Monday, August 23, 2021

Not Fixing



I've recently purchase a few pairs of new shoes. I was experiencing a bit of lower back and hip pain and figured out that it was caused by my gait. I tend to be sightly pigeon toed and land hard on my heels, especially on the outer heel of my left foot judging from how the old shoes had worn down. I can feel the new shoes trying to correct my stride: with each step there is pushback against the weight of my heel, which rocks my foot forward onto the ball of my foot.

My old shoes don't do that. They give way to my flaw. Over literally thousands of miles, the old shoes had adapted to my gait, allowing them, even encouraging them. For the first few wearings, my new shoes caused new pains as my body adapted to them. I'm now through this "breaking in" period and my lower back and hip pain has faded. One could say, these new shoes and I have entered our golden age together, but I know that over the course of next several months, the shoes will inevitable retreat in the face of the flaw in my gait, the back and hip pain will be the signals that it's once more time for new shoes.

When I was a preschooler, my pediatrician identified me as pigeon toed and prescribed a corrective device that our family labeled "twisters." There was a thick belt that was connected to a pair of clunky shoes by metal bands that forced my feet to turn outward, giving me a duck's waddle. The idea was that if I wore the twisters every day for months or years, my toes would learn to point forward rather than toward one another. This was not an invisible device, but rather one that was worn on the outside of my clothing, which meant it caused every child to ask, "What are those things?" and every adult to treat me like I was a poor handicapped child. Mom couldn't take it and after a couple weeks, threw the twisters in the trash.

As it turns out, being slightly pigeon toed is an advantage when it comes to certain athletic activities, especially those that involve sprinting. I'm not saying it was my "flaw" alone that gave me my original superpower, but I was, as proven countless times in footraces, the fastest child on my street. It wasn't until I hit middle school that I met the first kid my age who could beat me over 100 yards, Chris Hernandez, and I noted that he too walked with slightly inward turning toes.

Mom tossed the twisters because she didn't like the optics of it and worried that once the novelty wore off I would come to view myself the way the adults did, as damaged and pitiable. She was worried that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps the inconvenience of wearing twisters would have paid off in ways I can't imagine. Maybe today I would not start experiencing lower back and hip pain as my shoes wear down, but after that period in my life, the subject of my inward turning toes only came up one time. A high school girlfriend once mentioned it as one of the things that made me attractive to her. I was touched that she had noticed this subtle thing about me. I quietly thanked Mom for that decision that she made so long ago.

It's possible, I suppose, that had we toughed it out with those twisters, my shoes would today last longer and the money I saved would be employed toward less prosaic ends. But I doubt it. I'm sure it was difficult for Mom to go against the doctor's recommendation. I'm sure she lost sleep over it. I'm sure she worried that I would one day have cause to condemn her for not "fixing" me when she had the chance. But then I might not have ever been the fastest kid on the block. I might not have ever experienced my first superpower. I might not have attracted that girlfriend who made me feel so good about myself. But most significant, looking at it from the perspective of more than half a century in the future, is that I didn't need to be fixed. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, not trying to fix our children is the more difficult, and better, choice. 

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