Who knew? It’s a secret about parenthood people never talk about. But I’m going to spill the beans right here, right now. The secret is this: You will be chasing socks around from the time that baby comes home from the hospital until baby leaves for college. It hit me when I spotted a missing sock on the ground at the Oakland International Airport. The parents of the now single socked baby don’t know any of this yet. The baby and her socks are tiny but as that baby grows and more babies come into the family, one thing those parents will be doing among the millions of other things they’ll do for that baby and its siblings is — The Great Sock Chase. And it lasts for about eighteen years — per kid.
The Great Sock Chase is like a bell curve, it balloons in the middle – the years of great strain – and then tapers off. It starts small, cute, like the little purple and pink sock here. It’s manageable and even fun. The rough years are the years are when you start signing up for everything from baseball to soccer to volleyball. You don’t know it when you’re filling out the forms – they don’t say it there either – but each one of those sports needs a different type of sock. For instance, soccer and baseball socks are knee-high, tubular socks – in the team colors – handed out by the coach. If you lose one, it might mean tears, mismatched moments on the field and a confession to get another pair. Then, there are volleyball socks. Some years the trend is knee-high, other years – crew. It seems to depend on the sock the coolest girl on the team is sporting. Basketball starts out simple – crew – but some teams bring in color and then that pair, like the rest, has trouble staying together. It’s especially hard to find two together as you race out to a game.
But that little sock I saw at the Oakland Airport reminded me of a reprieve I took from the Great Sock Chase. We were right there at the height of it, the apex of sock confusion. Everyone was playing a couple of sports. We were drowning in socks of all kinds. Katie, the oldest, was playing volleyball – (crew, like the cool girl). Margaret was playing soccer (tube ) and basketball (crew). Will was playing soccer (tube), baseball (tube) and basketball (crew). Jim was hiking the Oakland Hills in the few breaks between sporting events (crew). Are you seeing what I saw? We had a lot of crew socks running around. But, I also began to realize we had reached a place in raising our kids in which everyone wore the same size.
I hit me. It was simple. I presented the plan to the kids. I called it: The Universal Sock. We were ALL GOING TO WEAR THE SAME SOCK! I held up a high-quality crew. There was little enthusiasm. Why solve a problem you don’t deal with? It was, after all, my husband and I who chased the socks around.
And it worked — for awhile — maybe a school year, maybe less. But then the girls became teens, and too cool for The Universal Sock. Nike added to the problem by creating socks with names like the Lebron 2, which promised athletic prowess. We were back to a wide variety of socks in a variety of colors. My husband and I could sit with the laundry basket all day long and never, ever mate all the socks. Every quarter or so we gathered all the unspoken for socks from all the rooms and matched up some strays. That felt good, but we were always left with some socks that didn’t have a chance of reuniting with their mates. So, we sent them away, to the trash. We didn’t want them to linger in the back of a drawer as a sometime seen reminder of the loss.
I have always wondered though where all the missing socks went. At one time I liked to blame our cleaning lady. I imagined her viciously grabbing random socks and spiriting them away. I know better now though, in the wake of my experience at the Oakland Airport with that sock I spotted on the ground. For once, I was at the other end of the missing sock problem. I had the answer. I FOUND IT. I felt like yelling it out. I wanted to run around and tell everyone I had found one of the world’s missing socks. I even figured out what had happened. The sock had slipped off the foot of a cute baby girl and the parents had just kept walking. Holy Cow! I had cracked the case. But in that moment, I also answered the bigger question of where all our missing socks had gone. I now see they might have slipped onto the floor of an airport, fallen out of a bag walking off a field, spilled under the seat of the car or been abandoned at a sleepover. And we were oblivious to what we would face in moments or hours or days – a single unmatched sock.
As the girls got older they started picking their own socks out of the laundry, packing their gym bags, keeping their socks together – most of the time. And then they went off to college one by one. There’s still a little basket of socks in their room. I know some of the socks are flying solo. I don’t feel the need to check. And because we managed to improve our parenting along the way or maybe we were just willing to do ANYTHING to stay out of the sock business, our youngest, Will, does his own laundry now. Yes – we pay him. We’ve tapered off. We’re winding down our Great Sock Chase. I might miss it, maybe, the bedlam, the confusion, the girls, but I’m not really missing the missing socks.