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Comfortable Shoes

Having a baby upended me, existentially. I understood that having a child would change my life. I think I even understood that it would change my life in ways that I could not fully anticipate. What I didn’t expect was that becoming a mother would make me feel instantly old—actually, I kind of expected the opposite. I thought having a little kid around would be rejuvenating. Instead, it’s left me feeling pretty ragged, body and soul.

Part of it is just being exhausted all the time. In the early days, there was the prodigious lack of sleep, and now there’s the constant work of chasing after a toddler. The various physical changes wrought by pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding have left me a bit haggard, too. I am not, frankly, feeling especially hot these days. But the really difficult transition has been adjusting to my new place in the universe—a universe which is, itself, very different now that it has Frances in it. In the circle of life, motherhood is one step closer to crone than my previous position, and it’s kind of freaking me out.

Having a baby has also ruined my knees, and trying to address that physiological issue without exacerbating my mental, emotional, and spiritual wobbliness was something of a challenge.

In the past, I tended to choose shoes that were basically unobtrusive. I was dedicated to rubber flip-flops long before they were ubiquitous (I only became aware that there might be something kind of white-trash about wearing 99-cent sandals while not walking to or fro a dorm shower circa 1995, when my friend Sarah said, “One of the things I like about you is that you think flip-flops are shoes.” Time and the vagaries of fashion have, of course, vindicated me). I wear Vans slip-ons until my big toe pokes a hole in the canvas, at which point I replace them. I’ve had the same pair of Doc Marten T-straps for, like, a decade. I tend to choose shoes that ask little of the wearer, but that offer little in the way of technologically-advanced support. While I was carrying a giant fetus in my belly, such shoes became insufficient, and my need for more space-age shoes did not end when my weighty offspring was lifted from my uterus, as her not inconsiderable—and, I should add, not unadorable—bulk was merely shifted from my insides to a sling wrapped around my middle and, later, to my right hip. (I didn’t truly become aware of just how painful carrying Frances around was until the first time I put her in the jogging stroller. Running—an activity known to be rather hard on the knees—felt delightful relative to babywearing.)

Even though I wasn’t used to wearing towering, punishing heels in my life before motherhood, committing myself to comfort over cuteness was a still difficult philosophical shift. I was, as I say, already feeling old, and making the move to comfortable shoes felt kind of like picking a burial plot or, at the very least, investing in a lot of stretchy pants. It felt like letting myself go.

Then I remembered that it’s not just the aged who buy comfortable shoes. It’s also the hippies—not just the hippies who smell bad and have no fashion sense, but also the overeducated, upper-middleclass hippies with lots of disposable income and an interest in ergonomics. Having spent several years living in Ann Arbor—haven to hippies of both varieties—I knew exactly where to start shopping.

ParisThe first shoe to catch my eye was a maryjane by Merrell. It’s sporty without being athletic, the exposed seams and ragged edges make it a little punk, and I really liked the hints of green in the felt interlining and topstitching. These are shoes I might have bought even before I was on a quest for comfort, and I’ve been quite pleased with them.

SolarI wasn’t quite as sure about the Earth shoes. They’re so sleek—especially in the steel grey I liked best—that I couldn’t quite picture how they would look with the T-shirts, cardigans, cords, and calico A-line skirts that comprise my everyday look. I was kind of worried that these shoes would be the first step in the Eileen Fisherization of my wardrobe, and I’m just not ready for earth-tone tunics. I bought the shoes anyway, and I’m glad I did. They’re working out just fine with my existing style—or studied lack of style—and walking in them actually seems to be repairing my knees.

Wooly BullyMy final purchase—boiled-wool clogs—was both the most crunchy and the most elderly, but I don’t care. I wore these slippers around the house all winter long, and they’re awesome. My feet were warm, my arches were supported, and I barely felt a twinge when I carried Frances up and down the stairs.

I can’t say that comfortable shoes have utterly restored my spiritual and philosophical equilibrium, but I can say that I don’t feel nearly so old when my knees aren’t aching. And the fact that I managed to save my joints without beginning the inexorable slide into fashion senescence has allowed me to hope that maybe the ongoing transition into motherhood and the next stage of my life might be a little less rough than I had feared.

May 15, 2008 | Permalink

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