Snow still splotched on the ground. It was April.
She had had a long flight from Calcutta to Frankfurt to Detroit. She’d been travel sick and the aid that was with her changed her from a ruffled dress (a dress to impress) to the yellow and brown outfit you see in the photo. She is being handed over to us in the one picture. The worker isn’t visible, the picture not sharp or cropped well, but there she is, almost catatonic with bewilderment.
She must have been thinking: Who ARE these people? Where am I? Wow! Her courage takes me aback even now. Well, the courage of all the kids still jolts me at times. Most of us can’t imagine being picked up and put on a plane and set down half a world away. This is your family now. Bye Bye.
See the sandals on her feet?
She LOVED those sandals. She wore the yellow and brown outfit as often as I could get it out of the washer and into the dryer. But the sandals she wore every minute: In bed. Outside in the snow that still held. I wondered what people must have thought, this mite of a thing standing in the middle of the front yard while I tried luring her into the stroller for a walk. She was often tear streaked, refusing the stroller and wearing her sandals, It was the usual Michigan April. Cold. Snow flurries some of the time. She did allow socks. The same white socks that came with her from India. Thin white socks. So there was this tiny girl, afraid of almost everything, waving the first robins away if they came to near her, wearing her brown and yellow outfit most days and her brown sandals with white socks.
I don’t know how we managed to do it, but we lost Anita’s sandals. We had carried her out to the car, barefoot. It was a Sunday and we wanted to get out, try for a little fun. It was hard to get anywhere with two kids. (When we got to three kids it proved to be even harder, of course.)
We got her into her car seat. No small feat since she resisted every step of the way and could, because she was so small, actually worm herself out of her seat.
Ken got her in the car seat. I strapped Minh in his and we were ready to go for some family relief time, which is what we called it then, to Gallup Park. We’d look at the ducks and walk around and maybe try a paddle boat. The weather was finally turning milder and Anita had moved from silence to an echo. Water, Anita. Water. She was so quick, so smart. We got to the par and looked for Anita’s sandals in the back seat. Nothing. In the trunk of the car? Nothing. In my purse? No. Where?
Oh, no! I knew where! I had put them on the roof of the car while I strapped Minh in his seat. I had meant to get them and put them on her.
I’d lost her sandals.
We could retrace our route and look, but what were the chances? Horrible! It sounds ridiculous to be so distressed by a pair of sandals that probably cost next to nothing. But they were a small piece of home comfort for her. We turned around to search. The chances were exactly what we thought they would be, zero.
We looked at Anita. She looked at us. Silent tears. We’d been careless with her precious Indian sandals.
Now what? Would she go barefoot? Refuse to wear any shoes? Who knew? Not me. Anything could have happened.
Well, we went back to Gallup Park and Ken carried her around.
She liked that. We rented a paddle boat; she tried to get her feet into the water. She laughed when she sat on Ken’s lap and her toes barely touched the water. Whew.
On the way back home, we rerouted to a Meijer’s where they already had sandals on display and she picked out a pair, brown, like her Indian sandals. These new sandals became her Sunday-when-we-drove-off- with her Indian sandals on top of the car sandals.
Her “new Indian sandals.” Such a small thing in the big picture. But not really.
Every parent knows the feeling of losing something precious that their child loves.
A blanket that gets shrunk in the drier. A stuffed animal eaten by a dog, or left in a restaurant. It’s the part of parenting that moment when you feel, “Oh, no! I could not have done that! What am I going to do? ” Well you haven’t left the child behind, so there’s that.
Turns out Anita fell in love with her new brown sandals and wore them every day from spring to late fall when we finally persuaded her to try some new red sneakers. But she kept the sandals. Some mornings, I’d find them under her pillow, along with the crackers she took to bed with her.
The sandals are in her box of treasures.
Now she wears six inch heels with rhinestones down the back of the heels. She has shoes stacked up everywhere in her house. The rhinestone heels, leopard print heels, multicolored sneakers, and yes, a pair of brown sandals, with gold studs on them.
She is a shoe freak and her daughter follows along. Her daughter begs to try Anita’s shoes on. Her mother protests. “You’ll fall. And besides, your foot is already longer than mine.” True. Anita is a size six. Her daughter is six and a half, already taller than her mother. But her daughter is still a young kid, who sneaks the shoes anyway and walks around imagining the day she will wear, not brown sandals, but rhinestone heels. She is wearing black leggings, a top with a cute fuzzy cat imprinted on it, and the rhinestone heels. She walks from the living room to the kitchen, carefully balancing.
The dog barks at her, young girl teetering in her shoes and Anita laughs.