By Laura Simon
Shortly after my third child was born, my neighbor, herself the mother of five children born in quick succession, shared a piece of advice that transformed my life as a mom.
“I never, ever, bother trying to match socks,” she confided. “They come out of the laundry and they go in a sock drawer. If someone wants matching socks, they can dig for them. But no one around here cares about matching socks, so why should I?”
I scanned her children’s ankles. It was still warm enough to wear shorts, so a tiny bit of sock was visible above the shoes. Yep, not a single match in the bunch. I’d never even noticed until she said something.
Still, the next day found me digging through a basket of long-cold laundry, looking for a sock with the same ankle height and stripe color as the one I was holding. I couldn’t help but hear her words as I dug. “No one around here cares about matching socks, so why should I?” Initially, I wrote that off as the perspective of a mom with many, many children. I only had three. But I also had a full-time job, and side gig, and all the responsibilities of running a household. In the scheme of things, did it really matter if my kids had matching socks?
Three years later, I can tell you: it does not. After a few weeks of adjustment and panic over missing socks and mismatched sets, my boys decided that mismatched socks were awesome. In fact, they took it to a whole new level: mixing white socks with black, and ankle socks with knee-highs. Sometimes they threw in a random soccer sock for fun. Frankly, that was a little overboard for my taste, but the laundry sorting and folding time was down by almost an hour. I realized I could get over a lot for an extra hour.
Last year we were at a play date with one of my oldest son’s friends, a little girl who has more fashion sense in her pinky finger than I do in my whole body. I made the kids take their socks off at the front door, and I was pretty horrified to see that Eli had indeed outdone himself. It was May, and he was wearing a red Christmas sock – complete with a reindeer pattern – and a black and orange striped ankle sock. I was thinking we might need to talk about arranging a marriage for him, when his friend piped up. “I like your socks, Eli,” she told him. Then she looked at me and, perhaps sensing that my fashion game wasn’t quite on-point, informed me that “mismatching your socks is the style now.”
I don’t know why she thought I needed fashion advice. Was it the yoga pants or the middle school soccer shirt I’m still wearing over a decade after I actually coached the team? Or maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t even wearing socks…because that’s why God invented flip-flops.
The thing is, fashionable or not, I still remember the relief I felt when I first decided to toss all the socks in the drawer together. I was so stressed in that season of life, and it felt like someone lifted Pilot Mountain off my back. I know now…that’s the feeling of letting go of the stuff that doesn’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong: I love it when my kids are dressed in cute, color-coordinated outfits. We do that once a year for family pictures, and they look so lovely. But do you know what my children do on a daily basis? Get messy. It doesn’t matter if their socks match when they’re covered with Carolina mud. And once that mud touches those socks, they’ll match again. They’ll both be orange. Seriously, if anyone has tried and true remedies for getting that orange clay out of clothing, this Ohio girl needs them. Please, please help.
In ten years, if you ask my kids what they remember about their childhoods, they aren’t going to tell you about matching socks and cute outfits. They’re going to remember epic football games in the backyard with their siblings, digging holes in the vacant lot next door, and sliding into a makeshift home plate. I only have so much time, and in the scheme of things, I think playing outside with my kids is more important than perfect clothes. Carving out the time to read an extra book to the kids is probably more important that matching their socks. In fact, those socks represent perhaps one of the greatest lessons I’m learning as a mom: there are lots of really good things that want to crowd out our opportunities to do the great things. And giving up those good – but unnecessary – things feels an awful lot like freedom.
I’ve given up a lot more than matching socks in the last few years, and I don’t regret any of it. So if you’re staring at the pile of socks and feeling the pressure of your to-do list rise up and fill your throat, you have my permission to take that laundry basket, turn it upside down, and dump each and every sock into the drawer unmatched. After all, apparently that’s the style now, and I bet you’ll feel a lot better.