If you’re like most New Innocents readers, you have children in your lives.
When ours were born, I was the first to see them. The first to watch their beautiful eyes catch light. Jen, of course was the first to hold them. She was also the one to deliver them so when it came time to decide who was going to take them to the nursery for their required blood work, I drew the short straw.
Aside from pretending to meaningfully coach Jen through delivery and ceremoniously cutting the umbilical cord, my first official duty as a father would be to preside over my daughters having their heels pricked with a needle to draw blood for testing.
I held them, they’d squirm, and when the needle finally pierced their tissue paper thin heel, a lump the size of an apple cropped up in my throat as I listened to the faint but heartbreaking cry of newborn lungs.
Standing there trying to ease their pain with a warm hug and gentle rocking, I remember wondering if this would be something unconsciously seared into their memories.
Like their first memory of dad…buried deep down where they can’t quite place it, is of my standing uncomfortably over them, letting a stranger gash their foot open to steal their blood.
Well years went by, and I thought everything had been forgotten, or at least forgiven.
And then I took them shopping for hiking shoes.
What is clear to me now is that for the previous five years, they’d been secretly concocting a payback plan. Laying in wait for the perfect moment to strike.
Taking my daughters to REI to buy them “actual” hiking shoes is a “first softball glove” or “two-wheel bike” type event for us. My excitement was embarrassing so I tried, and failed, to play it cool. The girls sensed my cheesy effervescence, and settled on this as their long-awaited moment of revenge.
Not suspecting a thing, I told Jen I’d take them to grab shoes while she was out with friends. Figured I’d take them for the shoes and a short hike to break them in.
I left the stroller at the house. What’s normally our go to jail for an unruly toddler didn’t seem like something I’d need while we were happily and patiently trying on miniature hiking shoes.
I also didn’t have any use for snacks or coloring books. Why would I bring our first line of major-meltdown-defense when I just know they’d be so well-behaved trying on cool shoes?!
Nope, just me and the girls. I couldn’t wait.
Jen’s and my daughters are still little kids, and we love that about them. They are not teenagers but somehow, despite their tender age, all three were almost a little too excited to be going shoe shopping. Maybe they were sensing my excitement. Or is shoe shopping secretly coded into the DNA of young girls? Is it coded in the DNA of young boys? Who knows? All I know is that it inspired an utterly seamless transfer from house to car.
From my in-law’s house, REI is about 25 minutes away. That’s evidently the precise number of minutes it takes for Ainsley, Clarke, and Norah to fall asleep in their car seats.
But 25 minutes later, there we were. We couldn’t just not go in. Only those fathers particularly scarred from a colossal temper-tantrum will be caught sitting in a parking lot with their car on, flipping through Facebook until their kids wake of their own accord. I shouldn’t have been so smug. I should have known better, but instead made a mistake any “crazy uncle” would’ve had the good sense not to do…
I woke them up from a hard nap.
In our house, we have a rule: only one child is allowed to cry at a time. Hilariously, they seem to observe that rule. But on this, their premeditated pay back for their newborn heel prick, they didn’t throw the rule out of the window, they threw the rule THROUGH the window.
Complete panic in the parking lot for five minutes which they somehow warped to feel like 30. Covered in tears, and having been kicked squarely in the junk, twice. I started buckling everyone back into their car seats. I’d already had enough. And as I’m snapping Norah into her seat, I start thinking about all the times Jen and the girls have gone on mommy-daughter adventures together, and how she’s never had to abort mission. Maybe its because she doesn’t have balls to get kicked…but more likely, she’s just better at bending our toddlers to her will. I decided to see this thing through.
Slightly emasculated and sore, I resolved to carry Norah from the car to the store in the same way you might carry a heavy bag of mulch. Ainsley and Clarke were told to, “Hold hands and stay with me.” And we did it! Success.
So with three less hysterical children in tow, we breach the REI entrance and the tears of moments ago turned into overly-excitable excitement. There revenge tour continued, both Ainsley and Clarke rocketing into the store and just outside my view within seconds. Still carrying my bag of mulch, I look like I’m doing an inappropriate CrossFit workout trying to peek inside tent displays to locate my oldest two.
They finally tire of running around and return of their own accord. We mosey on over to the shoe display and meet our salesman. Good kid. Probably twenty. Talks to us a bit about a couple of hikes he has planned with his girlfriend and asks us to sit on a bench which is oriented such that you can see the whole store…but too close to display racks to allow for a grown person to fish their kids out if they got stuck back there.
And of course, right as he’s about to lean over to size up Ainsley’s feet….Boom. Like a bullet from a gun, Clarke is on the move. Ducking behind the women’s sock display and back up through some sandals with lots of straps on them. As she is bombing by me, I reach out and snag her but my momentary shift in focus allowed for Norah’s escape.
Both are kind of running about in the only place where I can’t keep an eye on em. I’d catch one, the other would wrangle loose. This went on and on and on until I finally resolved to invent a way to test a newborn baby’s blood without having to prick the heel.
The shoe salesman’s and my conversation was of a cadence that might have been perceived as curt or disrespectful had we both not been living my daughter’s rebellion in real time. A beautiful awkwardness filled the room. Our visibly flustered shoe salesman pressed his sleeve to his forehead to wipe away a few beads of sweat. In a deep sigh, you could hear his thoughts, “Does this guy want me to keep sizing his daughter’s feet or maybe help him parent?” Whatever his hiking plans with his girlfriend were, I can assure you we did a damn fine job of delaying any “find a nice girl, get married, and settle down” plans he might have been harboring.
In the end, we managed. Our superhero shoe salesman not only got it done but, pretended to be inspired by the fact we were getting the girls in the wilderness at such a young age. Methodically we decided on which made the most sense for whom. And for our troubles, the girl’s feet are protected…a just reparation for my part in their heel trauma.
I suppose that’s a long way of saying, when you’re hiking shoe shopping for your kids, I recommend taking one at a time.
And now, a few suggestions:
*For little toddlers, big companies like Merrell and Keen don’t make proper hiking shoes. The smallest size we could find was a 7. For Norah’s round, fat toddler feet, we found these great shoes in a size 5 and they do the job just as well as the big girls hiking shoes.