It’s August, which used to be the month of birthdays in my family when I was a girl. Mine, my father’s, and my mother’s–all within five days of each other. (My sister, the rebel, has a birthday in February.)
Sadly, my parents are gone, leaving only me to celebrate during the dog days of summer. However, I do think of my parents a lot during this time of year, especially my mother. And when I think of my mother, I hear her whispering in my ear: “Buy the shoes.”
You see, when I was a teenager and then a young adult, I went through what I guess you could call an awkward fashion phase that lasted, oh, maybe 20 years? For a while, when I was younger, I favored chiffony things, but since you can’t wear those every day, I ended up “borrowing” a lot of clothes from my more practical and stylish sister. She loved that. Oh, yeah.
Then I moved on to my don’t-look-at-me phase, which dovetailed with the time I started working in a college PR office. During this stage, I favored neutrals and blend-in-with-the-wall shades, all designed to make me appear “professional.” I guess at that time I thought professional meant boring.
There was one constant through these various style shifts, however–shoes. Or rather, my complete blindness to good-looking footwear. I just didn’t pay that much attention to it. It was more fun to spend my meager paycheck on blouses, skirts, dresses, jeans, a haircut. Besides, since I wasn’t staring at my feet most of the time, why would other people notice them? This led me to wear shoes until they practically fell off my feet. Scuffed, run-down, battered-looking shoes. Shoes that appeared as if they’d made a trip across the country and back…walking alongside a Conestoga wagon.
My poor mom, she probably struggled to bite her tongue about my fashion choices (after all, we all know what mother-daughter discussions on clothes are like–raging battles with no chance of diplomatic resolution). But she found a way around my fashion sense, including my shoe blindness. She zeroed in on my taste and bought me items accordingly–a lovely cream-colored herring-bone skirt, for example, that suited my beige-is-the-new-black era, and a sleek pair of ecru pumps which were about the swankiest pair of shoes I’d ever owned up until that point. She chose wisely. The shoes fit, and I ended up wearing them a lot since they blended so well into my blend-in wardrobe.
Owning that sweet pair of shoes triggered an epiphany. First, they made me realize that I liked wearing nice shoes. They made me feel more confident, more professional, more “together.” They made me realize that small details can make a difference. They made me feel…I was worth it, to borrow an advertising slogan. I was worth good shoes. I deserved good shoes.
I used to love going shopping with my mom, and even today when I’m in a department store, the smell of new clothes brings back memories of going through the racks with her, a silent bond between us. And while I don’t collect shoes the way some women do, I have a decent assortment of comfy and good-looking footwear for virtually every occasion–from lightweight walking shoes to silvery slingbacks I wore at my middle son’s wedding.
Every time I go shopping, if I’m hesitating over a purchase of something I really like, I hear my mother’s voice: Buy the shoes. But that mantra really means something much more than just pursuing a materialistic comfort. Now I know its true message:
Be good to yourself. Value yourself, and others will value you, too. Don’t scrimp on this wonderful gift of life I helped give you. Buy the shoes.