Cleats help kid get off on the right foot

September 05, 1998|By Rob Kasper

IT DOESN'T SEEM like September to me until I have gone shoe shopping with one of my kids. I am not talking about dress shoes here. I'm talking about athletic shoes, cleats.

So the other night I trekked out to a distant, soulless sports mart. There I measured feet, studied displays and debated with one of my kids the pros and cons of shelling out good money for "cool" footwear.

I was not alone. All around me, football moms and soccer dads were pulling shoes out of boxes and trying them on their nimble offspring. Andre, a fellow coach from Little League baseball was there trying soccer shoes on his two sons, Ethan and B. J. It was a reunion in sweat socks.

There is a routine, I think, to this September shoe experience.

It begins with the rush to the store. The kid announces that the first game is on the horizon and there is no proper-fitting footwear in the house. Last year's shoes are too small. The hand-me-downs from a big brother are either the wrong size or have one shoe missing.

This week when the no-shoes alarm bell sounded at our house, I pried myself from the supper table and headed out with our 13-year-old to get him a pair of football cleats. I thought of swinging by a store that sells used sporting goods. But I felt I was too late. The best time to buy used shoes at those stores is at the end of a sports season, not the beginning. My chance of finding a pair of used football cleats would be strong in November, but weak in September. So, instead of used shoes, I drove to a store selling new ones.

On the way I undertook the second part of the September shoe experience, the recitation of homework. The kid had some unfinished homework and I told him to bring it along. He could work on it during the drive. I recalled that a few years earlier on a similar mission, I had quizzed his big brother on state capitals as we zipped down to Anne Arundel county. This time, as I rolled up the Jones Falls Expressway, our second son and I discussed Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his battle with the Duma. So little time, so many current events papers to write.

By the time we pulled into the store parking lot, the kid and I had finished the homework segment and were ready to take the next steps, namely measuring feet and disagreeing over shoe styles.

Measuring your kid's feet is an experience that is both pleasing and alarming. You glow with pride when the measuring device shows you that your child is growing up. However, you tremble with alarm when you see how quickly this growing-up thing is happening. When kids are teen-agers, for instance, their feet seem to grow faster than well-fertilized zucchini.

While I was measuring my kid's shoe size, he was studying the various styles of football shoes. I told him to narrow his choice to two styles, a favorite and a back-up.

This time we were in luck, the store had both styles in stock. The kid laced up the shoes, one style on his left foot, the other on his right. We immediately disagreed on which shoe was preferable. The kid liked the shoe on his left foot, which was "cool." I liked the shoe on his right foot which was cheap -- about half the price of the left-foot version.

Then began the delicate dance of parent-child negotiation. To my eyes there was no difference between the two shoes other than price. To the kid's eyes, however, the favored shoe was light and stylish. Moreover, it had the latest option -- removable cleats. The other shoe was heavy and clunky and had permanent cleats.

I tried logic, asking the kid why anyone would want to remove their cleats, especially during a football game. The kid countered that removable cleats were an important option to have, even though he might never use it. He picked up an ally in this argument. Ethan, his buddy from baseball, was sitting next to him trying on soccer shoes. The two 13-year-olds agreed that removable cleats were the way my son had to go.

So that is the way we went. My son agreed to dip into his summer job earnings to help pay for the cool shoes.

On the way home the kid told me how happy he was, how good the world looked to him now that he was viewing it from his new, cleated perch. The curmudgeon in me wanted to "correct" this view, to tell the kid that what mattered was not the style of his shoes, but his effort and accomplishments.

But another part of me -- maybe my last vestige of youth -- remembered how thrilling it was to thunder along in a new pair of cleats. You feel taller, more confident, like you have a firm grip on your turf. That's a good feeling to have, especially early in the school year.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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