Making My Daughter Walk to School Barefoot
Posted on September 5, 2013
I dragged Noelle along beside me, snot and tears coating her face. “Aaaaaarrrggghh!!” she screamed at the top of her lungs in protest. She ripped her hand out of mine and froze in the middle of the alley, arms crossed, stone-faced, and two bare feet planted amid the debris of rocks, and gravel.
How on earth did I end up in this moment? My adrenaline pumped, my mind raced. Keep calm, I took a deep breath.
“Come on, Noelle. We’re going to school. This is what happens when you don’t put your shoes on when mommy tells you.”
Noelle flinched, and then gave in, marching up behind me. “Walk on the grass,” I said steering her out off the cement, and into the dew covered lawn.
In this way, we proceeded the one block from our house to school.
The morning had started out pleasantly. The kids got up in good moods. We had scrambled eggs and bacon. Noelle made a pretend picnic in the living room for her brother, and then we all got dressed.
“Wanna help me pick out what to wear?” Noelle asked Nathan, and he followed her happily to her room. A few minutes later she emerged wearing the outfit Nathan had apparently picked out for her: a purple and black top that announced, “GLITZ” down the middle, paired with a jean skirt.
“Okay, get your socks and shoes on,” I said, and turned back to the mirror where I was pinning back my hair for the day. That’s when everything fell apart.
Dwayne scooped Nathan up, kissed me goodbye and left for school. In the following quiet, Noelle’s voice reached me from her room, in a whine of defeat.
“My lace-up shoes feel funny!”
My stomach dropped. Not now. Not today.
It seems like about two or three days a week, we go through a massive tantrum over Noelle’s shoes not feeling right. I’m never sure where these outbursts come from because she wears these shoes all week without complaint. One day she swore to me that the bump in her tennis shoes was painful. When I took off her shoes to feel for the bump, I discovered not a hard, pebble pressing into her foot, but a cushioned support as soft as a pillow.
“I want to wear my flip flops!” she whined from across the hall. I leaned against the counter and said as reasonably as possible, “Flip flops aren’t allowed at school. You can wear your tennis shoes if your lace ups feel funny.”
Before I knew it, we were in a full-fledged tantrum. “My pinky toe hurts,” she wailed, the tears falling like curtains over her cheeks. I looked down at the offender, the left pinky-toe. It looked fine. It was little, and pink and cute.
Noelle’s tantrums were disturbing when she was three, but now that she’s nearly six years-old, they are horrifying, because they are bigger, and more dire. She doesn’t throw bratty tantrums. Those I would have no patience for. Instead, she throws heart-wrenching, my toe is literally falling off of my body, type tantrums, tantrums that make me question everything I know as a mother, tantrums that paint ghastly pictures for me.
Maybe she has sensory deprivation disorder! Maybe she’s throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to go to school. Maybe she’s getting bullied at school. Maybe she feels abandoned by me and is doing this to get attention.
Every heart string gets plucked in these tantrums and I find myself having to pull back and look clearly at my daughter.
“I don’t want to go to school,” she wailed.
“Why not?” I asked feeling the worry crawl up my belly.
“Because my pinky toe hurts!” she moaned and doubled over.
All I can think to do in these moments is keep my cool and see if the tantrum blows over. I do my best to not let myself get thrown around on the crazy winds of her storm and keep my anchor. I reminded myself that Noelle loves school. She goes to a beautiful little Montessori School that is supportive and kind, and her two best friends at school are sweet, well-behaved girls. The shoes don’t give her trouble on any other day, so sensory deprivation disorder is out of the picture for now. I have no idea where the tantrum is coming from, but I just forge ahead, praying that I’m not overlooking anything serious.
“Well, love,” I said giving her a hug. “You have to go to school. You can’t wear flip flops. It’s not allowed. I’m going to make your lunch, and I want you to get your socks and shoes on by the time I’m done packing your lunch; otherwise, you’re going to have to walk to school barefoot.”
And that’s how I ended up dragging my daughter, bawling and wailing, barefoot through an alley littered with broken glass, to school.
By the time we were out in the alley, Noelle was begging for her shoes, but I clutched them close to my chest. “No, you can put them on when you get to school, but we don’t have time to stop now,” I explained.
When we got to the school doors, the principal, Ms. Robin, a saint of a woman, walked up to us with a look of concern on her face. She saw Noelle’s beat red face, her bare feet, and looked at me for answers.
“She didn’t get her shoes on when I asked her to, and so she had to walk to school barefoot,” I explained, feeling myself quiver for a moment at the sound of my own explanation. Was I being unfair? Unreasonable? A Monster of a mom?
Ms. Robin’s face broke into a smile of understanding. “I love those natural consequences,” she said, and I felt myself slump with relief and gratitude. I was almost shaking with exhaustion from wrestling with Noelle all the way to school. It was such a gift to hear those five words of encouragement.
I looked down at my daughter, who had been listening to Ms. Robin and I talk. Suddenly, she was done crying. Noelle turned to me, her face still wet and slimy, but her little chin lifted.
“Kiss,” she said, and I bent over and kissed her red cheek.
She turned on her bare heel and marched into school.