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Shoe Shopping

May 8, 2012
Ms Summers Birthday Note

Best birthday note ever.

I teach a student in New Orleans who has cerebral palsey who was able to come with us on the school trip to North Carolina. She has limited mobility, but she gets around well enough to join us on most of the college tours. I got a wheel chair for her at a tour at North Carolina A & T. When we were in the cafeteria, she was hiding her face behind a water bottle and wiping away tears. I leaned over her shoulder and told her, “Sweetheart. Do you think people are looking at you? Yes? Well they aren’t. They’re staring at me, the weird white lady who invaded the cafeteria.” I was the only white person on our trip, and the only one in the cafeteria of a thousand people. She gave me a giggle, but her handicap embarrasses her. She asked me one time, “Why am I different?” to which I responded, “We’re all different. Some of us just wear our differences on the outside.”

I’m sensitive to those outside differences. I spent my childhood sitting alone in the hallways of school when there were class holiday parties. I didn’t salute the flag or sing patriotic or holiday songs. I didn’t say Merry Christmas and I didn’t have (or attend) birthday parties or slumber parties. Being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness set me apart in that way that I felt everyone noticed. Maybe they didn’t. Now of course I like being different, embrace my uniqueness.

This particular girl needed a security blanket and clung to me on the trip. She missed her mom. Her feet hurt. Her ego was bruised. She felt left out, she didn’t want anyone’s help but couldn’t function without it. I fixed her hair. I put her bra on her. I packed her suitcase to come home and carried her little purse for an entire day. When I peeked inside to see why it was so light, I only found a pencil and pencil sharpener.

So on the 3rd day, we arrive at the mall for an hour of shopping and then go cart riding. She stays behind with me. The other kids are too fast and too loud. The differences don’t feel so big at school but on a school trip they were magnified. I ask her what she wants to do. She says her feet hurt and she needs new tennis shoes.

We walk in the mall, and there is a shoe store. She points to it, and we go in. She follows me to the women’s section and starts to pick up shoes and look for the size. She stares at me blankly. I ask her if she likes them, but she shakes her head no. She keeps holding it.

“I’m a 7.”

“Ok, so find one you like.”

“I’m a 7.”

She just stands there, confused. Then it hits me.

“Have you ever been in a shoe store before?” She shakes her head no. “Never?” Shakes no. “Ok, well, pick out one you like and then we ask the guy at the counter to bring you your size.”

“I’m a 7.”

We go through 3 pairs of shoes, finally finding one she really likes. White Adidas Sambas with hot pink stripes. She has never picked out her own shoes before. She told me her mom just brings stuff home for her. She can’t stop smiling. And surprise, she’s actually an 8.

As I pack away her little sister’s shoes that her mom sent with her because they matched her shirts for the trip, I looked inside at the tongue. Size 6.

Cram your foot into a shoe 2 sizes too small and walk around for 2 days. Add a handicap– and she walks with a wide gait and a big limp, her right side is severely limited. Add a heat wave in North Carolina and the emotional strain of being away from your mom for the first time in your life. Two sizes too small. Two.

TWO!

Real talk. We are so lucky. You are so lucky and I am so lucky, and if for one second you or I start to have a little pity party for ourselves like I have so many times over the course of this year because teaching is SO HARD and the kids are SO behind and every thing I do feels like I’m swimming upstream and battling generational poverty and ignorance with a bendy straw, just stop.

Amen.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 4:50 pm

    Is there something else your students need? Books, another pair of shoes?? I would love to give something!

  2. kmrobb1 permalink
    May 8, 2012 8:08 pm

    great birthday note. that’s awesome!
    ugh, such a great post. i don’t even have the words. thank you so much for this. you’re right. you’re right. you’re right.

  3. Amie permalink
    May 8, 2012 8:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing, it’s always good to get a reality check.

  4. Claudia permalink
    May 8, 2012 9:50 pm

    I’ll give an “amen!” to that!

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