Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Toddlerhood of Cool

When I told my 3-year-old son that we’d be going shoe shopping, his immediate response was:

“I want Spiderman shoes!”

I’ll admit that, in the past, I’ve caved in to those big blue eyes staring up at me from the seat of the Target shopping cart and been coerced into buying Thomas the Tank Engine sneakers or Lightning McQueen sandals.  “But he loooooves Thomas!” I’d say to my husband upon returning home, pointing at the grinning blonde toddler stomping around the kitchen in his new kicks, holding a train in each hand as he stared at his own wobbly feet.  Surely such a display of cuteness must justify my impulse purchase.

But Spiderman?  He has never watched Spiderman, we don’t have the comic books – he might as well be asking for Walter Mondale shoes.

“Ralph* has them.  He says they’re super cool!”

“You have weird ankles,” I told him.  “We’re going to Stride Rite.”

“Do they have anything cool?” he asked, frowning skeptically at his plain black sneakers.

“Probably not.  And what’s with the ‘cool’ thing, anyway?”  Truly, this was a new development.  Superheroes, I was told by this most diminutive of experts, are cool – as are monster trucks.  He found this out from his friends at preschool, and although he was unable to define that certain quality that made them cool vs. uncool, he was able to tell me that Wolverine was the one with claws.

Arriving at Stride Rite, I scanned the display for something practical (good for playing outside but not too sneakery, tall enough to support the wacky ankles) while he searched in vain for something – anything – 

“Mommy, these are all just REGULAR.”

And therein lies the rub.  It wasn’t that he, too, needed superhero shoes; it was that he needed something different – cars, stripes, seizure-inducing flashing lights – anything that would make his shoes unique.  It’s the same reason he insists on wearing a hat with a propeller on top or speaking only in “Penguin”.  (Penguins, apparently, have a vocabulary limited to words such as “bloorp bloorp”, yet possess a wide range of expressive hand signals despite the limits of their flippers.)  Even preschoolers need to make their mark on the world, and their world exists in a land of make-believe far bigger than our own.  Perhaps brand loyalty begins too young, and Spiderman shoes become Adidas pants and Abercrombie sweatshirts – but perhaps it’s more than that.  Maybe we’re pre-programmed to make our mark on the world in some unique way and to say, from the height of three feet tall, “This Is Me” – and only later become tempted to follow the crowd.

With a sigh, he agreed to try on a sensible pair of brown shoes, surprised at their inner squishiness. 

“Are they comfortable?” the salesgirl asked.

“YES!” he squealed, then caught himself.  “I mean... nooo….”  Lifting his foot and turning over the shoe, I showed him where the squishiness came from: a clear rubbery plastic air bubble built into the sole, from which you could look straight through almost to his socks.  The feature was purely practical, but I could see the wheels spinning. 

“Cool, huh?”

He decided to wear them home, where his grandmother was waiting for us. 

“Look inside my shoe, Nana,” he said, trying to balance on one foot without toppling over.  “Can you see where I keep the goldfish?”

[*name changed to protect identity of superhero-obsessed preschooler with enviable footwear]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back and packing

Each year, Fall does fewer things to endear itself to me.  In fact, I think it goes out of its way to make me hate it more and more.  This year, my least favorite season leached out of its boundaries into August and well past December.  Fall, I shake my fist at you and the grimness you bring. 

Suffice it to say, I didn't feel much like "blogging", and now I need a vacation.  Enter my cousin Gretchen and her plane tickets.

"Cousin," she said to me, "We need to go somewhere funny.  Somewhere we'll laugh hysterically."

"Like that time in Florence when the pigeon crapped on your head?  That made me laugh pretty hard" I said.  And truthfully, it was one of the funniest things that happened on our trip to Italy last year.  We had just descended over 100 stairs from the top floor of the medieval villa where we were renting a room.  Stopping at the bank machine, I looked up and saw the fluffy wagging nether-regions of a windowsill full of fat Tuscan pigeons.  Backing away just in time, I almost heard the "splootch!" as Gretchen screamed and was hit.  My first thought was that I didn't think I could climb those stairs again, so I whipped a Wet Nap out of my purse and began dabbing furiously at the glob on her scalp.  "I need a shampooooo!" she wailed.  "But cousin, I have a Wet Nap right here!" the mother in me said consolingly while dab-dab-dabbing.  I now know, for future reference, that pigeon poop plus Wet Nap equals a very sturdy glue.  And so, up the 100+ stairs we went, gasping like a couple of old smokers (we're not), laughing so hard I almost ralphed over the railing.

Somehow, I don't think pigeon crap would have been as funny if it happened at home.  Likewise, I don't know if that pasta we ate was really fantastic, or if it just tasted that way because we were sitting on a roof overlooking the Duomo on one side and the Piazza della Signoria on the other.  I'm pretty sure that we stand a good chance of going someplace funny, with good food...

And that place is Amsterdam [insert jokes about dope and hookers here].  There are stroopwafels!  There's a store with 200 kinds of cheese!  There are museums and houseboats and canals and all of them are not here.  That's good enough for me.  

I have an aqua polka-dot suitcase, and I am leaving all my work at home.