You wouldn't think to look at them that they're anything other than a tiny pair of used baby slippers. They're just a little pair of red Robeez with panda bear faces on them, creased and softened from much wear.
They're also a story. A story of life and love and laughter and tears and loss and hope and sadness and joy.
They came into my house a little over two years ago, when a friend (thank you, Christina) gave them to me in expectation of the arrival of my soon-to-be-born wee one. They'd been given to her son by another friend, and it was time to pass them on to us.
But this isn't just a story of hand-me-down shoes, sweet and all as they are. For me, it's the story of two lives: one lost and one new.
Because, you see, the friend that bought the shoes in the first place, now several years ago, was Mia Thomas - my longtime friend and colleague whose life was claimed by cancer in 2009.
I can just imagine the joy with which she picked them out to give as a gift. There was nothing she enjoyed more than spoiling people, especially all her wee nieces and nephews - both those she was related to by blood and those whose kinship was honorary, as her friends could always count on her to be the most doting of "aunties."
I can imagine her smile of delight when she saw the then-wee Michael - the original recipient of the slippers - for the first time. And I can imagine how much she would have loved to know that those very same little slippers were being worn with love by the little girl who now carries her name - one Charlotte Mia Rose, whom my husband and I welcomed into our world nearly two years ago.
Little Miss was scheduled to make her entrance into the world by c-section on July 17, 2012 - by coincidence or fate or the intervention of her auntie, the day that would have been Mia's 46th birthday. As it happens, Little Miss turned out to have a mind of her own (rather like Auntie Mia, come to think of it) and decided to arrive on July 13th instead.
But it's always seemed to me that there's a bond between Little Miss and the auntie she never met. The relationship they would have had is always on my mind at this time of year, as we approach what would have been their almost-joint birthday.
There's always some sadness in thinking about the day, realizing that they never got to celebrate together. Mia's 43rd birthday in 2009 would be the last one she would celebrate. That she wouldn't live to hold and snuggle my Little Miss with the big blue eyes will always make my heart ache a little. I've no doubt they would have taken one look at each other and fallen instantly and mutually in love.
But the sadness that comes along with thinking of the two of them together never lasts. Because I know, with absolute conviction, that Mia and the Little Miss who bears her name do have a relationship - and always will.
Though Little Miss will never benefit from one of her auntie's trademark squashy hugs, she'll always have a special guardian watching over her.
I daresay auntie's already doing her work well, since Charlotte Mia Rose is showing every sign of living up to her namesake in all sorts of ways.
She's loquacious (I'd have said "talkative," but we'll use the elegant word in honour of auntie's excellent vocabulary). She's stubborn as all get out. She's smart as paint and not likely to let you get away with being wrong about stuff. She's bossy. She adores her books. She won't eat raw tomatoes. She loves cheese. She has bright, beautiful eyes, a smile that will melt your heart and a laugh that will make you laugh too. And when she decides to love you, she'll do it with a wholehearted devotion that will take your breath away.
In oh so many ways, she's kind of an itty-bitty blonde version of her Auntie Mia.
(Sure, she shares some of those qualities with her mother, at least the bossy-stubborn-chatterbox-bookworm parts. But I choose to give the credit to auntie because I just know she's been working her magic, wherever it is she's watching us from.)
And you know what else? Little Miss has loved those red panda slippers to death. Long after they were far too tiny for her feet, she kept insisting on wearing them. She'd kick up such a fuss if I tried to give her the ones that actually fit her that I let her go on wearing them for a long time. Even though we've had to put them away, she's still attached to them - she'll pull them out of her keepsake box and walk around the house with them.
Just a toddler being weirdly attached to a random object? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, she senses something special about those slippers.
I know which explanation I prefer.
Having Little Miss in my life hasn't made me miss Mia any less. Even now, coming up on five years later, there are days when I catch myself ready to tell her something, wanting to sit down and have a cup of tea and talk over the day with her.
But having the wee blonde bundle of energy in our lives has helped to heal the grief that follows you, silently and stealthily, for long after that initial mourning is over.
Her tiny, joyous presence has given me a greater appreciation for the wonder that is life - and coming out of a profound loss has given me a deeper gratitude for the fact that we were able to welcome a new human being into our world.
Sure, that world has gone upside down in the past two years. I remember "normal" sleep and grownup mealtimes and an adult-oriented social life and the ability to sit down and write in peace, all in a hazy sort of way that feels partly like a dream and partly like someone else's life.
But I embrace it all for the chance to have become this new person called "Mommy" - the same person I was before, but in many ways profoundly different; deeper, kinder, wiser, more loving, more selfless than I thought I could be.
I would have loved to share this new me with Mia. I would have loved for her to be part of Charlotte's world, to be there for all the moments that have made me smile for the past two years.
Most of all I would have loved for all of us to be together next weekend, celebrating a 48th birthday and a second birthday with cheese and cupcakes and wine and laughter and a whole lot of big squashy hugs.
In a perfect world, Mia would be there in person. But in the imperfect world we've been given, we'll do the next best thing.
We'll have that second birthday celebration, and I just know Auntie Mia will be there in spirit. I'll have a slice of cheese and a glass of wine in her honour, and I'll scoop up the tiny birthday girl and give her a big squashy hug.
And I'll tell her the only truths that really matter: that I love her. And that Auntie Mia does too.
Happy birthday, Charlotte Mia Rose. And happy birthday, Auntie Mia.
We love you.