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I’ll never forget the Brooks. It had to be Brooks running shoes. My oldest was in eighth grade and needed new sneakers that spring for track. It was already the end of the season and he wore them, probably, three times. And that was it. Lacrosse was next and he needed cleats for that. The shiny new Brooks went in the closet.

It had been a hard year financially. It was the year of our move to a new town and expenses were high and my income moderate. I scraped by each week. Pizza on Friday night was a luxury. If one of us needed anything, it went on a list on the refrigerator and as money came in, we prioritized the needs to see who got what first. That spring it was shoes. My tax return had come in and the store was having a sale. Even so, his sneakers still cost $120.

I had hopes he’d wear them for cross country in the fall, but by then his foot had grown. So I saved them for his younger brother. I think we all know how that worked out. His younger brother would rather go barefoot across coals than wear hand-me-down shoes. Plus, they weren’t Nikes. What pre-teen wears Brooks? And now, four years later, I still look at them with contempt.

The next miss-pair was for my youngest for the indoor track season. Specifically for doing the high jump. Cash flow was a little better at this stage, so I took him to the specialty store for the best fit. My oldest had his running career shortened with a heel problem. It was something like Sever’s disease with a bone injury in which the growth plate in the lower back of the heel, where the Achilles tendon (the heel cord that attaches to the growth plate) attaches, becomes inflamed and causes pain. He had months of physical therapy with exercises that included moving his toes back and forth (yes, that’s an exercise!) and he had to stop running. This was frustrating for both of us; he got bored and started to get into trouble, and it added more responsibility to my “plate” with carting him around and keeping track of him. Not to mention the expense of the physical therapy. So this time with his brother, I wasn’t taking any chances. Best sneaker possible.

When he test drove the new shoe at the store, it was the cutest thing. He was so used to wearing Vans for skateboarding that when he turned around to walk back to the bench he sort of floated and had a big smile on his face. “They’re so comfortable!” $150 later, my son had his new bouncy sneakers for his first year of doing high jump. He lasted a week. Didn’t want to do it. Didn’t want to run. “I never wanted to do track anyway. You talked me into it.” Is it bad that I was more upset about another pair of wasted sneakers than I was about him not participating? Actually, I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to go to the meets on Friday nights. It was social, I liked watching him run, and it looked like they were having fun.

So the sneakers sat. Shiny and new. I realized too late that I could have returned them. I guess I was in denial that he quit. Fast forward five months later and he finally wears them again to go work out at a gym with friends. This week I found them in a bag that his friend dropped off. He left them outside his friend’s house after the gym. They were there for two weeks and they were wet and smelly. Ughh. They’’ll be okay but now they’re definitely broken in.

There’s just no rational explanation. When the kids need new shoes, we do the best we can. They’re just shoes. But why does it feel like instead of going to the shoe store, I went to the ATM, withdrew $300 cash, and threw it out the car window as I drove away?

I’ll keep my youngest’s sneakers for fall with hopes he doesn’t grow out of them and I’ll donate the Brooks on my next closet clean-out. The circle of life, played out as an oval track.

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