Posted by: trevormeers | August 20, 2011

Overachievers Always Have Soggy Tennis Shoes

After 10 years of parenting, it would seem like life would’ve knocked most of the naivete out of my wife and me, at least when it comes to kids yet to throw teen angst at us. But just to prove that we still have plenty to learn, I’ll share this humbling fact: We took our kids to the lakeshore for some “wading” with no backup pants. This is shortsightedness on par with a NASCAR crew chief showing up on race day with a single set of Goodyears.

Here's everybody smiling, which means, of course, this was before the shoe soaking.

This lake happened to be ol’ Gitche Gumee, Lake Superior, which has a summer water temperature somewhere between Iced Tea and Water Above The Thighs Causes Yodeling. So there shouldn’t be much temptation for kids to get soaked. The critical flaw in that piece of parental logic, of course, was this: There were rocks.

Before heading to the lake proper, we visited a few waterfalls pouring down the Gooseberry River just before it meets Superior. Kids fall for stepping stones as reliably as dogs fall for fake throws of tennis balls. Naturally, Allison headed for the shallow river’s far side via the chunks of slate slicked by spray. She’d completed about five moves when her right foot touched down on a loose rock, slide on the tippy stone and splashed into the drink. In time-honored kid tradition, she yanked it out instantly, hoping that her reflexes were quicker than the water’s ability to penetrate her tennis shoe. But in an instant, her day was doomed to a squishy fate.

After a picnic, we walked to a Superior beach and progressively dared to go farther and farther out onto the rocky fingers projecting into the low waves. Jumping to the end of the story, when we drove to Betty’s Pies for an afternoon snack, Allison was sitting on a luxurious cushion of garbage bags and the towel we use to wipe off our bikes. Along the way, she announced, “I’m not even sure I can get these jeans OFF.”

Of course, she was simply following the script I perfected on my own elementary-school vacations. I was in my 20s before realizing that a person’s shoes didn’t naturally turn soggy upon entering a national or state park. Because I was cursed with the combination of an obsession for rock-hopping and the physical coordination of a drunken Gumby, I vacationed exclusively in soggy Zips.

And that was simply the mustiest of the discomforts that came with childhood camping. Because sticking a foot in the drink was usually a precursor to falling in up to the waist, I could also count on each outdoor adventure coming with a healthy dose of chafing induced by Toughskins jeans, which were made of roughly the same material used to make sails on pirate ships. By a trip’s second day, the Toughskins’ handiwork had left me waddling around in a bow-legged shuffle designed to minimize the rubbing of the most tender regions. This awkward stance left me even more vulnerable on wet rocks, locking me into a soggy spiral. Dunk. Chafe. Repeat.

Explaining away the soaked shoe that seems inevitable in retrospect.

Then there were the chiggers, a curse that’s probably unknown to anyone who grew up north of Missouri. These invisible cretins convinced me at a young age of the doctrine that we live in a sin-cursed world. Chiggers like to sneak under the elastic bands of tight-fitting clothing—let’s say Batman Underoos or white tube socks pulled up to one’s knees—and bury under the skin, producing a red, oozing welt that itches like the bite of a mosquito juicing on athlete’s foot. One afternoon of sitting in tall grass beside a Missouri catfish pond left me swollen from toes to knees with scores of chigger bites. I spent hours soaking in mineral baths and smearing Calamine lotion on my legs, promising to save up my allowance for a lawn chair.

None of these discomforts, though, were enough to stop me from heading back outside on the slimmest promise of wading a stream, catching toads, building a raft from old Styrofoam insulation or camping in a tent that smelled like the basement. Partly, that’s because kids typically haven’t yet realized that it’s possible to do these things without discomfort. Even if Gore-Tex existed when I was growing up, I probably would’ve forgotten it in the car anyway. I’d never spent a fun day with dry clothes; why consider it now?

But there’s a bigger reason that a kid who swears he’s dying in the pinch of church clothes can endure any amount of suffering outdoors. Adventure, in the proper dose, numbs pain. What are wet feet when there’s a far side of a big rock to go check out? And who would skip the chance to sleep in a tent just because of a few chiggers?

Somewhere along the line to adulthood, most of us start tailoring our lives to minimize discomfort. If that means skipping a hike or giving up a dream, we figure that’s just the adult thing to do. But in a kids’ reckoning, squishing around in soaked jeans is a good trade for a good look at a new place. If I were a country songwriter, I could probably turn this into a sappy inspirational song with a refrain like, “People ask me where I paid my dues (strum, strum)…I learned it from soggy shoes!” But I’ll leave it at this reminder to anyone prone to always taking the easy path: Listen to your inner 10-year-old and remember that some goals are just worth enduring a little chafing.



  1. A fun read! I am way too cautious. But I have 5 grandsons and I can definitely see them walking (or should I say “wading”) in your shoes. Exploring is just naturally in a kid’s spirit…and thankfully some are “kids” even when they’re elderly…and I bet you’ll be one of ’em! 🙂

  2. You may have the coordination of a drunken Gumby(good line), but no way he has your low post game.

    If you ever need a new topic to blog on, go ahead and watch Cowboys and Aliens and then review in a blog….2 of the worst hours of my life. I love Daniel Craig as Bond, but even he can’t save this disaster. As for Harrison Ford….did he play Indiana Jones and Han Solo like 100 years ago? The boys and I now play a new game….”Try to name a movie worse than Cowboys and Aliens”…It is really hard to do.

    2 weeks until kickoff…Go Huskers!

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