Generally, maturation is defined by a person’s reaching a physical and emotional “growing up”–the result of experiencing and benefitting from life’s innumerable lessons and, ultimately leading to each of us becoming the best us we can be.
As kids, we sponge-up as much information about life as we can because it is, from a basic primal instinct, required for all of us to survive. Such things as language, memory, why that thing is okay to touch, why that thing hurts, what that other thing even is exactly and why does eating it cause dizziness and an ability to hear colors. Without this necessary evolution of our individual selves, humans as a species would have long ago gone the way of the DoDo (not the bird, but the 1931 off-Broadway show about talking hair do’s that subsequently closed after only two weeks due to the smash success of the neighboring, less insistent musical, TryTry).
Growing up, I learned at a normal, healthy, socially acceptable rate. I was not gifted, nor was I a cause for my teachers to speak slowly or my parents to proudly frame my participation awards (of which there were many. Not that I’m bragging…). Much like an income of $4000 in 1954, I was average. So, it should be safe for someone to assume that, by a certain age (somewhere between, say, 25-55), I should know the basics required to function in life.
Well, not only would that someone be wrong, but they would also have egg on their face (which is a little strange when you think about it. I mean, I’m not saying that that particular someone is abnormally kinky and borderline sociopathic, but I’m not not saying it, either. wink-wink)
A few weeks ago, a pebble made its way into my shoe and squatted between my sock and big toe. Instead of taking my shoe off to remove it and free myself from discomfort, I did the I’ll-wiggle-and-flex-my-toes-enough-so-that-the-pebble-is-lodged-in-an-out-of-the-way-part-of-my-shoe thing. Untying and then re-tying a single shoe – Who’s got the time, am I right?
My wife, noting my awkward and unnatural movements, asked ‘what the $%#k are you doing, weirdo?’, but in a nice way. “Sweety, what are you doing with your foot? You okay?”
“I have a rock in my shoe.”
“Well, why not just take your shoe off? It might be easier.” (translation – Are you a two-year old? It’s a problem that most infants can solve)
I shrugged, indicating that, ‘yeah, that’s an option, but I’m already so far into this process that stopping now just makes me a big, fat quitter’. After a few more toe flexes, the rock is exiled like a foosball ball. “Ahh,” I say. Not an ‘Ahh’ that signals total relaxation in a bathtub of hot water or warm pudding, but an ‘Ahh’ that sometimes goes with figuring out that final crossword hint after obsessing on it for more hours than it took the author to create the puzzle. “Ahh.”
My wife’s eyes searched the carpet immediately in front of me. “What happened to the rock?”
“I finally moved it.”
“I know, but where did it fall out?”
“It didn’t. I pushed it into the extra front part of my shoe.”
“Extra? Are your shoes that big on you?”
“They’re not big.”
“Well, why else would you have extra space in your shoes?”
Aww, my small town wife. It was cute how naïve she was. “Um, because that’s how shoes fit.”
She asked me to stand. Holding down the front of my shoe with her thumb, she asked me to wiggle my toes. “Your shoes are way too big.”
Ever so slightly defensive, I said, “No, they’re not. You’re supposed to have extra space in front.”
Why was this so hard to understand?! “Because, when I was growing up, my mom would take me shopping and always test my shoes to check that there was extra room in the toes.”
She now had the same subtle look of concern she gives our dog when it coughs once or twice while eating. “Are you being serious?”
At this point, I sense something is definitely wrong and, given that I would never debate that my wife was ten times smarter than me, I was pretty sure any small and awkward feelings I was having were about to blow up Hindenburg-style. “Is that wrong?”
Taking on an air reminiscent of Ward Cleaver, wise and understanding, my wife looked at me with sweet empathy. “Well, parents do that because kids are supposed to grow into their shoes. That isn’t how shoes are supposed to fit adults.”
Instead of responding, I looked around the room anxiously, waiting for the oven to begin speaking in tongues or drunken Mormon missionaries to pound furiously on the front door, something, anything, to take the place of my red-faced reality at center stage. Nothing happened, of course. Stupid reality with it’s being grounded in reality.
“What size shoe have you been wearing?”
“Nine and a half.”
“How did you figure out that size?”
“And it said you wore a 9.5 mens?”
“No, I just measured my foot with a tape measure and it said my foot was 9.5 inches. So…”
“That’s not how you measure a shoe size, though. You didn’t know that?”
My toddler-in-trouble-because-he-poured-an-entire-box-of-soap-into-the-laundry-machine look was answer enough.
“Oh, sweety,” she laughed. “How long have you been wearing that shoe size?”
“I dunno. 20 years?”
“Haven’t you ever seen those foot measurement tools at the shoe store?”
“The ones that look like spaceships?”
“Uh, I guess…”
When I was little and forced to accompany my mom and sister shopping and when we ended up in a shoe store, I kept busy with the silver toy spaceships that littered the ground. The width adjustment – that was the cockpit. The sliding arch marker – a rear laser turret. So, as customers and employees moved about trying on shoes as they would in any other retail establishment, a two-man fighter ship took part in some of the deadliest battles against legions of enemy fighters from the unnamed bad guy planet. And, although unfairly outnumbered, the silver fighter, with it’s captain flying aerial acrobatics that other pilots would be afraid to attempt and it’s rear gunner making every shot count (that young gunner was a prodigy at the space academy), fought its way to victory while a constant barrage of laser blasts and explosions rocked around them. And since I was somehow unable to limit my imagination to my mind, each sound effect that represented a blast or explosion was shared with the entire store.
The next evening, after my wife got home from work, we went to a shoe store to discover, after decades of ignorance, what my actual shoe size was. Turns out, I was an 8.5.
At home, I opened my side of the closet and stared at the 12 pairs of shoes that no longer (uh, you mean never?) fit me. Black and white spectators, I’m going to find you a good home, someone that will care for you and take you places where you will be appreciated and admired. Patent leather, you’re gonna do important things someday, I just know it. Army boots, cap toe shoes, wing tips, you’ve been great and I’m proud to have known you. PF Flyers, well, I think I’ll miss you most of all.
Fortunately, several of my friends (those annoying we know our shoe size smarty-pants’ who think they’re so worldly with their body awareness) were size 9.5, so the shoes worthy of a good home were placed with care.
Today, I received in the mail my second pair of shoes that are my size.
The only problem I’ve found, so far, with wearing shoes that actually fit is this: if there is a rock in your shoe, you pretty much have no choice but to take your shoe off. There is absolutely no room for toe flexing.