“Pete the Cat was walking down the street in his brand-new white shoes.” I heard my Mom’s voice from the other room as she read my son his favorite book, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin. (If you aren’t familiar with the Pete the Cat books, you can check out this favorite here).
When my mom finished the book, my 13-month-old son said, “Uh uh uh uh,” and put his hands together, indicating more. So, Mom started over:
“Pete the Cat was walking down the street in his brand-new white shoes…”
3 minutes later … “Uh uh uh uh …”
“Pete the Cat was walking down the street in his brand-new white shoes…”
2 minutes later … “Uh uh uh uh …”
“Pete the Cat was walking down that same street in his brand-new white shoes.”
1 minute later … “Uh uh uh uh …”
“PETE … The … CAT walked down that same old street so much that his brand-new shoes were worn out!”
Over and over again we’ve read about Pete’s brand-new white shoes. I can recite it. The “I love my white shoes” song is stuck in my head. Pete and his shoes appear in my dreams.
Pete the Cat is my son’s first expressed interest – not only does he love the books, but he cannot sleep without his Pete stuffy. He’s fallen head over heels. On Christmas Eve, I attempted to read The Night Before Christmas to my children. Both kids climbed into my lap, but I only got to “arose such a clatter,” when Simon sprang from my lap for something was the matter. He walked to the bookshelf, quick as a flash, tore through the books, and found his stash. … He grabbed Pete from the shelf, walked back, and put it on my lap. Santa had to wait — Pete the Cat took the reins. I jest, but I would read that book to him all day every day if he asked. There may no greater joy than seeing a child’s love for reading bloom. And Pete is one cool, groovy cat, who’s always chill in sticky situations … just like my son. He’s a laid-back little guy, who goes with the flow. I can see why he chose Pete.
As we come to the end of the most tumultuous year in most of our lives, perhaps we too need a little bit more of Pete’s laid-back, groovy attitude. Perhaps my little boy is wisely trying to teach us a lesson through his pal Pete. For Simon has spent all but the first 6 weeks of his life in 2020, and I think he’s learned a few things.
You see, in Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Pete doesn’t just walk down that street over and over and over. Pete puts on his brand spanking new white shoes, excited for the places he’ll go and the new possibilities before him. Perhaps you felt like Pete 1 year ago at the beginning of 2020. New decade. New year. New possibilities. Maybe you made some resolutions about changes you wanted to make in your life. You walked down that 2020 street with your head held high – brand spanking new WHITE shoes …
But as any parent knows: white shoes are a sure sign of coming disaster.
Just like our best intentions for 2020, Pete’s white shoes immediately become a big mess. “Oh no!” the story proclaims, “Pete stepped in a large pile of strawberries!” Pete the Cat keeps stepping in messes over and over again. Strawberries turn his shoes red. Blueberries turn his shoes blue. Mud turns his shoes brown. But do any of these things make Pete cry? “GOODNESS NO!” the refrain goes, “He kept walking along and singing his song. I love my White shoes…I love my red shoes … I love my blue shoes … I love my brown shoes.”
I’m not sure if Pete the Cat is more emotionally evolved than me OR if he’s not quite in touch with his feelings. For, I have to confess: I would cry if I bought brand new white shoes and then stepped in a pile of strawberries. In fact, it’s kind of what I did all year.
When I first heard of CoronaVirus and our governor shut everything down, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we shut down the church building and had to figure out how to livestream in 3 days, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we had to celebrate my daughter’s 3rd birthday via Zoom, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we went 3 months without seeing any family, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we went 5 months without childcare, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we suffered through the 2020 poop pandemic (40-day potty regression), did I cry? Goodness yes!
When I spent 9 months preaching to a camera in an empty sanctuary, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When friends tested positive for COVID, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When I couldn’t be with church members as they died and couldn’t hold a proper funeral to celebrate their life, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When my son had a COVID test for a 104 fever that turned out to be an ear infection, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When my hand accidentally went through a window, leading to 24 stitches, surgery, and months of Occupational Therapy, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When I had to walk into urgent care for stitches and the hospital for surgery by myself, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When we had to cancel our Disney vacation / celebration of my husband’s 40th birthday and son’s 1st birthday, did I cry? Goodness yes!
When I produced our virtual Christmas Eve service, complete with a slideshow of candle selfies and the bell choir playing Silent Night underneath, did I cry? Goodness yes!
Let’s face it, am I like Pete the Cat? Goodness no! I cried all through 2020. Yet, those tears have been healing tears. I couldn’t have made it through this past year without all those good, soul-soothing cries. For through it all, this year has taught us resiliency. We have discovered new ways to communicate, new ways to learn, new ways to worship, new ways to be in relationship, new ways to be.
For when everything closed, we were fortunate to have a safe home with a backyard. When church went virtual, we had the tools, creativity, and patience to worship online. When birthday parties were cancelled, we drove by each other’s houses with signs. When we couldn’t see family, we Zoomed and Facetimed. When we had no childcare, we built blanket forts in the living room. When we had sick children, we had a tele-med visits with the pediatrician. When we couldn’t worship in-person, we recorded, edited, and produced videos so our church family could glorify God. When friends were sick, we prayed and checked in, and gave thanks for healing. When beloved friends died, we had small but meaningful celebrations. When our family faced illness and accidents, we gave thanks that the doctors’ offices, urgent cares, and hospitals took every precaution to keep us and the brave healthcare workers safe. When I suffered a serious injury to my hand, I was able to have therapy that has brought it back enough for me to grant my daughter’s request last night to hold her hand as she fell asleep. When we worshipped virtually on Christmas Eve, this pastor was able to actually worship right next to my family. And as those pictures of our church family scrolled by on the screen, we all stood with our arms around each other, singing Silent Night, knowing that our voices joined the people we love who sang from their homes.
A lot has gone wrong this year, but a lot has gone very right. When 2020 began that same little boy who now carries his favorite book to my lap couldn’t even hold up his own head. While there have been days when we also felt like we couldn’t hold up our own heads, here we are growing, surviving, crying, laughing, and finding ways to be us in this new normal. Through all that has happened to us, to our families, to our churches, to our schools, to our workplaces, to our communities, and to our country, I believe that we will all forever be changed.
At the end of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Pete steps in a bucket of water and “all the brown, and all the blue, and all the red were washed away.” Pete’s shoes turn white again, but they aren’t the same brand-new shoes from the beginning. Because now they are wet and make squeaky sounds.
On midnight January 1, when the calendar turns over from 2020 to 2021, all that has happened to us won’t be washed away. It will stay with us. We’ll carry it with us as we walk into this new year and the new years ahead of us. For we are once again walking down the street in our brand New Year shoes. These shoes are no longer white. Instead, the colors of our 2020 tribulations and triumphs run deep into our hearts, minds, and souls. The new colors remind us of all we have survived, the resiliency with which we have lived, and the hope we have for the road ahead. As scripture tells us in Hebrews 12:1: “So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.”
As Pete the Cat tells us: The moral of our 2020 story is: “No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song … because it’s all good.”
For this we hope in 2021.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Art by James Dean (Creator of Pete the Cat), Story by Eric Litwin, Published by HarperCollins, 2008.