For me, most of my earliest Back to School memories start in the same place… Rochester Shoe Store on the east end of Kmart Plaza in Mattydale, New York.
I loved school, and new school shoe shopping meant that I would soon be sitting at a desk again. Oh, joy of joys! I would skip into the store excited to step on that Brannock device (made in Syracuse, btw) to see how much my foot had grown since the year before.
For the period of time that spanned purchasing the shoes and the actual start of school, those beauties would remain tucked inside the shoebox, and at least once a day, I would open it up and shove my whole face in there, deeply breathing in the delicious smell of new leather.
There was one year, however, that came with more than a twinge of anxiety. About to enter Fourth Grade, I was feeling pretty grown up. My classroom would be at the end of the hallway, meaning we’d walk past all those babies in K-3 to take our place as the leaders of our wing.
The talk at the pool that summer was all about Earth shoes, so as we headed to Rochester Shoe Store, I told my mom that’s what I wanted.
We walked out with the most fabulous pair of navy Earth shoes. They had a huge rounded toe and a crazy-cool wavy rubber sole. I’d never seen anything like it.
They also had shoelaces.
You see, the entire time I was one of those K-3 babies, I wore Mary Janes. I honestly can’t remember how I handled sneakers, as Velcro wasn’t even a thing yet, but I do know that I was not adept at tying shoelaces. Truth be told, more than 40 years later, I’m still not great at it. The double knot is my savior and best friend.
So yes, my mom would tie my shoes every morning. You want to make something of it? And one day, tragedy struck and my shoelace untied midday. I acted like I didn’t notice and just kept walking. The shoe got looser and looser until it was almost falling off. We were coming in from recess, and Miss Crader told me to tie my shoe. I can remember being bent over in the hallway going through the motions, feeling the redness creep up my neck, my throat tighten and tears start to well up, all the while thinking, “You can do this, Katie.”
A boy looked my way and said, “Do you NOT know how to tie your shoes, Katie?” And with tears still pooling at the edge of my lower lid, an angel named Lisa Demperio said, “Of course she does, Philip, now get out of here,” and with just the two of us remaining in the hall, Lisa tied my shoe.
I went home and practiced and practiced and practiced tying until I could at least fake it well enough to keep Philip Cooper off my back.
That memory came back to me this week as I went through photos of a very different kind of Back to School new shoe shopping.
A group of remarkable staff and volunteers took the boys who call Christ Child House their home to the Nike Store in Detroit to pick out new sneakers. Because of the generosity of a number of donors, these boys will be able to walk confidently into a new school year. Some had never picked out their own shoes before. Some had only ever had shoes handed down to them and were never able to bask in the glory of that new shoe smell.
The boys’ pictures would melt the heart of even the crustiest of curmudgeons, and their stories could bring you to your knees.
I was reluctant to rejoin the Board of Christ Child after a multi-year hiatus because I was worried my own heart, broken by loss and further weakened by my empty nest, couldn’t bear to hear the atrocities committed against these boys.
I’m still not sure I can. And if self-preservation moves you to live with your head in the sand like I did, you’ll probably want to skip the next two paragraphs.
There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who is the same age I was when my greatest struggle was shoelaces, although his struggle involves being a witness to his mother’s murder as she lay sleeping next to him in bed. Shot dead by his father. Waiting and wondering if he would be next.
There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who was the same age as those K-3 babies who watched me walk down the hall in my super cool, big kid Earth shoes. Although this boy watched as a policeman walked up to a car parked on the side of the highway as he sat strapped in his car seat with both parents slumped in the front seat, overdosed on heroin.
To face the reality of the horrors of our society can be daunting. To shield ourselves from them is tempting. But to do something…even the smallest of somethings…is imperative to bring change to our world. If one of our actions can create even the smallest ripple of positive change, we must act.
And, so, it all circles back to those laces. For decades, I have been inspired by the many women of Christ Child Society who embody the answer to Beyoncé’s question, “Who runs the world?” And, this year, they have assembled multiple teams of women who will not only figuratively, but literally run the world (or at least two countries of it) as part of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon, of which Christ Child House is a recipient charity.
I’ve been assigned my team’s first leg of the marathon. I will run 6.3 miles that include a run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. I have yet to disclose to anyone that I am afraid to drive over that bridge much less run over it, but the voice in my head is saying, “You can do this, Katie.”
If the shoe fits as part of your ability to give, Christ Child House would welcome your financial support by clicking here as we continue to move forward, one step at a time, to bring truth to the motto, “It’s never too late for a happy childhood.”