The story I am about to tell you is all completely true, profound and stays with me to this day. A lesson I’m still learning, a lesson a child is still teaching.
It is about a boy and a pair of old wooden clogs. Take a seat, put your feet up.
He was 4.
He flew with wings, danced in fountains, stomped off into other worlds, sung in his tree house and jumped waves bigger than his head. He was 4 and he was just doing his thing. I watched, admired and worried. As a mother does.
And then he was 5.
He was given a pair of authentic Dutch red wooden clogs for his dress-up bin. He didn’t need to classify them as such- they were simply footwear, everyday footwear in fact. Those hard to walk in, clunky old things became his shoe of choice. Everywhere, all summer long; to the beach, parks, museums and walking all day long in the city. On and off ferrys, at play-dates and sleepovers. “Don’t they hurt?” I’d ask, surely they hurt. “Nope” he’d throw over his shoulder rushing off to something or other important as 5yr olds do.
The first day of kindergarten he appeared proudly in the kitchen standing tall in his brand new school uniform. The clean pressed straight-out-of the-packet grey shorts and grey shirt fit perfectly. He wore long grey socks and of course – his red clogs. The standard black school shoes remained in their box.
My number one thought that morning was how to get my kid out of his clogs on his first day of school. Surely we could not let him go into this brand new world without the correct attire. Our little kindy kid would be shredded to pieces by recess! I went into protect him-at-all-cost mode and told him he needed to change his shoes.
I glanced desperately at my husband. Surely I had to save my son from certain disaster; after all, it was my job as mother to protect, guide and keep my son safe from the world’s cruel judgment.
We were stumped. “What are we going to do?”
We ummed and ahhed- weighed up the pros and cons. This was new territory for us both. This was the first day of conformity. I was standing barefoot in the kitchen at the crossroads of my parenting life. Should I simply throw away all those years of “You can be whatever you want, don’t let anyone else define you, go into the world and shine” life lessons because I was scared it wasn’t true, or just too hard? Did I really mean any of it? It all boiled down to this one moment in time. It was time to walk the talk.
So before we left home that morning he was told he was strong, bold and courageous, but how other kids may not figure this out straight away. And that although we admired his clogs, other kids may tease him for standing out. We laid it all down without judgment. Here are the facts kid- you decide. Social suicide vs your news black shoes. He barely gave it a moment’s thought. He chose love over fear and clogged boldly into the grey playground.
He came home later that day just as he left. Himself.
But I had changed. A day of worry and fear will do that to a mother. In one swift kick up the butt with his old wooden shoe my son taught me about authenticity and courage, as did his teacher. Mr Ben Barker, a young guy probably just out of college, knew my son the minute he saw him. He knew how my son needed to wear those clogs. And once he saw him, didn’t simply turn a blind eye or mutter something about school policy; he actually celebrated my son’s choice- boldly and loudly for all to hear. Every morning for weeks, my son’s teacher would yell across the playground greeting my son with a cheery “Clogging today Hugo?” welcoming him with a, you-own-those-clogs smile. A smile that could only mean one thing- you are a winner.
My 5 year old is about to turn 20.
He lives on the other side of the world studying education. Anybody who has ever met him knows he has worn those old wooden clogs every day of his life. Today he inspires a new generation of children, encouraging them to wear what fits best. And on the days when my own confidence is low or I feel a little lost, the words of Mr Ben Barker greet me with a smile, “Clogging today?” The question echoes across the years, daring me towards my own bold footsteps.
“Don’t they hurt” I ask my son all these years later. Surely they hurt.
“Sometimes” he now admits, to which we both nod.
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