There were 26 kids in my fourth grade class, and I am pretty sure that Adam G. and I were the only ones without GASS Earth Shoes when we started school that September.
Mom would ask, “Why do you need a pair of those? You have sneakers. And a pair of clogs.”
“I’m can’t wear the clogs to school; they are made out of wood. Grandma brought them back from Holland. They’re a decoration.”
“How will you play football at recess if you wear dress shoes?”
“They’re not dress shoes. They’re Earth Shoes. And I don’t know how to play football.”
“Football at recess. And after school. The best.” You could just see my mom’s memories of playing pick-up games on her block in Westfield, NJ.
And on the conversations went. And I wanted a pair of those tan suede, lace-up rubber wedged shoes so badly I had dreams about them at night. We didn’t attend church regularly so I hadn’t heard the term covet, but I’m pretty sure that September I was living it. The soles had “GASS” imprinted on that rubber sole, and it stood for Great American Shoe Store. These soles were further improved by those of us in Mrs. Perry’s fourth grade class at Lafayette Consolidated School. My classmates shared their collective cleverness by using ball points to fill in the “G.”. I’m sure Mr. Leonard, our janitor, was just thrilled having to scrub all the ball point pen marks those “=ass” soles left behind each day.
We had one shoe store within a half-hour driving radius, a Kinney’s; Zappos wasn’t a thing. Kinney’s had round display tables with multiple layers, like a tiered cake. You’d walk in and smell a combination of leather and rubber and waterproof spray, which came in a can with a bristled top so you could, you know, buff and protect your suede. I wore my mother down, day by day, and within weeks I had my own pair of Earth Shoes. It felt good… until the next acquisition captured my attention.
We all know, deep down, that possessions aren’t the meaning of life, AND it is completely ok to have things: It’s the wanting and the yearning and the feeling that if only if I had that, whatever “that” is on any given week, I would feel accepted, beautiful, pretty, powerful, smart, that everyone around me could finally recognize me for what I truly am.
During a recent FaceTime session with a senior she said, “I won’t be happy at any school but Wisconsin.”
Cue: Red Flag
“Why do you say that? There are so many wonderful schools on your list.”
“I want a big school.”
“Yes, I know. You have many on your list. Would you feel better if you added another big school that is more of a likely admit, just as insurance?”
“I won’t be happy there. I don’t want to apply to any other schools. I’ll get into Wisconsin, won’t I?” Here is where the conversation gets tricky. There are no guarantees in admissions. None. And the work that needs to be done here is to help a student to know thyself.
“Leesa, what do you think is the most important factor to ensure your happiness at a school?”
After a moment of contemplation, ‘The program.”
“The program is important, but it’s not the most important.”
“The student body, the other kids who are there.”
“That’s a factor, but it’s not the most important.”
“Then I don’t know,” Leesa eyed me.
“The most important factor to ensure your happiness is you. It’s YOU. No other person, place, school, coffee shop, football stadium, roommate, professor, or badger or tiger or hen on a sweatshirt will ensure your happiness without YOU.”
“But I really want to go to Wisconsin.”
“And I think you would be fabulous at Wisconsin.” Leesa’s face relaxed. “And I also think you would be fabulous at…” I read aloud the other nine schools on her list.
And, while I do sincerely hope that Wisconsin comes through with an admit for Leesa, the work that needs to happen has absolutely nothing to do with where she gets in.
This is a lesson the universe serves up to all of us on a daily basis. One of life’s biggest lessons is to come to recognize perpetually living for external validation offers a continuous air of discontent. It is akin to wearing a set of wool socks when you are allergic to wool. Existence is uncomfortable, squirmy, itchy, and twitchy. You are waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop to let you know if you should be happy or sad. The mirage never quite materializes. Goals, dreams, and aspirations are critical to a life well-lived; however, coming to feel the joy in the moment—the possibility that one is exactly where he or she needs to be at this very moment—makes taking that next step, wherever it might be, whatever campus it might be on, with more confidence.
It will be months before Wisconsin will reveal their decision. Leesa won’t hear, nor decide, until possibly May 1. And she could change her mind between now and then. I wasn’t going to shift Leesa to completely new place, so I settled with having planted a seed. And then I asked a new question.
“Tell me about the winter concert you are preparing for with your a cappella group?”
Leesa’s face lit up and she told me the line-up of songs. “First we are going to sing “White Christmas, ” and then I have a solo in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” We were back in the moment. And it felt good.