“I’m missing my breakfast updates!” I’m surprised just how many people have said this to us in the week we’ve been back. I’ve been missing writing too. And taking photos. And lots of walking.

Which brings me to shoes. Or more precisely, sandals.

 When we left New Zealand my sandals were green. When we returned they had taken on a distinct orangey-brownish tint. I had intended to scrub them in Santiago, but it wasn’t warm enough for them to dry so I just made a point of declaring them on the bio-security-hazards part of the arrivals card. In the past, our newly-cleaned hiking gear has been given a disinfectant treatment. This time the bio security guys didn’t even look at them. Go figure!

But today’s story – concocted especially for those of you who are missing the morning updates – is not about my green sandals. It’s about a pair of brown sandals.

When I was seventeen I was given the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious girls’ schools in Auckland. My family wasn’t really into prestige or keeping up with the Jones-es, but they did value education. 

On the first day I bowled up wearing the uniform that had probably cost my parents more than they would usually spend on our whole wardrobe for an entire year.  There were no regulation shoes; the only stipulation was that they be brown. At the beginning of summer I had bought myself a pair of brown sandals from an op shop. I’d worn them every day and I intended to wear them to school for the summer term.

One of the first conversations I had in the Hallowed Seventh Form Common Room began, “When are you going to buy your school shoes?” My sandals…..just a wide band of leather across the foot and a strap around the ankle…..were nothing like the slip-ons-with-a-dangly-tassel-on-the-front that everyone else was wearing. I saw a pair of shoes like that the other day, which reminded me of this.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m no rhinoceros with extra-thick skin. I wanted to be liked. Don’t we all? But I didn’t want to be like the girl for whom the most important thing was what kind of shoes I was wearing. I wanted to be liked by them, but I didn’t want to be like them.

I drove in their daddies’ cars with leather seats, I went to the ball, I sat in the common room…..but I never belonged. I wore the wrong sandals.

Looking back, I can see perhaps it was a significant step (no pun intended, but hard to avoid) in my journey. I learnt that it was OK to be different. 

Perhaps wearing that pair of sandals gave me courage to get married at twenty. To go and live in Poland. To apply to do a post-graduate diploma before acquiring a degree. To homeschool. Eight kids. On one income. To travel a decent portion of the world with them for fifteen months. We couldn’t have done it if I’d needed new shoes like everyone else. I guess I also learnt that buying secondhand is ultimately empowering.

Now I need to go and scrub my green sandals.


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