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Sometimes I’m just too busy to notice my sons are going around dressed like hobos, and spring seems to be when I really let things go.

I didn’t realize Ronnie’s shoes were falling apart until the day before his class was set to go on an all-day field trip.

We were out buying snacks for him to take on the bus with him to Jamestown when he told me his teacher had said to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Without giving it a second thought, I said, "Just wear the ones you have on now."

Then, I took a quick glance at his feet and noticed I could see something white sticking out of the side of his right shoe. What I saw looked suspiciously like a sock.

I bent down to get a closer look and realized my 10-year-old was standing beside me in the most ragged shoes ever to contain Zich feet. "I’m just going to wear these," he told me and then went on to state the obvious, "They’re my favorites."

There was no other option at that point than to go ahead and send him to school in the same old shoes. I would rather have my son look like a hobo than force him to wear new shoes on a field trip.

"We’re going to have to get you some new ones," I said, in what was probably an attempt to make myself feel better.

At that moment, a voice from behind me added, "If you do that, he’ll still need a new pair when school starts next fall."

I looked over to see who was behind me in the checkout line. It was a woman I had never met before.

Although we were strangers, we shared the common bond of motherhood that made us immediate allies. Seconds after I acknowledged she had spoken the truth, it hit me: spring was finally here.

When my sons’ clothing reaches the point of no return, I know summer must be just around the corner.

Depending on which of them is in the midst of a growing spurt, their clothes either become painfully small or so shabby they can only be thrown in the garbage bin.

No thrift shop owner would accept a donation from the Zichs at this late point in the school year because any clothing that still fits my sons has been worn beyond repair.

I can get away with the fact that most of their jeans have holes in the knees because the temperatures are no longer below freezing and because they think it’s fashionable to dress that way.

If I had three daughters instead of three sons, there is no way I could get away with such slackness in this area of parenthood.

But the boys could not care less what shape their clothes are in so long as they’re comfortable.

All this self-examination still leaves me with the dilemma of whether I should buy Ronnie a new pair of shoes when there are less than two months of school remaining and the days of bare feet are waiting just around the corner.

Before I make a decision, I’m going to do what I always do when Ronnie or Tommy needs new clothes — I will look in our closets for hand-me-downs.

If I somehow manage to find a pair of shoes that still has a few months of wear left in them, I’ll be in luck and can spend the extra money on summer fun.

But if the abandoned shoes don’t fit or if they turn out to be just as shabby as the pair Ronnie has now, I will go out in search of a new pair.

It’s a dilemma that happens every year at this time and one that I choose to forget about until the same thing happens again. I guess I should consider myself lucky that only one of the boys is in desperate need of new shoes.

However, I can’t say that with certainty because I haven’t taken the time to get a good look at Jimmy and Tommy’s feet lately. Maybe I won’t.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or visit her Web site at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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