The Shoe Department

She walked around the floor not exactly as if she owned the place, but more as if it existed solely for her benefit. She seemed unaware of the forest, but focused instead on the trees--each pair of shoes was given its due attention. She carefully scrutinized them, mentally discarding those lacking character or oozing practicality. The ones in vibrant colors were the draw, particularly reds and yellows, and high heels appeared to be a must. At each of the various tables a favorite would be chosen, and she would pick them up, bring them down to the floor, and slide her small feet in (whose feet actually fit the floor models, I wondered to myself). She would glance down for a moment, smile or sometimes not, and then walk briskly but with smallish steps across the rug.

The mirror she preferred was the one beyond the carpeted area. The way a pair of shoes sounded on the hard floor, the click and the clack as she took each casual but determined step seemed almost as important as the visual she sought in the reflection. She examined herself in the floor-length mirror. It was immediately obvious that she was the rare breed who looked into a mirror and did not critique herself. She did not, as most women do, see flaws and become distracted by what wasn't right about her own image (the uncooperative hair that day, the nose which annoyingly enough had not gotten any smaller with the passage of time, the shape or lack thereof of the backside). Her focus was completely on the shoes and how they enhanced her own pleasing image. She would then walk purposefully back to the table, return the shoes to their original spot, and move on to the next pair that struck her fancy. After several repetitions of this dance she found a pair of red patent leather pumps with three inch heels and small, flat bows over the open toes. She smiled as she admired them in the mirror, and glanced to see if any passerby had taken notice of her successful look. An older woman, sitting and waiting interminably for the salesperson to return with her size of orthopedically correct mules, smiled back at her.

"Those are some beautiful shoes, miss," the woman remarked. "Thank you", she replied in a soft, pleased voice.

I felt a momentary twinge of envy. To have that level of freedom from self-doubt, to know that any pair of shoes you tried on could be discarded, not because you weren't right for them, but because they weren't right for you. To ignore brand names and price tags, and not give comfort a second thought.

"How old are you, sweetheart?" the seated woman asked. "Three and a half", she said, holding up her three small and chubby fingers.

Ah, to be three and a half in the shoe department.

But then I realized to do that I would have to relinquish whatever claim I had on this particular three and a half year old, which I wouldn't trade for all of the shoes and self-confidence in the world. Next I felt a pang of worry, one of those moments of mild panic and helplessness that overtake us mothers from time to time, when I unwittingly imagined the day that those beautiful, muscular calves of hers (the ones that I'd known all my life) would most likely not fit into those black leather knee-high boots that she so admired. And I was struck with the knowledge that, despite my most heroic efforts to prevent it, those intelligent eyes would someday soon look into a mirror and see flaws. It seemed, in that brief moment, an unavoidable tragedy, as if I knew a horrific accident was going to occur but had no recourse to stop it.

Then she twirled in front of the mirror, and smiled as her flouncy, turquoise skirt swirled up in exactly the way it should. I let the future go, sat back in my chair, and reveled in the fact that in that moment, the world was her shoe department.

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