My husband and I live for music. We met at the infamous Electric Lounge and spent years attending every music show we could. We even worked in bars to get our fix cheaper. Even now, decades later, our ideal date night is to head out in a cab–sucking down five-hour energy drinks–to see one of our local faves from years gone by like The Pocketfishermen or The Hickoids. Or you might find us enjoying a bottle of wine while happily dissecting an old album from our youth–ZZ Top, Adam Ant, The Clash or The James Gang.
So when my son, in his 10th year, expressed a desire to play drums, I was ecstatic. Drummers are my personal weakness. I dreamed of playing the drums; instead I married a drummer–close enough.
I could already see it: my son, a hard-rockin’, tattoed, bad-ass drummer, going on tour with some mid-grade band, barely scrapping by, living at home when he wasn’t touring, eating our groceries, bumming money. Some moms wish for suits and ties, a home in the burbs, a good wife and a couple of kids. Here I am, gunning for sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
He wanted to take the School of Rock summer camp and we didn’t hesitate. We were greeted by friendly, tattoed rock-and-roll types. Like any good mother, I pulled out the credit card and coughed up the $450 for one week. Dammit, my son was going to be a rock star! Next stop: fashion, because all great rockers know how to dress. My credit card was burning.
Converse Chuck Taylors always spoke to me. Converse says to me, “I have style but I’m not gonna blow all my money on a pair of shoes.” I live in them. I have two pairs of black, some crazy purple All-Stars, brown high-tops and a red pair for special occasions.
When I had my son, I did what any Converse-lovin’ mama would do: bought him a tiny pair and put them on him the first chance I got. He had no interest, screaming and yanking them off. I gave them to friends with kids less stubborn than mine. I tried for years, suggesting different styles, commenting on their coolness and noting those people he admired who wore them. No luck.
But now… he said he wanted to DESIGN his own Converse high-tops.
Babe, the sky, the damned cosmos is the limit, whatever you want my sweet beautiful son, because I know that these hightops and your summer band camp are going to come back ten-fold in tattoos and rock-and-roll. You are going to fulfill all my dreams.
We log into the Converse site. I’m excited, I’m panting, I may have stopped breathing. As he begins his process by picking out the high-top, my senses think “low” might be better but I’m not going to interrupt this awesomeness. He picks blue, with a purple outline, purple and blue paint splatters on the toe-tip, light blue stars, dark blue lining and aqua inner lining, I’m smiling and uh-huh’ing, what do I know? I mean this look is total 1980’s. I can see these shoes on David Lee Roth or the drummer from Def Leppard or maybe one of the guys from Duran Duran. It is coming back, right?
My beautiful, artistic son knows what he wants and who am I to point out that this design is wild and crazy and intense and not… exactly… rock-n-roll. It never occurred to me that this gorgeous boy, with his golden-surfer locks, amazing personality, straight A’s, viper wit, nerdy dungeons-and-dragons creativity and intense ability to warp the English vernacular to fit his every moment of emotional expression was suffering from a legacy of colorblindness that would simultaneously create the craziest yet mildly unwearable Converse ever.
We stared at them for a while, quiet. “Do you like them?” I said. “Yes,” he said. Well then, let’s do this. I paid for them. Another $115 bucks. This rock-n-roll lifestyle is expensive but totally worth it. A few weeks later they arrived, a delightful smattering of 1983 throwbacks. I would have loved them when I was 17. I’m sure I even tried to create a pair using powdered dye.
My son was hesitant. He hadn’t meant to have a purple outline around the base, he didn’t know that the various blues didn’t match, yes, the aqua inner liner was intentional (whew), but he hadn’t realized there was an issue with white and off-white canvas clashing. We tried to toughen them up with some black shoe-strings.
He wore them every day of camp. He was the enigmatic cool, recreated cool, one-of-a-kind-cool. But, at the end of the week, the shoes were discarded into the closet, never to be worn again. Maybe he never would have known if I hadn’t asked him, so sweetly, if he just really grooved on purple? Maybe he never would have cared if I hadn’t brought up the variating blues, asking him if he had meant to do it.
He still plays the drums but not with that ecstatic fever I had hoped for. I think he is going to be a graphic designer or cartoonist–slightly more stable, fewer drugs for sure.
But there are the shoes, those shoes, winking at me every time I put away his clothes, reminding me they are a size 9, my size.
I pick them up and tossed them into my pile of Converse. I’m keeping them, a symbol of that brief moment of creativity and imagination when I knew for sure that my son would be a rock-n-roll star. I’ll figure out the perfect time to wear them. They aren’t my style, yet. Later, when I’m 70 or 80 I’ll take a cruise around the block in them, maybe bang on the drums in the garage, or if I’ve landed on bad times and find myself pushing my belongings in a grocery cart, my last act of defiance will be to pull on those damned Converse. Bury me in them.
And my son? He’s is back to his running shoes and sweatshorts. Just a normal kid with a crazy mom, and that’s OK.
Joanna Fried is a pet-sitter by trade and writes countless essays and even a novel or two in her head on a regular basis. She has a very grounded husband, an amazingly wild son and four crazy dogs. Check out her blog that spurts and stops and picks up again, spanning years of her life as a mom, at Red Truck Betty.