My daughter, Julia, will attend Fairfield Ludlowe High School next year, so we went to the recent open house there. We were in the drama classroom learning all about Ms. K's theater program when I turned to my daughter and asked, "Do you want to take drama next year?"
"I don't know," she responded. "My feet hurt."
I looked down at her feet. "Are those new boots?" I asked.
"No, these are Sara's boots."
"Where are your boots?"
"Sarah has them; we traded boots at school today."
I was trying to hear Ms. K talk about the benefits of drama to a well-rounded curriculum, but I was also concerned with my daughter's feet.
"You traded boots with Sara today. Why? Do you even wear the same size?"
I have never been an eighth-grade girl and never traded boots with anyone in eighth grade. I go to work every day and have never once turned to a colleague and said, "Hey, Walter, let's exchange shoes or another random piece of clothing."
My daughter and I discussed what Sara and she had learned by literally walking a mile in someone else's shoes. Could she now criticize Sara and Sara criticize her? They had met the minimum criteria. They had walked a mile in each other's shoes. Did they have a greater understanding of each other? I haven't walked in many peoples' shoes. My shoe size is 14 quadruple E. I've worn my brother Tim's shoes a few times.
About a year ago, I was walking by the Marshall's next to Barnes & Noble in Westport. Through the window, I could see some very large insulated "creek boots" -- boots you can wade in the creek with. We have a family camp in Alaska with two creeks running through the property. We always need creek boots. We keep them by the door, and they are communal. Everybody slips them on when they are headed to the creeks. I walked into the store to look at them. There were three pairs of the best-looking, well-made boots on sale for $7 each. I was hyperventilating. The only slight problem was the size. The boots were size 17. That is three sizes larger than my size. But these were beautiful, insulated creek books.
I called my sister from the store while staring at the boots. "I have an opportunity to buy three pairs of Size 17, insulated, creek boots for the camp. They are only $7 each"
My sister responded, "What size do you wear?"
"14 or 15"
"What size does Tim wear?"
"14 or 15"
"So you want to buy three pairs of shoes that are at least two sizes too big for the largest feet we have at the camp?"
"Don't buy them. Think about it overnight."
"What if they are gone tomorrow?"
"I'm pretty sure three pairs of creek boots, size 17, will be at the store in Westport, Conn. in the morning. I don't see a big rush on them tonight. I can actually guarantee they will be there in the morning."
They were there in the morning. I arrived there before the store opened, and was the first customer in. But I only bought one pair. I brought them up to the camp last year and since they are by the door, everyone wore them. It was funny watching the little kids try to walk in them. They learned a lot about walking in someone else's shoes. Mainly: If you are not extremely careful, you are going to do a face plant, and you can't run in extremely large boots.
What is the moral of Julia's boot exchange with Sara? We don't know.
Julia left them in my wife Laura's car. They were going to exchange the boots with Sara, but then we had that snow storm, and then Laura was at an intersection and a school bus skidded into her car.
So my wife's car and Sara's boots have been in the repair shop for the past week.
We have been trying to come up with a moral such as: "If you walk in someone's shoes for a mile, you may end up leaving them in a car for a week after you get hit by a bus."
Or: "One pair of size 17 creek boots: $7. Watching numerous cousins wear them into the creek and trying to run without face plants: Priceless"
But in the end, after walking in someone else's shoes, we have no grand epiphanies about Sara, school buses, creeks, theater or society. Our feet just hurt.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.