Although only late Spring, it was an incredibly hot day for those of us living in Central Illinois. I was in the 6th grade at Yankee Ridge, my elementary school in Urbana. At the time, I probably didn’t know what the word “perspire” meant, but it didn’t matter. I felt my hair begin to stick to the back of my neck as I ran around the bases during recess. I crossed the mound with yet another home-run and my team cheered, “Way to go, Meg!” And then I overheard someone from the other team remark, “How many homeruns does she have now, three in a row?” During school, our favorite playground activity was to play “kick ball” with a rubber ball. Although many other kids (especially the boys) played baseball or soccer outside of school, my physical challenges put those sports literally out of my league. My feet could never fit into cleats and trying on a glove would only prove to be an exercise in futility. However, where I was lacking in some areas, I made it up in kick ball. Yes, I was quite good, but I had a secret weapon. Little did anyone know that my home
runs were not exactly the result of talent.
Sports. I am well aware of how important it is these days to have your kid involved in at least SOME sport, even multiple sports, particularly in the community where I live. For my family, and in particular our boys who were similarly born with my condition, ectrodactyly, the question is not which sport are they interested in playing in, but rather, which sports are they able to play. For years I waited, okay, dreaded, for Ethan, now almost age ten, to ask me if he could play on a baseball team. If you read my “Let Go and Let Live” post from a few weeks ago, you know what I would have done. Had he asked, I would have (hopefully) followed my own advice and allowed Ethan to explore on his own what was possible. Sure, he can bat a ball, and he can certainly run around the bases. But even I cannot imagine how, with only one finger on his hand, he could successfully wear a baseball glove and play the game. Somehow (okay, thankfully), I haven’t had to Let Go and Let Live for baseball, since neither Ethan nor Charlie have asked either John or me whether they could play on a team. My gut tells me that deep inside they both already realized that wearing a glove would be a significantly challenging impediment. Fortunately for us, there have been other viable options.
Although I never had any delusional expectations of athletic grandeur for our sons, I rejoiced (inwardly) in the fact that since each turned five, sports like basketball, golf, swimming and soccer have been attainable. For soccer, cleats are necessary. Fortunately, unlike their mother, both boys have more of a fully-formed foot, with two toes on each foot, rather than one. From day one, we knew finding well-fitting shoes would be a challenge for the boys, but figured we’d find a way to deal. When I’d see cleats, I’d just buy them and hope they’d be good…or at least good enough.
This Spring, the soccer season kicked-off on a beautiful, warm and sunny day for Charlie. He was extremely excited to play on his new team, which included many of his 1st grade friends. Believing that his feet don’t grow very quickly, I had put on his cleats from the Fall season, grabbed some blue Gatorade for him, and we departed to the game. When we arrived, I quickly realized that I had forgotten my soccer chair in our car. As Charlie began to practice with the coach and other kids, I ran back to retrieve it. When I returned, I caught a glimpse of Charlie’s face. Typically full of smiles, he was on the field frowning, almost seemingly in pain.
Every mother knows “that look” right before their child is about to cry. There it was on my son’s face, and I felt my stomach tighten. Not knowing the cause, I considered the possibilities. Perhaps there was a new kid on his team who was asking Charlie about his fingers, I considered. The more sensitive of my two boys, at least at this age, I figured this was the likely cause for Charlie’s unhappiness. I began to prepare to move him swiftly past this pity party. However, as Charlie left the field and approached me only twenty minutes into the game, he appeared to limp. My mind began to race for an explanation. Maybe it wasn’t just a curious new kid. How did he get hurt? Who might have injured him? I braced for anything. “Mom, my right cleat hurts so much. I can hardly walk—I can’t play.” Immediately relieved (and inwardly ashamed of my jumping to conclusions), I checked in. “Charlie, do you want to first finish the game?” He shook his head, begging me to leave. I was wrong about Charlie’s feet. They can indeed grow quickly…at least in width.
In that instant, I felt at a minimum guilty and mostly like I had failed my son. How could I have been so ignorant? Why had I never tried to get him custom cleats? Was a plaster mold of his or Ethan’s feet really that bad? How would they look? The following day, I called Charlie’s doctor who was wonderful, and even found a “plaster guy” for me. However, as it turned out, the exorbitant price of making custom shoes, even after the plaster mold is completed, didn’t make economic sense, at least for us. Charlie’s foot would grow again within months requiring yet another mold. He was too young for us to try such a shoe experiment. I brainstormed that night, trying to figure out how I could possibly help Charlie, as well as Ethan, who plans to play soccer again in the Fall. If this was an activity they enjoyed, then I needed to help them, but how? And then it hit me. It was 2:00 am, but I raced anyway to my laptop and typed in the search bar something I had never tried in the past: “Extra-wide cleats.”
The handsome black, cleats came in the mail two days later. As Charlie tried them on, his smile returned and my heart melted. I realized that I now have my own 21st century version of a secret weapon: the Internet. This coming season, I am hoping that with his new, wider cleats that Charlie will have the opportunity to kick the ball very far too, just like his mom.
My parents had recently taken me across the border to Vincenz, Indiana. Always struggling to find shoes to that fit me, my mom and dad decided to try to have a custom pair made. As I sat on a chair with first my right foot, then left, placed into the mixture, I couldn’t help but feel blue. The plaster had a clammy texture, and coupled with a cold sensation, this was no joy. A month later, my new shoes arrived, and I was anxious. While the other girls daydreamed about cute boys and scented lip gloss, (although I already liked boys and Bonne Belle gloss too), I fantasized about wearing attractive and comfortable shoes. When I opened the box, there were two pair, one in brown (for “every-day” use, according to my parents), and the other in wine (for special occasions, like my cousin’s forthcoming wedding in California and my batmitzvah).
Other than color, the two pairs looked identical. Most significantly, rather than appearing like shoes purchased off-the-shelf, they were mostly round in shape, faithful to the form of my foot. In a word, I despised them. Despite the fact that they were more comfortable than anything I had ever experienced, the young fashion-maven in me knew they were ugly, and I loathed wearing what would eventually be referred to as my “moon-boots.” As I tried them on for the first time, I turned to my father to object. Ever the realist and optimist, he turned to me and said, “Meg, look at the bright side. These shoes are made with a special type of steel at the toe. It’s like having your own secret weapon. You’ll probably be able to kick a ball really far.”