I know exactly what to do. I'm ready. Underwear first: bright blue Spiderman Underoos with red trim. No problem. The matching Spidey tee, easy peasy. The overshirt's not as easy. My head slips into a sleeve a few times before I realize it's supposed to go through the larger hole in the center. I eventually get it on with not too much effort. Pants are a little harder. Somehow, I get both of my legs into the same pant leg. I fall over, wriggling like a lost caterpillar until I can squeeze the wrong leg back out. But even a pair of slacks is no match for my four-year-old thinking process, in the end.
What truly trips me up are the shoes, specifically the right shoe. I remember the way mom taught me to get socks on easily: roll them all the way to the toe, first. Each sock completes its trip over my toes, ankles and calves like magic. Not even my left shoe gives me any hassle.
The right shoe, however, puts up a fight. No matter how hard I try, it refuses to slip on. Eventually, I hear my mom's voice. "Fernando?"
I leave my room to ask my mother's advice, waddling the way we all do when we walk around with only one shoe on. "No me puedo poner el zapato," I tell mom, dejected that I've failed.
"Le sacastes la lengua?" she asks, sincerely.
I'm confused, but brighten up. I hadn't thought of that. I'm not sure how it will work, but mom's full of wise advice. I rush back into my room to try again. I sit on the floor and do as she say: stick my tongue out at the shoe before trying to slip my foot in. Nothing. However ridiculing this shoe is supposed to help, it isn't. If anything, it's getting worse. Perhaps my shoe's mad at me for teasing it.
My mother walks in. "Fernando, what are you doing?" she asks curiously.
"You told me to stick my tongue out at my shoe to get it on!"
Mom laughs gently as she takes the shoe from me. "No, Fernando, sacale la lengua means to pull out the shoe's tongue, not yours," she explains as she does just that: pulls the tongue that is stuffed deep in the toe, the tongue that I had driven even deeper, right out before slipping it easily over my foot.
I get it now. Shoes have tongues. As I take mom's hand to walk to the PATH that will take us into New York, I just can't resist sticking my tongue out at my right shoe one last time, just for spite.