Am I A Bad Mother or Has Africa Run Out of Shoes?

By Rachel Pieh Jones for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

 

I saw a scruffy boy at the Nairobi airport and wondered, where is that kid’s mother?  His hair stuck up in all directions, uncombed and unwashed. He wore blue jeans with holes in the knees so wide the bottom half and the top half of the jeans were barely still connected. His red sweatshirt had a hole in the neck. Both armpits and the cuffs were shredded to strings. His shoes. I think they used to be shoes. Now, they were merely a see-through blue upper attached by shoelaces at the ankle to a rubber bottom that was filled with holes. His dirty socks poked through the holes and the soles flipped around his feet like flip-flops that flopped in the front instead of in back.

He’s not really motherless, but he sure looked like it. His name is Henry and he’s my son.

He loves those shoes and jeans, that sweatshirt. For months, he refused to get rid of them and also refused to duct tape them (duct tape fixes run in the family).

But we were now in Minnesota and it was a below-zero-almost-every-day kind of December. Henry could not wear those shoes or jeans anymore. Grandma had already purchased new jeans; it was up to me to buy him new shoes.

We went to the mall, every expatriate’s favorite first place to go upon re-entry (oh wait, it isn’t?), and marched to the shoe store. I pulled a pair off the shelf.

While Henry tried them on the store employee came to help us.

“How do they fit?” I asked.

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