Volume 76, Number 16 | September 6 - 12, 2006

Back to School

Marbury gives mom assist with affordable sneakers

By Jane Flanagan

Have you purchased your kid’s back-to-school sneakers yet? Me neither. If past experience is any guide, I’ll get around to it by mid-October. But that’s O.K., by then the lines will have gone down. Yes, the sneaker lines.

Let me explain. It all started with my new hero, Stephon Marbury. I never heard of the guy until two weeks ago, but it doesn’t matter, he’s my hero. You may have heard of him. He plays basketball for the Knicks. He just introduced a new line of sneakers for kids. Guess how much they cost? $15. Yup. To those of you who are blissfully unaware, kids sneakers can run anywhere from $70 to $200 or more. Having a young boy at home, I know all about the cost of sneakers. Marbury, I love you.

Here’s my tale:

My 8-year-old son, Rusty, has been obsessed with sneakers for at least half his life. I remember driving home from the mall when he was 4 or 5. I kept yelling into the back seat telling him to please stop carrying on. I was driving! He was hysterical because the sneaker store was sold out of his size. He’d been carrying on for half an hour.

This sneaker fetish has continued unabated. This summer, a few days after he started camp, I asked him who his favorite counselors were. He mentioned a guy named Chris, and I asked Rusty to describe him.

“He has Adidas sneakers,” he said.

I inquired further. “Is he tall? What color hair does he have?” Rusty looked at me blankly. “Is he a teenager, or older?” He couldn’t answer.

It was during this past school year, however, that things really got tricky. For the first time Rusty began asking for a specific brand and style sneaker: Nike Shox. He kept asking and asking, and I kept answering, “Maybe, we’ll see.” And then I discovered how much they cost: $70! “No way!” I said. “I don’t spend that on my shoes.”

But this was also the year that Rusty was having a rough time. Aside from convincing himself that his teacher didn’t like him and discovering that the girls were better at reading, he also had to get eyeglasses. His self-esteem was taking a huge hit. He was coming home from school more and more forlorn, all the while keeping up his mantra about the Nikes. Looking at him, I couldn’t help but agree that this kid needed some kind of ego boost. When you are 8 years old there are limited avenues of coolness. The sneakers category loomed large. Finally, I relented and we set off to buy the Nikes.

Walking to the sneaker store I made him swear he’d never tell his Dad. I also launched into a lecture about how this was a one-time deal. He certainly couldn’t expect to get $70 sneakers next time. He’d also have to take really, really good care of them. They would be his only pair.

The next day, Rusty was sitting in his room and he called to me as I passed by. “Mom,” he said, as I stepped in to discover him sitting on the bed holding one of his new Nikes. “Look at my sneaker!” he said starting to cry. He pointed to a barely discernable scuff. “Look at that!!! I’ve ruined them!” I told him not to worry, you could barely see the mark. It didn’t matter. The next day, he refused to wear them to school. When he came home he wore them for a few hours but only in the apartment. That night, he worried all over again about the scuff and vowed never wear them to school.

Fearing that he was turning into a sneaker basket case, I backed off from my ironclad stance. “Rusty,” I said, “it’s O.K. I don’t want you worrying so much. Just enjoy them. Maybe you can get another pair sometime.”

And there I was — about to become a mom who habitually buys $70 sneakers. Those Nikes wore out faster than most of his other, far-cheaper pairs. I figured at the rate we were going, I wouldn’t be able to afford college tuition. But then in stepped Marbury and his $15 sneakers. I hear kids are lining up for them. That means they are cool. That means my kid will want them. Thank you, Stephon, my hero!

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