My Son’s Running Shoes
Performing a simple, everyday task could be a huge ordeal for newcomers. During the first six months of moving to Canada, I experienced many struggles because of confusion and lack of information. Even buying a pair of running shoes for my ten-year-old son’s gym class seemed like an impossible mission for me, but then something happened….
It was a chilly autumn afternoon during my first year in Canada. I went to my ten-year-old son’s classroom. He was tired and hungry, but I explained in Persian that I had to speak with his teacher. She was staring at us as if she had just stumbled across a foreign TV channel. I asked her whether the school could do anything to help him integrate and make friends. I also questioned why he wasn’t allowed to participate in gym class.
She replied, “I am sorry, but I guess it’s your fault because he’s supposed to have proper shoes.
Do…you…understand? Tomorrow is the last chance for your son. He must come with two pairs of running shoes, one for indoor activities and another for outdoor activities.”
“But tomorrow is Friday, and it’s already late. Can he bring the shoes on Monday?”
“No. I gave him at least three verbal warnings and one written warning. I can’t accept further excuses. If you cannot read the school notices, the school board can provide a translator.”
“And if we can’t find running shoes tonight?”
“Your son will have to sit on the platform inside the gym and watch the other students who come with the proper shoes. He won’t be allowed to play any games.”
Knowing how much my son loved gym, I realized it was pointless to continue.
Before leaving, I asked, “Would you mind giving me the address of a store where I can buy the proper shoes? Being a newcomer, I have no idea where to go.”
“Here’s the address, but you’d better go right away because it’s almost closing time.”
Talking to the first bus driver, I discovered I had to take two buses and two different subways lines. When we finally got there, we were exhausted. There was a promotion going on, so the store was packed. Only twenty minutes remained. We rushed to choose the shoes. The worst part was the long lineup at the checkout. Knowing it was unfair to make him go shopping after eight hours at school and a long TTC journey, I let my son sit on the floor to eat his snack. Back home in Iran, parents never allow children to sit on the floor.
When it was my turn to pay, a tall, black woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you know the shoes that you chose for your son are for girls?”
I responded, “I don’t care if they’re for girls or boys. To me, they’re just white running shoes”.
She paused for a moment and said, “Look, I’m new to this country like you. Our kids get bullied every day.
Please don’t give them another excuse to bully your son.”
“But there’s no time left. How can I get the right ones?”
Overhearing us, the cashier said, “Don’t worry. Take your time. Go to the second floor—the boys’ section.”
Making my son stop eating his snack, I almost dragged him upstairs. When I got back to the cashier, the black customer was still there.
The cashier said, “You know there’s a ‘buy one, get one free’ promotion.”
I said, “Excuse me? What?”
The black woman explained: “That means you should pay for just one pair and the second pair is free.”
“That’s amazing! I love buying shoes here!”
I found out later that there was another branch of the store right in my neighbourhood. There had been no need to take that long journey downtown. Nevertheless, the trip resulted in a sweet coincidence. I met a caring woman whom I’ll never forget.
SHEIDA SHAHRAMIAN is from Iran. She moved to Canada in 2003. In her homeland, she taught art in university and worked as a set designer. She is now working for the Toronto District School Board as a Multilingual Team Leader.