The slippers

by tamarjacobson

This particular
Saturday morning we came into Starbucks early. We had gotten out of bed at four
thirty in preparation for a flight out to Seattle. Our bags were
packed and out on the front porch awaiting the taxi that was to arrive an hour
later, when at five a.m. my phone rang. The airlines called to inform me that
the flight had been canceled, and would I call the number 877 whatever. While bleary
eyed, and still a little sleepy, I sat quietly chatting with the woman on the
phone to reschedule our flight for the afternoon. “What time is it there?” She
asked. I told her it was five in the morning. She sounded sympathetic to our
cancelation woes, and we quickly booked a later flight out. After some
reorganizing, including making a call to postpone the cab service to the
airport, writing an email to family in Seattle, who would be picking us up
later than planned, and taking on other odds and ends that suddenly needed my
attention, we decided it was definitely time for an early morning trip to
Starbucks. A cappuccino was sounding pretty good to me right about the moment
that life partner made the suggestion.

Our usually
popular coffee shop was quiet. A few early morning people like us were
sprinkled around the room, some in armchairs reading newspapers, while others
sat next to small round tables quietly gazing at computer or iPad screens. We
picked up our drinks and a piping hot egg-white sandwich from the barrister.
Comfort food to help us plan the unexpectedly free morning we had received through
the cancelation of our flight. We sank into two comfortable armchairs and
devoured the breakfast sandwiches as if we had not seen food for a long, long
time. It felt good.

After some
munching and slurping, I noticed a man and woman sitting around a table close
by. They were intent on feeding some breakfast items to a young toddler: cereal
or scrambled eggs perhaps. I couldn’t quite make it out. The little fellow
toddled around the table and then ran behind and in between their chairs.
Whenever he reappeared by their table they would hastily shove morsels of food
into his mouth. He giggled and waddled away. By now I assumed that the two
adults were his parents. The child wore pajamas and his feet were covered in
soft, colorful sock type slippers decorated with pale blue floral patterns.
Every now and then he would stand on his tiptoes and then run around again and
again. His fluid movements, and his parents’ pleasure in his joy mesmerized me.
They seemed like a contented trio.

Finally, while they
gathered up their things preparing to leave, the toddling boy stopped by close
to me and stared into my eyes. “Hi!” I greeted him, and he smiled. “I love your
slippers,” I said. He seemed to like hearing that. He shook his head from side
to side, giggled and stomped his feet as if in a dance. His mother smiled at me
as well, and then she said almost by way of apology, “Yes, they are the easiest
things to get on his feet because he moves so quickly. I know they probably are
not the best for his feet. No support and all that. But they are the easiest.” She
laughed nervously. I tried to put her at ease, repeating that I thought they
were a great choice. They all hurried out keeping up with the mercurial rhythm
of their young child. This mother had seemed so joyful about her little
toddler’s escapades, and then this strange older woman (me) came along and, oh
dear, mentioned the slippers – those dreaded slippers. As I watched them
leaving the coffee shop, I couldn’t help but think how constantly guilty
parents are. The young woman had seemed ever so slightly embarrassed – or was
it ashamed? – of her choice of shoes for her child, and I almost felt sorry I
had mentioned them at all. I wondered who had been the first to nurture her
guilt about those slippers as bad for her son’s feet. Was it her mother, siblings,
father, extended family members, or in-laws? Perhaps other woman friends, or
maybe she had read something in a parenting book.

I understood her
of course. I had been a mother of a toddler once. And I remember all too well
those guilty, shameful moments when I felt like the choices I made were the
“wrong” ones. It was usually when I was with my mother or mother-in-law, and at
times accompanied by other woman friends, who always seemed to know how to
parent so much better than me. If only I could have run after that loving
family, with the colorfully slippered, quick-footed toddler. I would have said
to them, “Don’t be guilty or ashamed. Cherish the joy you were expressing right
before I opened my mouth to speak. For, you are really great parents. Full of
care and love for this bright little fellow! And, as for your choice of
slippers? Well … just perfect!”