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Fireman Boots Forever

Henry floats in like a ghost, silent and sneaky. I catch him standing behind me just as I turn around from the kitchen counter where I am chopping up an onion. No announcement, no thumping and clobbering in like he usually does, just a 2-year-old in a Sponge Bob ball cap and some fireman boots.

That’s it. No pants, no diaper, no shirt.

“Hey man,” I say to him. “You snuck up on me. Whatcha' doing?”

He stands there as unabashed as humanly possible, taking one of the most insane looks known to mankind, cramming and warping it into straight-up awesomeness. His tiny nakedness reminds me of the fact that he is flesh and blood, though I tend to see him as some kind of superpower—someone way larger than life who has floated down into my world.

“Dad?” he asks me.

“Yeah?”

“I am wearing my fireman boots!”

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I take him in, the sight of him is really something to behold, like some harmless loony bird streak-walking around Times Square before the cops wander over and nab him. His boots are on the wrong feet; I notice that too.

“Your boots look sharp, man!” I tell him. And he smiles at me and moves on out of the kitchen. He probably knew I was going to say that, I figure, as he disappears into other parts of the house. He probably knew exactly what he was doing.

I am not sure when the black and red fireman boots came into our house and our world. They were somebody else’s, some other little kid’s, and then, just like that—they were ours. At first, they were too big for Henry and his older sister didn’t seem all that interested in them, so they kind of sat in the old wooden box out by the washing machine where I chuck all of the shoes and hats and stuff.

Then, one day, after a long exile buried under a mound of tattered tiny sport sandals and Target Converse kicks and out-of-season scarves I’d been too lazy to pack away, Henry was out there flinging stuff over his shoulder, sending sneakers and hats airborne behind him like monster truck dirt when his small eyes zeroed in on the boots down in there, where they’d probably given up hope that they were going to ride again.

But that was that. And talk about a resurrection.

My boy had found the first real tangible thing in this world that he could love with all of that strange, mad passion that defines a human being and his affection for his most prized possession.

He took to wearing them, not like some kids do, 24/7, but more in this way that seemed to indicate that a couple times a day, no matter where he was—out in the yard or up in his room or in the middle of his daily viewing of Babe—he would be struck by the sudden notion that somewhere out there his fireman boots were waiting. Then he would stop the world, hop off, and go on his own personal Boot Quest, talking to himself as he peered under the couches and the beds and wandered around the grass out back, trying to remember what weird random place he had last stepped out of them.

He wore the hell out of those boots and I am not ashamed to admit to you that watching him don them on a daily basis, always on the wrong foot (he could care less), it all began to make me sentimental toward the fact that my boy had found the first real tangible thing in this world that he could love with all of that strange, mad passion that defines a human being and his affection for his most prized possession.

So yeah, I fell in love with boots too.

Then, two weeks ago, I realized the end was near. Henry appeared out in the yard like he always does, following behind me as I was mowing the lawn, pushing his own plastic mower in his wrong-footed boots when I immediately noticed that the left one (right foot) had a serious slice down the side and was flapping around. It was only staying on his foot thanks to the white knuckled grip of the flimsy liner inside.

A quick glance and I saw that the other boot was just as bad. They were dead boots walking. He was struggling to keep them from flipping out off of his little foot. They were toast.

I quietly ordered him a new pair off the Internet, a different pair but still in the same cool fireman style. I was so nervous doing it. Isn’t that weird? I was so scared he would hate them and I would hate them and we would both be sad and confused about what to do with the broken boots that stole Henry’s heart.

Eventually I had to face the music so I sat him down and talked them up. And we looked at pictures of them on my computer and we waited for the mailman to bring the package and when it finally came, we went out and got it together in a state of frenzy.

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Oh man, the new boots were something to behold, shiny and sleek and strong. He loved them. We both did.

And FYI: the old boots are dangling from a piece of twine now, out in my garage, suspended in the air like a slow summer afternoon cloud, never to be thrown away. At least not until I’m just a bunch of bones, until no one even remembers I was ever even here at all.

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