The Perfect Shoes
When clothing catalogs arrive, my six-year-old daughter Lilia gets out a red pen and circles the things that she likes. Sometimes, she circles pink pants or T-shirts with winsome prints, but usually it’s the footwear: black patent dress shoes with bows, red suede maryjanes, sandals with cut-out hearts.
The thing is, my daughter doesn’t need these kinds of shoes, nor can she wear them. She can’t walk. Due to cerebral palsy incurred around the time of her difficult birth, she flexes her foot when she should be relaxing it. She tends to curl her toes, so in order to get any kind of shoes on her feet, I have to slide my fingers underneath her soles and ease them in, making the cowgirl boots she covets pretty much impossible. Once on, shoes are always falling off.
I am always in search of the perfect shoes for Lilia. Ideally, they are ones that she can put on herself and that won’t fall off. Also, to satisfy my little girl, they need to be cute. I once bought her a pair of pink shoes with glitter and Disney princesses. They stayed in place with Velcro for a few minutes, but the first time she crawled in them, the tops of the shoes scraped across concrete and they were spoiled. The soles, however, are in pristine condition, like the pink bottoms of my daughter’s feet.
The same thing happens to Lilia’s pants. I buy her a new pair, maybe with sequined roses, and before I can catch her, she crawls on some rough surface and, voila, there’s a hole in the knee. It’s hard to keep her in nice clothes, so a lot of times she goes to school with what might be seen as fashionable rips in her jeans. The shoes, though, just look tattered.
For awhile, my mother-in-law had a dog named Max. The dog was a girl, but my son named her after the Grinch’s boy dog. Anyhow, Lilia liked tossing balls and toys to this dog. Once, I grabbed one of Lilia’s old, torn apart shoes and tossed it to Max. Lilia started wailing in protest. I wasn’t sure why she was so upset since the sneaker was in such bad shape, but as we watched Max shake it in her mouth with such ecstasy, Lilia began crying inconsolably.
I have never been that interested in shoes, so I find my daughter’s passion for them a little hard to understand. I think about comfort, and if I find a pair that is versatile and doesn’t make my feet hurt, I wear them into the ground. I like clothes; I’ve been reading Vogue since I was about twelve, but I’m the kind of person who goes around with a five hundred dollar sweater on her back and holes in her socks. Now that I live in Japan, shoes seem to matter even less since they are left at the door. The other day I went to my son’s graduation ceremony in a suit. I wore nice shoes, but I had to change into cheap green vinyl slippers before entering the school.
Yesterday my mother-in-law bought Lilia a new pair of shoes. They are canvas with an elastic strap over the instep and rubber-coated toes – the kind of shoes that Japanese kids wear inside classrooms. I started to say that they wouldn’t stay on Lilia’s feet, that they are the wrong kind of shoes for a kid like her, but then I stopped knowing that Lilia would be delighted with them.
My mother-in-law’s denial runs deep. One night at dinner, she started telling us about some doctor she’d heard of who, through some sort of mysterious massage, had enabled a crippled kid to walk. She thinks we should take Lilia to see this doctor. I sat there, frozen with anger, not saying a word. I am the one who takes Lilia to physical therapy twice a week and cheers her on when all she wants to do is roll around in the pink wheelchair. I am the one who has talked to experts and read books and done late night Internet searches. If this guy is so great, why had I never heard of him? My mother-in-law has never been to a therapy session. She knows nothing about Lilia’s condition, only that it bothers her to see Lilia crawling around. Whenever a guest comes, she says that Lilia will be walking/talking any day now. She’s been saying this for years. Every few months, she buys shoes that fall off Lilia’s feet.
When Lilia was three, we had braces made for her. They are made of strips of leather that support her up to her knees. I let her pick out the color. The first time, she chose hot pink. Recently, when she outgrew them, we had another pair made. This time, she chose deep red. She wears these shoes at school all day and sometimes she even seems to like them, but they are not the shoes of her dreams.
Every now and then, I have to confer with Lilia’s teachers about her future. They ask me to tell them what I want for my daughter. I say that I want for her to be able to read and that I want her to make friends. I say that I hope she will learn to say “mama” and go to college. I say that I hope she will one day be able to live independently, or at least in a group home. But right now, all I want is for my daughter to be able to wear the shoes that she circles in the catalogs that come in the mail.