Yeeei! to Barefoot Walking

There are many studies and articles online about the benefits of walking barefoot at all ages. Walking barefoot facilitates the proper development of and helps strengthen the feet and body. It allows for better control of and stability of the foot, the ankle in particular, and walking, which I find very important in the early days and months of walking. Past the first weeks of learning to walk, little gosling used to give me the impression of clumsiness, tripping a lot when walking with shoes, as compared to his almost flawless stability walking barefoot. Walking barefoot helps develop fine motor muscles, awareness of one’s body and, my favourite, it helps connect with nature. There are very few sensations I enjoy more than the feel of soft, rich grass or warm sand under my feet. Soo, I have encouraged and indulged little gosling to walk barefoot whenever he wanted and weather permitted. 

In South Africa, I enjoyed seeing children going around barefoot, at any age up to teen years and pretty much everywhere: in the supermarket, in the shopping malls, in restaurants and at terrasses. It was not a matter of lack of means to get shoes in this case or lack of good manners. It was just how things were. One expected to see children barefoot; it was one of the most common sights. The weather is, of course, very generous and enabling almost all year round. And it is very much a car-centred culture. 

Coming back to Europe, during late autumn as it was, I felt a pinch of regret at not being able to delay more little gosling wearing shoes all the time. I found it so refreshing to allow children that freedom, pleasure and communion with the surroundings and nature (we had a beautiful garden there, whereas we live in a 5th floor apartment here). Even in warm, nice weather, one does not really see children going around barefoot this side of the world. Sometimes, I spot kids barefoot at the playground, but it is not really that common. 

Very early on, I decided shoes were not an indispensable or even a desirable accessory for little gosling. At least until such time that he started walking, but possibly, not even then. I distinctly remember reading an article about things parents don’t need during the first year of the baby’s life. Shoes were one of them. I also vividly remember another article arguing that the cut of most Western shoes nowadays is only a mild form of foot binding, restricting the natural development of the foot from a very young age. This had quite an impact on me. I could personally relate to that, as well. I have a naturally wide foot and feel uncomfortable in most elegant ladies’ shoes. 

Conclusion? I delayed as much as possible getting little gosling into shoes and when I did, I did my best to find the lightest, most flexible and widest shoes possible. 

I liked our paeds in South Africa. She advised us to allow the baby to spend as much time as possible outside, in nature, in direct contact with plants and dirt, letting him crawl around the garden, walk barefoot and generally exposing him to the world as it is. Before he started walking, it never crossed my mind to buy him any kind of shoes. At best, he had socks on. He started taking his first steps barefoot and it did not seem to bother him at all, irrespective of the surface he was on. 

It took a trip home to Romania, the relentless nagging of grandparents (“How can you let him walk outside without shoes?, “He’ll hurt himself”, “What will people say? They’ll look at him funnily” …)  and chilly, rainy weather for us to get him his first pair of shoes. He was 15 months old. He got a pair of espadrilles, that I turned on all sides very carefully to make sure were wide enough so as not to constrain his little feet. Trouble is, the moment he got shoes, he resisted being barefoot again. He became very particular about wearing shoes. Wherever he was, he looked at people’s feet first, observing their shoes. The espadrilles did not make it past the first puddles :)))). 

Back to the dry South African winter, we opted for some bearpaw-like fleece booties to keep him warm, inside and outside. For the morning dew and chill (he was and still is a very early waker), he had waterproof textile booties. Luckily, the nursery policy supported our approach. Kids were encouraged to stay barefoot inside and outside, weather permitting.It was only when spring came, when he was around 17 months old, that he got something resembling normal shoes: a pair of textile sandals, wide and light, that he was very fond of. All in all, before returning to Europe, he spent most of the time barefoot or in barefoot-like shoes. 

Upon returning to Europe in November, we got him a pair of mustard yellow rubber rain boots and a pair of winter padded boots. I don’t believe he wore the patted boots more than five times; they must have felt too overwhelming and tight. He did the entire winter in the rain boots. At the nursery, parents were asked to bring slippers and we opted for thick padded socks instead, just to make sure his feet were as free as possible. We have three pairs of socks that we alternate every few days. 

I was looking forward to warm weather to encourage him to spend more time barefoot. We were lucky for an early and warm spring this year. But… it was tough to get little gosling out of his boots and accept any other shoes. Already in the coronavirus lockdown, we bought online a pair of (very) soft trainers, with the sole almost as thin as the rest of the shoe. It took him a few days to accept them; every time he saw them he got anxious and nervously, almost crying, asked me “send them back, mummy!!!”. I kept them by the door, in plain sight. Until one day, he reached out for them. He only accepted a different pair of shoes when the first one got torn (which happened in a few weeks). 

It was the same story with sandals. We had had more than two months of summer-like weather when he finally accepted to wear the sandals. Our occasional attempts to have him try the sandals on always ended in frustration on all sides. One day, when schools had reopened, I went to pick him up and found him playing outside in his sandals. I had placed the sandals in his backpack just in case… Apparently, it took no effort on the part of his teachers. He’s loved them ever since. 

One day, out of the blue, he gave up wearing socks with the sandals entirely on his own. And another day, again out of the blue, he declared he wanted to walk barefoot. And he did :)))). It was a Friday morning. We left for school with him barefoot. I did not resist his decision, I was delighted he wanted to walk barefoot. When we got to the park and he felt the gravel beneath his feet, he asked to be picked up. He went to the supermarket barefoot. The next day, we went to a nice green area outside Brussels and he loved running around barefoot. Since, he’s walking barefoot weather permitting. And I gladly indulge him as long as he wants. 

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