Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Sneakers

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

My two favorite little men were both in need of new shoes last weekend. Wyatt had hand-me downs that fit his feet, just not over his ankle-foot orthodic braces (AFO's for short). I had just taken Alan shopping two weeks prior and let him pick a very cool (and very on sale) pair of hiking boots. They are waterproof (which is why my little "Mr. Practical" wanted them) and work great for playing outside and hiking with daddy, but they are insulated (not exactly ideal for being in a toasty gymnasium) and mark up the gym floor. Oopsie! My darling husband said both boys should get new shoes. A shoe shopping trip with my husband's blessing is something I will NEVER turn down! I don't care if I'm shopping for me, my children, or a HORSE, I'm all about a good shoe-hunt! (But back to the children. Yes, that's right; this story is about the children. Forgive me; I'll switch gears ...)

Children on the Autism spectrum prefer routine, right? Apparently, the "routine" does NOT apply to shoes! As Wyatt and I searched for shoes online, he wrinkled his nose at the orthodic-friendly selection. I can't say that I blame him, as they are mostly clunky, plain and nothing like the "cool shoes" in typical stores. His mommy also wrinkled her nose at the steep price and inability to try them on! (Everyone who is thrilled about the idea of spending $65-130.00 on shoes, waiting for them to arrive, only to send them back at your expense because they don't fit, stand on your head!) I called ahead to several stores, explained our shoe dilemma and visited a few who hoped they could help us. After none of those worked out, I bit the bullet and took Wyatt to a department store known for accommodating kids with special needs. I knew there could be sticker-shock in my future, but I figured they wouldn't be worse than what I'd seen online, and at least they would fit and possibly not resemble bricks with Velcro!

As the grand piano played in the background, Wyatt and I waited for the sales girl to return with a pair of "AFO-friendly" shoes. To our surprise, she returned with four pair, each of which fit his custom-orthodic. Wyatt's eyes lit up with glee when the first pair emerged from the box. To call them a "bright" green and yellow shoe simply doesn't seem to cover it! When she put them on his dear little feet, he didn't "test run" in his shoes, he strutted! As he pivoted and walked back towards me, he shouted, "Mommy, these snazzy shoes make me feel like a MOVIE STAR!" He dismissed the other three option, claiming they looked "stiff and uncomfortable" (Translation: could not be seen from outer space). At this point, I was so thrilled that we had a working pair of shoes he could wear home (instead of waiting weeks for an order to arrive) in a style that made him happy, I probably would have paid just about anything. When I found out they were machine washable, guaranteed to be outgrown before they wore out and cost less than the brick-like shoes we saw online, I plunked my debit card onto the counter and closed the sale.

When we returned home, Wyatt ran to show Alan his "snazzy" new shoes. Alan seemed genuinely impressed and told him they were super-cool. He talked about how green was his favorite color and asked all about the store we went to. While I loved watching my boys connecting, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "PLEASE don't ask if you can go to that store for your P.E. shoes, too!" I knew Alan would understand if I told him the budget wouldn't allow non-orthodic wearing members of our house to shop there, but I really didn't want to go there if I didn't have to ...

Fortunately, my financial concerns were eased when Alan told me wanted to shop in a store that was close-by, preferably one with a sporting goods section. He even wanted to bring daddy along to help him choose a good, practical pair. Clearly, this was going to be a different shopping experience! I'm certain Alan would have enjoyed the escalators at the department store, but he LOVES sporting goods.

Naturally, we headed there first. As the boys admired the new selection of tents and camping stoves, my darling husband and his namesake discussed the pros and cons of each model. Wyatt tagged along happily, enjoying the comradery with his daddy and brother. As I watched them shopping, I was struck by their similarities (identical hair cuts, matching Carhartt jackets and carpenter jeans)-- with the exception of their shoes. My "Alans" were both wearing hiking boots, as they often do. Wyatt, naturally, was proudly sporting his brand new vibrant-green shoes. My mind drifted to the day when Alan got his boots, and Wyatt said he wished he had some, but he knew his "orfodics" wouldn't fit in there. Knowing how Wyatt always wants to be "cool" like his brother, It made me glad that my boys were in the camping supplies aisle. Hiking is a struggle for Wyatt with his lax ligaments and sensory issues, but camping is an activity he can easily participate in. He adores sleeping in tents, playing in dirt, looking for bugs and, of course, eating smores. I stifled an "emotional mommy moment," loving how my guys could bond without expecting conformity.

Checking the price tag and brand (because of the sale, not because he cares about brands) on each and every pair of athletic shoes, little Alan scrutinized his choices. I noticed him looking at a trendy pair with skateboarding art on the sides and three-dimensional flames on the toes that lit up. Remembering how he had admired his brother's shoes the day before, I asked him if he wanted to try those on. He looked at me, somewhat embarrassed. Having shopped with Alan many times, I understood that while his mouth said, "Um ... those are ... really something ... aren't they?" he was probably thinking, "If I wore those shoes to school, I would either be the coolest kid there or laughed off the playground. This is NOT a risk I am willing to take!"

As he headed to a "safer" section of footwear, I realized that my older son admired Wyatt's individuality as much as Wyatt envied his big brother's ability to assimilate. Alan is by nature a go-with-the-flow kind of child who makes friends easily; probably because of his empathetic, accommodating nature. He frequently notices when someone gets a new haircut or has new clothes on, and makes sure to complement them. He cares far more about people's happiness than their "cool factor."

You'd think a kid who was that mellow about everyone else would be pretty secure in his own style ... not so much. While He'll take risks where it counts in life (such as sticking up for someone who is being picked on or telling a friend he isn't allowed to watch a certain T.V. show), he cares a LOT about what his friends think of his attire. I suppose this is the downside of his caring, empathetic nature.

Alan wears a lot of "safe" clothes, seeing them more as a necessity than a form of expression. I'm sure at times he wishes he had the guts to express himself like Wyatt. Just in case his shoes aren't bright enough, know that the custom AFO's underneath are even more colorful! The plaster-cast bottoms are rainbow paint splotches, the velcro straps are fire engine red and his ankle straps are camouflage! It's fairly obvious that Wyatt worries precious little about any one's opinion, probably because it doesn't occur to him that they don't think like he does! That confidence makes him fearless, but it also often makes him lonely.

If my boys could walk a mile in each other's shoes for a day, I wonder what they would think about the unseen side of their opposing realities. I know that Wyatt wishes he knew how to make (and keep) friends like his brother does. I know Alan wishes he could read and spell like his little brother. While Wyatt envies his brother's "Student of the Month" awards, I wonder if Alan ever imagines how it feels to dance during church while the congregation sings in a joyful, but far more subdued fashion. Two precious little boys; two very different footprints.

While they can't swap shoes for a day, as brothers, they walk together. As they travel towards adulthood, they will help each other and learn from one another. As Wyatt gleans empathy, social cues and understanding from his big brother, Alan will take on some of his little brother's courage, persistence and quest for knowledge. In spite of their constant sibling rivalry, I know at the end of the day that nobody understands Wyatt like Alan, and nobody admires Alan like Wyatt. What a gift God has given them in one another, and what a privilege to watch the adventure of my little "mis-matched pair!"

Father, the journey to adulthood is anything but easy. As I guide my children, remind me to follow in Your footsteps.

In Lenten Love and Friendship,


  1. I love your amazing perspective on your boys.

  2. That post brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for your great insight Amy!