Mercy is the tenth born. She is the third girl, the first being Heather, ten years later Patience, and then nine years later, Mercy was born. After Mercy came, Lily, Kolbe, Antonia, and then the baby, Andre.
I am tempted to fabricate and say that, at the time of the “one shoe,” Mercy was six, maybe five. The truth is, she was three-and-a-half. Old enough, for sure; old enough if you are in a large family.
Imagine shoes for eleven children and a father, all getting kicked off at the entrance-way, somewhat on the side of the hallway. There were so many shoes and boots that it was a dreaded chore called “Shoes and Boots.”
One day I decided that I did not want to look for matching shoes any more . . . especially when we were dashing out the door to daily Mass. I informed the children of my decision, and as was the norm in my child-rearing practices, I gave them a choice (naturally, I followed the dictum to give only a choice I could live with): “You may go to Mass with two shoes (matching if you like, or not), one shoe, or no shoes.”
Later I reviewed this new policy with Mercy, as she was the worst offender. I was calm and gentle, kind even. I told her that I believed she could do it.
The next morning as we were loading up, “LOAD UP!” rang through the house. Mercy came dashing to the shoes and boots. Unable to find a mate, she got in the van with one shoe.
As I drove to Mass, I grappled with the reality that one of them actually had one shoe. I was thinking what it would look like, marching into our first-row pew clear across the church, in front of all the daily communicants. I was second guessing my seemingly hasty new policy.
Stay calm, Gail. You can do this. Remember? You are raising responsible children, children with choices, children who suffer natural consequences—with you right there to be the loving, empathetic mother. Better to learn at three-and-a-half than to learn with the boss at twenty-three.
It is your price tag, remember Gail? That’s right, it is the price I am willing to pay so she can learn . . . I can do this; I can be embarrassed; I can let everyone think I am a harried housewife with so many kids that she cannot even take care of them properly.
As we processed to our seat, I turned and saw Mercy, with her out-of-control curly head of hair, clopping along to our seat. I do not remember Mass, just the priest’s final blessing. As we got up to leave, two different men approached me and offered to carry Mercy out to the van. I thanked them kindly and assured them that I thought Mercy must have decided to wear one shoe.
When we got home, I asked Mercy to wait with me in the van. She was sad. I held her and comforted her and told her a story about when I was little and had an embarrassing moment.
We laughed. We hugged.
My being able to show her true empathy—no lectures, no reprimands, no sarcastic remarks—let her feel one with me. She knew I was not ever going to worry about her shoes again—it was on her now.
She went into the house. She never looked for her shoes after that. She always had them.