At 13, Ryan has yet to develop much in the way of material desires. Don’t get me wrong — he loves his iPad and his computer, and he’d be livid if we didn’t have the cable package that includes the NHL Network and all the out-of-town games. He goes to close to 20 NHL games a year.
So, yes, he enjoys the by-products of materialism. What he does not care about is labels. He’s never demanded a specific brand of hockey stick. Or clothing. Or shoes. Most especially shoes.
When it comes to boys Ryan’s age, few items create as much label-envy as sneakers. It was the same for me thirty years ago. I recall hitting middle school and just having to have those new Nikes.
Around that time, Michael Jordan was emerging as the most spectacular player in the NBA. When he debuted his signature shoe, dubbed the Air Jordan, it was a game-changer for the sneaker industry. Suddenly kids everywhere HAD to have his newest shoes — every year.
I never owned a pair of Jordans. I wasn’t much of a basketball guy and I didn’t think I could get the cost past my parents anyway. I certainly didn’t have the money to buy them on my own.
All of which brings me to today. Ryan arrived home from school one day last week to announce that he wanted a pair of Air Jordans. Veronica must have about keeled over from shock. She had taken Ryan shoe-shopping, over his loud protests, no more than a week earlier.
On that outing he reacted as he always does when forced to go clothes shopping. He pointed at the first pair of shoes he saw and said, “those are good.”
That the shoes in question were a pair of white orthopedic shoes with Velcro straps, often spotted on the shuffleboard courts of Del Boca Vista, mattered not. He. Did. Not. Care. The only preference he expressed was the one that would get him out of the shoe store the quickest.
Veronica wisely pressed on, settling on a pair of reasonably cool running shoes.
Now, a few days later, Ryan was asking for a pair of top-of-the-line basketball shoes.
We didn’t have to wonder long where the ask was coming from. He recently changed up his seating routine at school lunch, and now sits at “the popular kids table,” where one of his few long-time friends sits. As a result, he comes home with a few more off-color jokes, new ways of busting on one’s friends, and now a request for a pair of Air Jordans.
This new desire left us with mixed emotions. For one, we were thrilled that he wanted something a bunch of the other kids want, or have. To covet the newest-latest-coolest is about as “normal” as it gets among the middle-school set, and it was a completely new expression for Ryan. So, yay for progress.
On the other hand, there is something deliciously real and lacking in pretense about not caring one iota what others think. So many of the difficulties of the teen years come from peer pressure, trying to fit in and be a carbon copy of everyone else and not expressing one’s true uniqueness. We have watched Riley, a pretty independent, strong-willed kid, struggle with this issue this year. Part of me likes that Ryan doesn’t care so much what others think of what he wears.
It’s tempered, of course. We want Ryan to fit in, to feel comfortable with his peers, to be able to make friends. I’m not suggesting a pair of expensive basketball shoes can help. I’m suggesting that noticing such things means he’s paying a little closer attention to the world around him, including various social cues like fashion choices. Ultimately, I think the benefits of that outweigh any cost to his independence — especially since this is something he came by himself. It was not encouraged by us or anyone else. We’re not trying to make him fit in — he’s trying to do it on his own, and I think that’s a very important distinction. He’s ready.
But I’m still not paying for a pair of Jordans. As a result of 13 years of mostly not coveting much, Ryan has plenty of money. Every birthday and graduation gift, every allowance goes straight in the bank where it sits mostly untouched, month after month. If he wants a pair of Jordans, he can buy them himself.