October 2, 2012 by whirlyjoy
There was a parent I hadn’t met before at last week’s autism support group. She arrived slightly late, bringing with her a great gust of very positive (okay, maybe a bit frenetic) energy. She was a striking woman with a lovely funky vibe to her, wearing a gorgeously draped sweater patterned in soft blues and browns. So the fact that she had a different shoe on each foot seemed plausibly attributable to a creative sense of style – particularly in this city where we are better known for hip fleece than high fashion. Also, other members of the group clearly knew her well and didn’t say anything; since I would have immediately said “wow, what’s with the shoes?” if she were already a friend, I figured this was maybe standard practice for her.
And, you know, the two shoes went nicely together, even if they didn’t strictly speaking “match”, in the same brand (Dansko, or maybe one of the Clark’s lines) with identical soles, each shoe reflecting a different color palette from her sweater.
Every couple of months I drive up to visit Big Jane in the retirement home she had to move to last year, after she called 911 from her condo because she smelled burning and it turned out to be the stove she’d had on most of the day without realizing it. Her eyesight is failing and her mind loses track of things easily these days, but she’s still a sharp dresser.
She increasingly favors the rhinestones and sparkle that remind her of when she’d dance with Papa at the Dixieland festival. On my last several visits she’s greeted me at the door with her usual “Thank God you’ve come to get me! These people try hard but they’re all so old!” – all set to go out in her favorite pair of hot pink sequined Converse.
Big Jane’s shoes have so far always matched on these visits, and she claims when her tee-shirt is on inside-out that it’s on purpose because the pattern on the front is too ugly and boring. Also, Eenie can often be seen walking around the house with one foot in a furry slipper and the other in just a sock (because “sometimes one foot just gets colder than the other”), and Mimi is proud to have started wearing mismatched socks as a style statement before it became the thing for her tweenie-bopper crowd to actually package and sell them in sets of three brightly patterned and very different singles last year.
So I was all primed to accept this trendy and individualistic new dual-shoe style as perfectly normal and certainly intentional.
As you’ve probably guessed, however, it was not. Some time into the evening, my new friend excused herself to the restroom – and came back to the group consumed with laughter. “When I sat down in there I caught sight of my feet,” she said to me afterwards, “and I started laughing and couldn’t stop!” She’d been trying both shoes on at home to see which one went better with her outfit… and then was distracted by other needs from husband and son and dashed out the door without ever having made her selection. I hereby christen her Shoe Mom and thank her also for the title of today’s post – “my chaos du jour” is how she described this tale of two shoes, and I sense further Spin Cycle entries to come under this name.
I have my own familiarity with both chaos and footwear mishaps, of course. The most dramatic was the time a few years ago when the girls and I went to meet Nana and Opa for dinner at our favorite Greek-style pizza place. We usually walked the five blocks on such evenings, but that night it was raining buckets and we were running late, so I rushed Mimi and Aida out to the car instead. We managed to find parking just across the street kitty-corner from the pizzeria, I hurried the girls over the crosswalk, all of us hunched against the freezing wind and torrential rain, and gratefully sat down inside.
As I peeled off my coat I caught sight of Nana’s face, looking worried. “Did something happen? Are you okay?” she asked me – and, when I presumably looked blank, pointed to the girls’ feet.
Mimi was wearing thick socks that would have been warm if they weren’t soaking wet in the pink Old Navy flip-flops she’d added. “You were rushing us so I just grabbed these the fastest!” Mimi said in response to my exclamation. “But at least I have two shoes on!” With a sinking feeling I let my gaze follow where her finger pointed to Aida’s feet – one of which was properly shod, while the other emerged completely bare from the bedraggled hem of her sweatpants.
There are many oh-so-excellent shoe proverbs out there. Walk a mile in mine often leaps to mind in my dealings with uncooperative people who don’t understand what life with autism can be like. Waiting for the other one to drop is an essential everyday protective mechanism. But my favorite footwear phrase involves those that were made for walking to a strong beat with a bluesy sound, that give you the courage to face up to life and fight the battles you have to without flinching.