Two weeks ago, I stopped dead outside one of my favourite shoe shops. As if I’d never before considered buying myself new shoes. Or perhaps simply couldn’t remember the last time I’d bought some.
Now before I had kids I was known for my shoes. They were mostly high heeled and always divine. They started conversations with people. They attracted attention. They made me feel fabulous.
For me, this passion shared by many women, started with a pair of rainbow-coloured strappy sandals with a high wooden heel. Apparently Kelly Osbourne wanted that exact pair but they didn’t fit. That’s because they were meant for me. Break-up shoes to ease the pain of yet another disastrous relationship. And they were perfect. Not only did they give my dwindling self-esteem a much-needed boost but they were also the catalyst for a new love in my life. A more reliable and rewarding one as far as I could see.
I started buying shoes every week. Yellow shiny court shoes, green satin stilettoes, knee-high tan leather boots, mid-calf cream leather boots, leopard skin pumps, the list went on.
Buying shoes became my new hobby to fill in the space. And although expensive, it was highly satisfying to have something in my life that was constant, beautiful and always there for me. My shoes made me feel so happy, home alone in my studio apartment on a Saturday night. True love. Or so I thought.
Then pregnancy, childbirth and a mortgage changed everything. No longer was I tripping off to the theatre, work or parties. I was walking around the block to get my baby to sleep. I was walking to the park. I was walking to the shops. I was doing a lot of walking and suddenly all my feel-good heels looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Fancy shoes were left under my bed and replaced with thongs in summer and sandshoes in winter. And it wasn’t just my footwear that was neglected. Thanks to the demands of a young family, a tight budget and a simplified social life, there was little time myself in general.
Until two weeks ago when I stopped outside that shoe shop.
And went in.
And left in a dream with a pair of hip tan leather ankle boots with a Cuban heel. Just enough height to make me feel good but not too ridiculous for the school drop-off.
I felt like a new woman. Until I wore them and got the worst blisters I’ve ever had. I was in a panic. Had I bought the wrong size? Had my feet grown since having babies?
I waited a week and tried again but felt sick to my stomach. Not only because of the physical pain but also the stress of spending money on a pair of ill-fitting shoes. I hadn’t bought boots in four years so the pressure was enormous.
By that night I was in such a state about my catastrophic purchase that I burnt the chicken and completely lost it. My husband hugged me while I sobbed about not even having the skill to cook a simple stir-fry let alone buy shoes. He told me not to worry. He then gently put the offending chicken in the bin and ordered some takeaway, a little bemused at why shoes and chicken were so traumatic.
But it was traumatic. Obviously it was more than just shoes and chicken. I desperately needed to re-find a little sparkle in my life after the past few years of nappies and sleepless nights. And my efforts had been unsuccessful.
In the end my mother came to the rescue with an old recipe for stretching shoes that involved methylated spirits and scrunched up paper. It had been so long that I’d forgotten some shoes need a bit of wearing in. Disaster averted.
Then my husband, worried by my reaction to burnt chicken, suggested I go off for a morning of personal time. And it was heaven to be out and about kid-free, a takeaway coffee in one hand and one small handbag in the other. I wanted to do anything and everything but only had three hours so I bought an iPhone in a hot pink cover and found a groovy A-line skirt in a blue floral.
It was a joy to come home to my excited girls, who had had the chance to miss me for once. The house was a mess but it didn’t seem to matter. I popped on my skirt and everyone loved it. As yet I have absolutely nothing to wear with it but that’s not the point. I now have a groovy skirt in my cupboard that will simply require another shopping expedition to make it work.
I know it will take more than a pair of boots to update a life after ignoring it for so long but it was a start. Those boots, although really just a nice pair of boots, prompted a new way of thinking. They initiated the first few steps in re-building my confidence and re-discovering personal taste. Getting out and about on my own. Realising that everyone at home will probably be fine without me for a while. Simple things, as a mum, I had so easily forgotten.
After that I caught up with a girlfriend for dinner. On my own, after dark. I hadn’t done that for years and it was great. We could actually complete a conversation without the constant interruptions that go hand-in-hand with small children.
As it turns out those ankle boots were just as significant as my gorgeous rainbow break-up shoes and hopefully just as much a catalyst for lots of lovely shoes to come that are not at all suitable for wearing to the park.