Wednesday, June 9, 2010

'Your shoes drive me crazy'

‘Your shoes drive me crazy’
By Ellen Painter Dollar

Shoes drive me crazy. To be more specific, if you are a woman who wears what most women wear, your shoes drive me crazy—your flip-flops and Crocs, your Dansko clogs and Merrell mocs, your ballet flats and high-heeled boots and wedge espadrilles.

What have you and your shoes done to offend me? Nothing intentional, I assure you. I’m bothered by the very fact of your shoes and the simple relationship you appear to have with them. You see a pair of cute shoes on sale and if they fit, you decide, “Why not? I’ll get them.” You need a certain kind of shoe—pumps to match the dress you’re wearing to a wedding, sandals you can slip on to chase the kids around all summer—and you know you’ll find what you want. It might take some comparison shopping, some trying on of different sizes, but eventually, you’ll find something that fits your criteria.

My relationship with shoes is more complicated. On the positive side, my shoe options have expanded since my childhood. Then I was limited to hard-soled Oxfords (essentially, boys’ dress shoes) because I wore long metal leg braces, and the bottom of the braces had to hook into special holes drilled into the heels. I vividly remember the two pairs of shoes my mom bought for me in middle school (white canvas Nikes with a blue swoosh, and brown Docksiders) when I switched to plastic braces that could slip right into my shoes. I still get a little giddy in shoe stores, intoxicated by the idea that I am no longer limited to brown clodhoppers. I can buy any shoes I want.

Except I can’t really. While I no longer wear leg braces, I will always have the bone disorder that made them necessary. So I have a long list of qualities I need in shoes. Rubber soles to offer good traction and accommodate the 1 ¼-inch lift I have added to the left shoe to partially compensate for a leg-length discrepancy. Laces or straps to keep the shoe firmly on my foot (most slip-ons are out of the question). Flat soles and broad heels to prevent my ankles from twisting. A closed front to cover my knobby toes. And on top of all that, they have to feel good, or at least good enough. My feet always hurt, every day, no matter what shoes I wear. So I look for shoes that hurt the least.

These requirements mean I have to buy high-quality (i.e., expensive) shoes. And then I have to shell out $100 per pair to have the lift added to my left shoe. And then, after all that, my feet still hurt at the end of the day.

Do you see why regular sightings of Old Navy flip-flops can make me a little crazy? (And don’t even get me started on Crocs…)

Of course, it’s not really about the shoes. It’s about the sense of alienation that crystallizes when I recognize how little most women have to ponder their shoe choices vs. how much I do. I do not navigate the world wrapped up in self-pity or bitter awareness of my disability. But occasionally, something catches me up short, brings into focus that yes, I am different. Our family is different (one of my three children has the same bone disorder I do). Our differences can be a gift as well as a burden. But they are definitely differences.

I recall a beautiful summer day nine years ago when my toddler daughter (the one with the bone disorder) and I were at a friend’s house with our play group. For everyone else, being outdoors on such a day was the epitome of carefree summer living. For me and my daughter—who could not ride a plastic tricycle safely, could not yet walk, and could break a bone as the result of a minor accident—playing in a hilly, toy-strewn backyard with six other toddlers was dangerous, frustrating, and anxiety-producing. Eventually, we just went home, and I felt sadder that day than I had since the day my daughter was diagnosed at six weeks old.

As a family living with this disability, we live with different assumptions than other families. We operate under different rules. We see danger where others see the daily givens of middle-class suburban life—a great pair of shoes on sale, kids running amok in the backyard on a summer day.

For those of you also living with disabilities, what crystallizes your differences or your sense of separation from others? And how do you respond to those feelings when they come up?
Ellen Painter Dollar writes about family and motherhood, faith, and living with a bone disorder which she shares with her oldest daughter. She is working on a book (to be published by Westminster John Knox in 2011) about the ethics and theology of assisted reproduction and genetic screening, drawing on her experience as someone with a genetic disorder who chose to have biological children with a significant chance of inheriting the disorder. Ellen blogs at Choices that Matter and The Five Dollars.


My son is 18 months old and isn't walking or talking. Typical 18 month olds are running and talking. In size he's a toddler but in reality he's still a baby.

Dearest Ellen,

I'm sure that you're familiar with the expression,"It's Christmas in July"; but what if we could have Christmas in June (as of right now), as I may know the shoes for you!!! "'Ecco'( is definately the store for you -- and to answer question: No, I'm not in advertising or, even, a sales representative."

I am, however, a person with a disability, who not only knows a little something about what you are going through, but feels your frustration. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and have been wearing braces for as long as remember. And, although you happily no longer need them, I can only imagine what it's like being a woman and unable to match the perfect shoes with the most stunning dress or outfit. For, I am a guy and still become angered. Futhermore, what angers me most is, "Not only are our shoes more expensive, but if one small aspect about the shoes isn't just right, or something has changed over the years, we can't wear them and must start over from square one.

Needless to say, "You won't be able to wear all of Ecco's shoes, but I believe that more than a few will fit the criteria you need." In addition to this, you're living the States and have more selection than us Canadians, as I will always need to wear my splints.

I am also truly sorry that I cannot be of more assistance, as I wholeheartedly share these words with you. First, a friend once asked me, "Do you believe in God?" This is what I said: "Yes, I do. But, please allow me to explain my position, as it may give you a glimpse into my soul." With this solely in mind, I continued to state, "I would love to see a between religion and science, as both can, and should, be used to better humanity. For example, science dictates that I will never walk without crutches; but my faith tells me that I am disabled for a greater purpose. For, knowledge is useless with compassion."

Second, another friend, Alexandra Lynne Tranchemontagne, whom I will love until the end of time, spoke the truest of words: "We must accept that which cannot change, but find a way to do the things that are truly important."

Third, you are living a life that is an inspiration to us all: "You're an activist and author, with three loving children, and a husband, whom I suspect, utterly adores you."

Shoes be damned!!!

Thanks for being you,

Matt Kamaratakis

Hi Louise,

Two things. First, I have just realized that I made an error of omission, during my previous response. Therefore, please allow me to clarify that I would love to see a "balance" between religion and science...

Second, while I was at Ecco, yesterday, I saw the perfect runners for Ben. They were black, with the smallest but perfect amount of orange, and are made with a new type of laces that he may be able to do-up by himself.

Okay, that it...

Matt Kamaratakis