Clair McFarland: The Essence Of Shin Guards, And Other Pungent Memories

Clair McFarland writes: "My firstborn son has huge feet. Like, tripping-the-bystanders, cheating-at-swimming, dont-wake-the-neighbors-when-you-stomp-to-the-bathroom feet."

Clair McFarland

September 23, 20224 min read

Clair profile photo 2 18 22 scaled

Some equipment is required.   

That’s life. While Henry David Thoreau probably envisioned a future of clans running barefoot in matching loincloths, teaching their young’uns to read from petroglyphs, society and the local sports clubs have other ideas.    

Helmets, shin guards, shoes – they’re all admissions that we can’t accomplish all we wish with our bodies alone. They admit that we’re breakable and finite, shedding our years and adventures in Time’s gale-force winds.   

But look again at the equipment. The wailing years left a few whispers in it as they fled.   


“Dad, can I ride the four-wheeler?” asks my middle-born son, because his dad will say yes.   

“Yes,” says The Husband. “But wear the helmet.”   

Middleborn doesn’t realize the helmet was mine. It’s milky white with bright-orange swirls, even though my mother thought I’d look sweeter in a pink one. It has a metallic orange vent in its beak and a firm, thin visor swooping over the opening where my breath once fogged a set of black goggles.   

The helmet exhales cold ling and dead algae.   

When I was 14 years old on an ATV, the helmet and I spun cookies over thick mottled ice at the annual Boysen Lake ice races.   

My best friend, a foreign exchange student from Taiwan, clung to my orange coat and squealed. She forsook her composed English whenever I had control of a machine: 

“I tire circle,” she shouted. “You slow now.”   

I slowed. Misty tendrils slithered over the ice. My dad waved us back to the truck.   

When I got there, my mom, smelling of currants and leather, slipped handwarmers into our coat pockets. 

Looking at the helmet now sitting cozily on our dining room table, I shiver.  

Shin Guards  

“Mama, I think they’re too small for me,” says the big, sweet twin, prying off his shin guards after a tough soccer game. The upper and lower Velcro straps plump out his firm, brown skin in the trapezoid between them.    

Big-Sweet and his twin, Little-Feisty, have just out-maneuvered a platoon of 8-year-olds to gain control of a shiny leather sphere.   

They won 2-1.   

But it wasn’t always this way, and the shin guards weren’t always too small.   

Three years ago, Big-Sweet trudged onto a soccer pitch with his hands folded on his belly, blue eyes blazing with abject terror. He watched, awestruck as every single kid on the field mobbed the ball and toppled in a heap to the ground. Then he turned to me and shook his head slowly.   

The shin guards today are salt-worn from sweat. I slide my hand behind Big-Sweet’s firm, round heel one last time to coax the shin guard’s sleeve off his foot.   

A fading summer, wet mud, trampled grass and Big-Sweet’s wordless plea for a hug – all these escape his shin guards and knock me out of the present tense.    


My firstborn son has huge feet.   

Like, tripping-the-bystanders, cheating-at-swimming, don’t-wake-the-neighbors-when-you-stomp-to-the-bathroom feet.    

He needs huge shoes.   

“Hey, could you please order me some new running shoes?” asks Firstborn.   

“But, I ordered those like – like – “   

“Last year. That was a million miles ago,” Firstborn says.   

I narrow my eyes. “A hundred miles ago.”   

Firstborn juts his jaw. “A THOUSAND.”   

His first cross-country season began 13 months ago and we were running together even before that. He’s not the swiftest, but I was prouder than a three-legged dog of a rabbit kill when I bought those running shoes for him.   

They’re slate grey with soft soles and mesh tops. When he first unboxed them, they smelled of strawberries and tissue paper. Their silvery mesh caught a faint rainbow gleam in the light.   

Shoes come and shoes go, from these retiring running shoes to that first pair of baby shoes. Those were fat and blue, nearly circular to suit pudgy, untrodden feet.   

Firstborn called them his “hoos.” He wore them for stroller rides under weeping cottonwood canopies, through streaming gutters, over parallel, relentless sidewalk cracks that ticked and tocked his stroller like some insistent clock.   

“So. Mom, can I have new shoes?” asks Firstborn.   

I swallow the years. “Sure.”   

Because life is full of equipment. And sometimes, equipment is full of life. 

Share this article



Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter