BY BETT KINYATTI
Muna started school last January.
On the morning of her first day, GB, Nanny Viv and I packed ourselves into the car to see her off. Our overwrought miens took the seats next to us.
We looked like a family going to church on Sunday – Nanny Viv had on the wedges she only saves for special occasions, I was in a jacket and shade of lipstick that photographs well. GB denies this but I swear he had slicked his hair down with oily pomade.
Muna looked dapper in her new school uniform. The yellow against the navy blue reminded me of a box of crayons. Kindergarten girls where skorts – a combi of a skirt at the front and short at the back. Clever, huh?
Muna’s skort was a size bigger, her little bum could not properly hold them up. The poor thing had to keep grabbing them by the waist to hoist them back up in position. I imagine that running later at playtime was no fun because of that damn skort. I am sure she was thinking, ‘I’m only three. Why the hell would my parents punish me with this parachute?’
Anyway, we hit the road and took a route we would know never to take again. I don’t know how long we sat in that traffic, but I recall that Post Malone was playing on the car stereo, and we must have sat through four tracks at least.
I want to tell you how Muna bawled her eyes out after we all dropped her off at her class door. How she scratched Teacher Veronica in the face as she struggled to calm Muna down. GB, Nanny Viv and I were standing aside looking on like a bunch of confused cattle. Teacher Veronica, amidst the bawling struggle, turned to us and said, “It’s OK, you can go now.” We hesitated before absentmindedly falling into a straight line behind GB and heading back to the cow dip. Sorry, car.
How I got to my desk at work and wondered what to do with the rest of my morning – what work befits the first day of your baby’s kindergarten? That jacket made me feel too overdressed to work. (Side bar: School ended at half past noon. What was tickling is, I had barely settled into the morning when it was time for the kids to go back home again. GB went to pick Muna up and she told him forlonly, “Papa, I cried.”)
I wondered whether Muna understood what school is for. That it would be the thorn in her back for the next 18 years. Whether she knew that Talia and Muriuki would later become her kindergarten best friends. And that she would discover her proclivity to art/crayoning primarily because of the Montessori curriculum. Matiangi’s CBC doesn’t focus on learning-through-play as Montessori does.
But I won’t get into that. Not today. Today we fry a different kettle of fish.
Schools closed for the December holiday late last month. The shoes Muna wore on that first day have taken her through her entire first year of kindergarten. Those shoes can tell their own story. A story of ‘Ask my shoes’. Aside from some peeling leather at the toe front and straps, those shoes have held their own.
I honestly didn’t think they would.
I bought them for 500 bob from some unbearably stuffy exhibition on Moi Avenue playing bongo music. They exclusively stock low-end shoes imported from China.
Muna has the most adorable feet. They are chubby and flat at the bottom. Her toes are all almost the same length. (Oh, how I wish my Editor would let me insert a picture here.)
I considered getting Muna shoes from a well-established shoe store that has outlets at every corner of this town. A store where my mother herself had bought me shoes for school. Where the shoes are gummed and stitched with hand-me-down sentiments, and laced with nostalgia. Proudly made in Kenya. Tough as a rhino’s hide.
You don’t just buy a shoe here, you buy into the history of a third-world economy. I opted not to because the shoes didn’t check the features in my cheat sheet. The one you will encounter later in this story.
I didn’t want to get her second-hand shoes either because… you know… because she is our firstborn and she was going to school for the first time and we wanted everything to be brand spanking new. I know. I know. My fleeting desires were ridiculously founded in my own braggadocio.
Either way, I wanted shoes that were comfortable to wear and play in, easy to clean and would meet the daily needs of a three-year old in kindergarten. Form and function. The bargain China-made shoes almost met all her needs. Almost. They missed the mark by a small margin.
Well, if you are a manufacturer or importer of school shoes, I am sharing a cheat sheet so you can nail the designs and crafting down to the last stitch. Here are the features us parents want in the school shoes of our toddlers:
We want the shoes made from soft bendable leather and rounded at the toes. It doesn’t have to be pure leather because (a) the toes of our children need room to wiggle around (b) pure leather is a luxury material; it pushes the cost of the shoe up to an unnecessary bracket (c) our children are in school to run and kick balls around; surely, they are not signing up for endurance training with KDF.
Manmade leather is just as durable yet lighter.
We want shoes whose insides are cushioned with soft material, probably lining leather or a breathable cloth. This allows our children to wear the shoes with or without socks, and their chubby feet will still be comfortable. Children are allowed to wear shoes without socks – they have horrible morning breath too but they don’t get smelly feet. That is a truism you can take to the bank.
We also want shoes that have a Velcro strap; no shoelaces and no steel buckles, please.
Muna is at an age where she slaps your hand away when you want to help her with something. Especially with wearing her shoes. They call this slap independence. “Mummy, leave! I can do by myself.”
I beam with useless pride whenever I see her take the straps out of her shoes, slide her foot in and fasten the Velcro back on. She thrives on that pride, too.
Most important, we want shoes whose soles can bend as far back as our children demand. Shoes that will bend without breaking at the point of tension, and will not make our children’s adorable feet bleed when the bent leather pokes into them.
Rubber soles coupled with soft manmade leather translate to optimum bends.
Do you see the picture down below? That is what we want. This is the ultimate test for a rubber sole. A flexible rubber sole means flexible use.
We don’t want shoes that will force our children to run with their feet flat on the ground, as if they are skiing the slopes of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France.
Life is too short for that.