Flip-Flops and the Teenager

Photo: Rudolf Vlček

When my son was a new adolescent, he was still willing to hold my hand, accompany me to the movies, and join me in a friendly board game.

This period of acceptance preceded his teenage years, when he naturally attempted to assert his independence–never to be seen in public having physical contact with his mother, never to willingly discuss any detail of social events involving girls, and never–NO NEVER–to wear any footwear other than flip-flops.

When the flip-flop phase began, I expected it to be just that–a short-lived period. I was certain that when the leaves changed color and began to slowly disappear, so would the flip-flops. As happens each year, the weather grew colder and the first flakes of snow fell; the flip-flops, however, remained a constant. They nestled on the mudroom floor between the sneakers, cleats and, eventually, snow boots of my other children.

Initially, I urged my son to wear actual shoes. In my coat, gloves, scarf and boots, I wondered aloud, “Do you have any neurons in your feet?” or “Will you regret your shoe-choice when you develop pneumonia?” My pleas/taunts were to no avail; my son countered with the fact that he did not get cold.

It became exhausting. Finally, I stopped pestering. I recognized that he was attempting to control one of the few things he truly could be the master of in his teenage world and, honestly, he never seemed uncomfortably chilled.

There was exactly one day when I expected an about face on his part. It was a frigid day when we all went to a friend’s house. Approaching their home, which was blanketed in snow, I noticed they had not yet shoveled their driveway following the morning’s blizzard.

As Noah exited the car in his flip-flops into ankle-high white powder, I believe I caught a glimpse of (or possibly imagined) a slight grimace on his face. I waited expectantly for him to concede that I had been correct. Not surprisingly, he trudged through the accumulated flakes without a word. Independence outweighed acquiescence.

There were many occasions when I received a reprimand from my mother-in-law for allowing her grandchild to go outside inadequately dressed, replete with the implicit suggestion of my parental deficiency. Explaining to her that he could simply change his shoes did little to appease her. Nor did my explanation that flip-flops were, for my son, a minor form of rebellion, which I was certain would pass.

Pass it did. Sometime during Noah’s senior year in high school, his flip-flops disappeared from their familiar residence on the mudroom floor, replaced by loafers.

The requisite teasing followed: “What? No flip-flops?” I did get a nod of approval from my mother-in-law when she saw him shod, as if I had accomplished some great feat (pun unintended). But I knew, with a touch of sadness, that the absence of flip-flops meant my son was transitioning into a more adult, self-reliant phase.

With Noah off to college, the flip-flop phenomenon, along with so many other ephemeral stages, faded into the distant history of our family. Or so I thought.

As my daughter entered high school this year, her flip-flops took root in the familiar location on the floor of our entryway. Learning from experience, my perspective on the given situation “flip-flopped”; this winter, there is no fuss, no reproach for my daughter’s minor transgression of seasonally improper footwear. This episode will pass and I will, undoubtedly, look sadly upon the day that the flip-flops vanished, a reminder of my children’s continued journey toward adulthood.

Marjorie Rosenblatt is a physician, wife and mother of three. She enjoys writing about her experiences and passions, including (but not limited to) her family, medicine and karate.

Photo: Rudolf Vlček


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