I’ve been in a pretty aggressive and unsentimental purging wave right now (much like this Chairman Mom member…). The other day I tossed something, and then I had a rare emotional reaction and pulled it back out of the discard pile. 

Take my red Dr. Scholl’s sandals. I have a much cuter version in my red Birkenstocks. And I realized I never wear them. 

But my mom. My long-suffering, hard-working mother of five kids and school teacher would put her everything into so many people everyday, to the point where she’d have to come home most days and lay down with migraines. I’d sneak into her darkened bedroom, unable to go any length of time without her, and you could see her sheer physical inability to rise up and take care of me collide with her maternal passion and drive. I’d just loop my little fingers into where her hand lay. 

Those days she was doing what she could with what she had. Our lives were touch-and-go in so many ways. She overshared her emotions with me. She held me sometimes as if my love could wash over her and change her life. It was a lot. But she was in survival mode. She didn’t have time to sit and worry about what my siblings or I might later talk about in therapy. 

I have so much adoration and warmth for that era my mom. In a sense, she feels lost to me now. My mom is a grandmother now. She’s retired. She’s had Parkinsons for 20 years. She’s no longer that mom in a lot of ways. And I grieve for that. Sometimes I want to go back as the current me to the then 40-something version of my mom and just talk about life. Just be. Tell her it all works out fine and I see all she is doing. Share with her a glimpse of this era mom that I’ve become.

I can’t, but I have a piece of her. That mom always—always!—wore red Dr. Scholl’s sandals, the original exercise sandal as they’re now called on Nordstrom where reproduction versions retail for nearly $100 (!). (I assure you, my mother never paid anything like that and she bought them at the drugstore.) 

She especially wore them the times she was being my mom: Running errands, days at the beach, the day-in-and-day-out. They weren’t a decision; they were simply ever-present in the same way the smell of Noxzema was when she rocked me at bedtime. So ever-present that I thought of them as an extension of her legs, not as a separate item she thought to purchase and put on. 

Ten or more years ago, I happened to be at home when she was going through an attic or a closet and she found a pair in the box from the 70s. They no longer made them and if Nordstrom was doing a re-issue of them, she certainly didn’t know. Like Mark Zuckerberg with Adidas, she had started to stockpile them at some point. This was her last box and she never opened it, I presume as a result of the Parkinsons. (They’re intentionally a challenge to walk in, hence the “original exercise sandal.”) 

Her entire face warmed, as she explained how she had to stockpile them because she loved them so much and feared they’d stop making them. They were her version of my many pairs of cowboy boots. I grabbed them from her, clutching them close, my childhood pressing in on me palpably. I told her I was taking them, more than asking. 

How could I think about tossing these? That version of my mom is long since lost to me, and my mom as she is now is in her 80s. How could I even think about it?

I wore them today for the first time on a brunch in town with a half dozen amazing, powerful women who I truly feel see and appreciate me. I felt elevated. I felt like I had reinforcements. I felt like I was wearing magic ruby slippers. My parents didn’t have fancy things, but these felt like a precious heirloom. 

How did I even think about it? 

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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