On Birthday Shoes and Fostering Your Own Child Spirit

 Happy Birthday Shoes 2017.  Photo by Jenna Long. ©2017

Happy Birthday Shoes 2017.  Photo by Jenna Long. ©2017

My adult-reflexologist-self likes to think that shoes became my ultimate symbol of womanhood because even as a child I knew that our feet hold a lot of information about how rooted we are in our physical lives and show us how we relate to the agency we feel we have to move about and participate in the world. Though it could also just be because my birthday falls around the transition between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer break that the childhood rhythm of getting new summer shoes still feels exciting each May. Or it could be some wonderfully human combination of both of those things.

When I was a little girl, more than anything else, I wanted to be an adult. Specifically, I wanted to be an adult lady who wore her hair as high as her heels.  Partly because I thought that this meant that I could eat ice cream or donuts or cereal for dinner instead of meatloaf - and it does, by the way, and I do, by the way, though not nearly as often as I imagined I would back then, even though I still refuse to eat meatloaf. But mostly I wanted to be an adult lady because I wanted people to take me seriously. I had a lot of questions, and a lot of thoughts, and a lot to offer, but most of the time when I would try to express things to adults, they would respond with diversions and verbal pats-on-the-head instead of answers or actual interaction, or they'd spend so much time being incredulous about whatever I said or asked that they never got around to actually addressing me. Adults would talk to each other over me in ways that they thought I didn't notice or understand, and so pretty early on I figured out that in my world (which must also be the entire world) adults only believed and took seriously other adults. In various layers along the way I learned to keep my thoughts and questions to myself, and spent a lot of time inside my own internal world, and later behind the world inside of books.

But I wasn't content to just sit around and wait to become an adult, so as Jane Goodall studies the chimps, I studied the adults around me in order to learn their mysterious ways and try to identify what must be the very great differences between children and grown-ups. One of the biggest signs of difference that I noticed immediately was difference in the ways that little girls and adult ladies dress. This chasm still exists to some degree, but in the 1980s and early 90s when I was immersed in my intense research of adulthood, it was a much stronger contrast than it is now. My little girl self was magnetically inclined emulate a Princess Diana version of womanhood with hair that winged and feathered, and eyeshadow that matched the blush that matched the lipstick that matched the nail polish. Instead I had flat, pony-tailed hair, and no make up, and no jewelry that wasn't made of plastic or metals that didn't turn my finger green, and scratchy wool tights that I had to wear with saddle shoes. I could see that the differences were too numerous to overcome, and in order to gain any kind of foothold in the adult world it became clear that I would have to narrow my focus to one category of clothing or accessory at a time. Everything about how I really wanted to be seen moving through the world distilled itself symbolically in shoes.

From my perspective all I needed to do was dress like an adult lady, and act like an adult lady, and then other people would see me as a very short adult lady, and this would allow me to participate in conversations where I would be understood and taken seriously even thought the number of my age was a singular number. If only I could wear real high heeled shoes, then not only would I be taller, but I was convinced that it would take my Cabbage Patch romper/power suit to an undeniable level of adult prowess. Especially when paired with a purse, a baby doll, and plastic bangles, because another symbol of womanhood for me at the time was having or caring for a child, and because cheap jewelry was better than no jewelry!

Every year, in the weeks leading up to my birthday, I can be found wandering the halls of my internal self while wandering through aisles of shoes. Poking in all of my own dark corners, and rummaging through what needs to stay and what needs to go while trying on any and every shoe that looks interesting. Taking inventory of the gifts and the lessons of the previous 52 weeks and lifting my sails in search of the signs and themes of the coming year while scanning the horizon for sale signs and clearance stickers. My child self searching for the right pair of magic shoes that will give her the confidence to face the steps and walk the terrain towards a new year of learning how to be all that she knows herself to be inside.

Somewhere along the way for many of us, we learn to hide or discount the most vibrant parts of who we know ourselves to be in our first years on earth. And while this is often a great survival skill early on, it will hold us back from ever reaching our fullest potential if we do not eventually reclaim these beautiful, powerful gifts, and allow the wounds surrounding them to fully heal.

To foster our child spirits - the parts of the inner self that unabashedly loves to play and laugh and interact and loses all consideration for time and societal convention - we need to allow ourselves room to acknowledge both the joys and the hurts of our childhood experience. Not in order to place blame or relive trauma unnecessarily, but to give that part of ourselves the opportunity to exist in an internal environment of total congruence with the whole Self. When we continue to deny or hide away these great gifts of self, we cannot truly heal - mentally, emotionally, or physically. These things will fester inside of us and make us angry and bitter about how life is going or how it turned out, when all along we have always had access to exactly what we need to live and love and grow into our own enormous potential.

It's likely that you already do something with some kind of frequency that allows the child spirit to express, whether it be through tantrums or joy. The areas of our lives where we don't want to be told what to do or how to do it are often areas where our child self is holding the reigns and holding us back from realizing our potential by demanding that the adult self stops and stays present to the areas in which the child self feels entitled to an extreme display of power in reaction to having been powerless or unacknowledged for so long.

My child spirit finds so much joy and empowerment and playful expression in my choices of footwear because she knows that when I look for just the right pair of shoes I am looking for her; that I see all of who she is, and all that she brings to the table. Choosing my shoes as I dress for each day reminds both me and her that I am present and listening, and that her eager, innocent, insight is so valuable to my very serious adult lady life.

Maybe your child spirit loves legos or lipstick or cats or neon colors or splashing in water or talking incessantly or reading books or collecting rocks or coloring so hard the crayons break, or lining up all your toys in just the right order or making mud pies or actual pies or or or or or or or or or...anything and everything that you love and have ever loved.

May we allow our adult selves to trust that we know how to correctly care for our own inner children, and allow both parts of ourselves to emerge together and care for one another with grace and tenderness and joy.