was the biggest he had, and we were out of luck. Then, from the middle of the multitude, we heard a small voice. “I have one,” and off he sped. There the whole throng remained until he returned, proudly cradling a box in his arms. Out came the shoes, and on they slipped as people laughed and smiled like the closing scene of a hideously cheesy movie. The shoes fit, the biggest pair in the entire commodities market, and the shopkeeper had made the sale in somebody else’s store. Chase was twelve.
But none of this answers why the first day of snow is always such a tragedy for me. I mean I’m in the U.S., not to mention well versed in the ways of wide shoes and the websites that sell them. But while I was in China, I managed to add a new wrinkle to my shoe adventure. Plantar Fasciitis. At that time I had never heard of such a thing, but one day at the opening of the first ever Chinese boardgame convention, I stepped out of the car in Shanghai wearing my heretofore comfortable heels, and my feet began screeching in pain. At first I thought my shoes were suddenly broken, but no. Then I thought maybe it was just an anomaly, but that also proved wishful thinking. I didn’t dare admit what I was feeling because of other things that were going on in my life, so I kept quiet and just blamed myself. What was I doing wrong? Maybe more exercise. I know, jump roping, that will help.
Excruciating Pain, in case you were curious.
It just kept getting worse, until two years later when I got into a doctor in the United States who explained that I am a pronator when I walk. It runs in my family, and being the oldest, I was the first of my sisters to hit that particular wall. All that pain, and it was a surprisingly easy fix, a molded sole, or simple shoe insert to correct my stance, and I’m off to the races—or so you’d think.
Remember my big old wide feet, where a shoe wide enough in the toe is too big in the heel? Add an insert into the mix and I’ve got feet lifted halfway out of my shoes, holding on with my toes, and feeling my socks rub down to the center of my foot with every step. If Dante had gotten around to adding a tenth circle to hell, I’m pretty sure it would have something to do with socks sliding into your shoes, or maybe wayward socks could just be added to the punishments of crooked politicians.
Did that sound bitter? I think I’m feeling a little bitter because I know that until the snow melts, I’ll be pausing every twenty yards to pull my socks out of my arches. I’m starting to wonder how long I have to work at my job before I can get away with fuzzy leopard slippers, but I’m worried it might be decades, rather than months.
If it snowed where you are, smile out the window at the lacy fairyland, or build a nice fire, or go out and build a snowman and drink some hot chocolate. I’ll be at the shoe store, making salespeople bring out all their biggest sizes as they shake their heads in sorrow. My sandals are coming out with the first crocus. You can bet on it.