By Marla Jo Fisher, The Orange County Register
My teenage son will go barefoot before he’ll wear anything but his chosen brand of footwear.
In fact, he’ll be expelled from school if he doesn’t wear these shoes on his feet, or at least humiliated so badly that he can’t cross the threshold of any public education facility. Or so he claims.
Other moms have told me their sons have been attacked by the Converse bug. Or the Air Jordan bug. But at my son’s school, it’s all about the Vans.
Now, if I had my way, my son would have started wearing cast iron on his feet at age 5, because mere polymer and leather could not possibly take the punishment he meted out on a daily basis.
In those days he went through shoes so fast, he could work a hole into the toe minutes after I bought him a new pair. I tried buying cheap ones. I tried expensive ones. It didn’t make any difference. He was a shoe abuser.
He didn’t care what he wore, as long as he could beat them up.
Then adolescence hit him like a sledgehammer. And one day, he woke up with the need to wear Vans. It was as if he’d been felled by some strange, incurable virus overnight.
Shortly afterward, I bought this child a nice-looking pair of shoes on sale at Payless, because his old ones were looking raggedy, even for him.
I was thrilled, because I got them for only $8. These were shoes he would have worn without hesitation before the illness struck.
But now he wouldn’t wear them. In fact, he wouldn’t even touch them. They just sat there, in the box, on his desk, in his room. Forever. It didn’t matter how badly he needed new footwear. He wasn’t wearing those.
They were not weird. They were not purple. They did not have silver sparkles or Hello Kitty on them. They just weren’t Vans.
He kept saying, “Mom, I need some new shoes. Seriously. Mom. Look.” And he would show me the friction holes starting to appear on the soles.
I said, “You have some new shoes. Right there.” And I would point to the unopened box. He would turn away and put his ragamuffin shoes on instead.
Meanwhile, his toes started appearing out of holes in the tops. I didn’t care. I wasn’t buying him any more shoes when he had perfectly good ones sitting there.
He didn’t care. He wasn’t wearing those shoes.
People started commenting on his ragged footwear. I didn’t care. As long as there was one thread holding those shoes on his feet, I was sticking to my guns.
Then he went out for the day with my friend Kathy and her son, Augie. And he came home sporting new footwear.
“Look, Mom, Kathy bought me some shoes!” he said excitedly.
Kathy said, “I hope you don’t mind. Those old ones were looking pretty shot.”
My face flushed with embarrassment at the idea that my friend thought my kid was so pathetic, she had to buy him some shoes.
And then I just shrugged and said, “Thanks.” At least the standoff was over. I gave away the unopened shoebox in his room. And resigned myself to the fact that he’d be wearing Vans from now on.
Now, I am usually sympathetic to my children’s fashion woes. I suffered terribly as a girl because of the ugly, ill-fitting clothes my family’s poverty forced me to wear.
But I also learned to rub a nickel until it squeaks.
I took him over to Tilly’s to shop for a pair of Vans. And my heart literally stopped beating in my chest.
“What?” I shrieked at him. “You want me to pay $60 for these crappy little deck shoes? Are you crazy? Not going to happen.”
As far as I was concerned, those shoes must have plutonium insoles, because I couldn’t figure out why on earth they would be worth $60.
After my heart started beating again, hours of long, tedious negotiations ensued, during which I mentally berated myself for quitting smoking too soon.
This eventually resulted in the purchase of one pair of sneakers off the red tag pile, on sale for 50 percent off.
In my mind, they were still too expensive. I never spend more than $30 on a pair of shoes for myself, so why should I for him?
Nowadays, he plays high school sports, so his cleats take much of the punishment that sneakers used to suffer. So his sneakers last a bit longer than before.
Eventually, we discovered the Vans Outlet stores, and we’ve gotten into the routine of visiting there every two months or so. He knows I’ll demand he get the cheapest shoes there, the ones in the colors that didn’t sell.
But, hey, they’re Vans.
He won’t be expelled from school.
Marla Jo Fisher was a workaholic before she adopted two foster kids several years ago. Now she juggles work and single parenting, while being exhorted from everywhere to be thinner, smarter, sexier, healthier, more frugal, a better mom, better dressed and a tidier housekeeper. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://themomblog.freedomblogging.com/category/frumpy-middleaged-mom-marla-jo-fisher/.