Little Red Shoes

Benita Sun (+Video)


A mother, recalling painful memories, allows her daughter to find her own artistic path.


When my daughter was in kindergarten, I registered her for piano classes once a week. One day when I picked her up after school, she told me, “Mom, I don’t want to practise piano.”

“Ms. Lin said every week you’ll learn a new song in class. Every day you need practice.”

“Mom, I don’t want to practise. I want to play in the playground with my friends.”

The way my daughter looked into my eyes brought back a memory of when I was six years old. My mom—a tall, pale, imposing lady, and a strict one—announced, “Today, our neighbour Mr. Ma will start teaching you piano. I bought you new shoes for the lessons.”

“Why do I have to wear new shoes?”

“New class, new shoes. It shows you respect Mr. Ma. It will make a good impression on him.”

They were cute, red leather shoes that looked like red peppers. I was so excited to wear them. However, they were a bit too narrow for my feet.

Mr. Ma arrived wearing a green shirt and glasses. He had a big warm smile and was around thirty. He showed me where middle C was, then played do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. He told me to touch my fingers to the keys as if I were holding an egg in my palm. When he played “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, his fingers danced across the white and black keys.

When my turn came, I put my little hands on the keys. My thumb touched middle C, do, my index finger re, and so on, but I couldn’t control my fingers. I played again and again, but my fingers were stiff. I was bored. I felt that I looked like a robot. But the worst thing was my feet! My little toes were in pain from the narrow shoes. It felt like they were bleeding, bleeding the colour of the red shoes!

I wanted to ask, “May I stop?” but I didn’t. In China, moms and teachers are authorities.
Imagine it. Your fingers are sore and stiff and your toes hurt in your narrow red pepper shoes. Your body is tired from sitting on the cold bench, but you must practise again and again.

This was just the beginning. I studied the piano for ten years. I wanted to give it up several times, but my mom said, “No, you can’t give up. You must graduate from grade ten because piano is good for your brain and your future.”

I couldn’t understand why such torture was good for me, but I listened to my mom. I graduated from grade ten piano, but I never practised again or even touched a piano because I hated it! Yet, as an adult, I understood that learning the piano not only honed my discipline but gave me an artistic accomplishment. So, I chose the piano for my daughter.

In the car, my daughter was waiting for my permission. “Mom, okay? Can I go play now?”

“Absolutely. You can play for half an hour. And then we need to go home to practise your piano.”

“Thank you, mom. I love you.”

I was so proud of my daughter because she could communicate what she really needed. In Canada, freedom, not enforcement, is normal.

My daughter studied the piano for two years. Then she gave up her lessons and chose instead Traditional Chinese Dance. She wears comfortable, flexible pink dance slippers. Both of us are happy when she dances. I don’t need to remind her to practise. And I always make sure her shoes fit right.

Benita Sun graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Chongqing University in China. She came to Canada as an international student. She opened her own family day care ten years ago in Burnaby where she has raised her daughter and other community kids. She has a happy family in Vancouver now.

Watch the Performance

More Stories from Vancouver 2022