I lifted my son from the car and began walking towards the grassy area by the parking lot at Hollins’ Mill Park. It was a beautiful summers day. It would have been hot at any other park, but Hollins’ Mill is bathed in the shade of very tall, very old trees next to a picturesque waterfall. I said hello to an older couple as they passed by. “Where are his shoes?” the woman asked. I smiled politely. “He doesn’t need them right now,” I answered.
I am used to that question because I’m that mother who never puts her son’s shoes on. I am not a crazy lady or a “hippie” (ok, maybe a little bit); I have strong opinions that are rooted in science – to me, barefoot is best for a child’s development. If he’s not barefoot then he’s in a truly minimalist shoe.
It’s more than that, though – living barefoot can be beautiful and magical. And, on this particularly beautiful day at the Park, my 18 month old reminded me of that.
I placed him on the cool grass. He stood completely still for a moment, assessing his surroundings. He looked left, right, left, right and then down – at his toes. He smiled a delightful little smile and then peeled his toes off the ground one by one… big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, pinky toe… and then replaced them on the grass again… pinky toe, fourth toe, third toe, second toe, big toe. He looked at me with that grin, almost as if he was saying “Mommy, this grass is delicious stuff to my feet,” and wiggled his toes some more.
A moment of stillness and then he was off, his little feet pittering and pattering towards the creek. I can’t believe how fast he runs. He stopped abruptly as the ground transitioned from grass to moist sand. There go those toes again, exploring…pinky toe, fourth toe, third toe, second toe, big toe. He shifted his weight to his left leg and began to rub the ball of his right foot into the sand, making little circles and figure eights as he explored the surface. He liked it, so he giggled and began to paw at it like a horse… slowly at first, then vigorously until his whole body shook with the movement.
All this in the span of 2 minutes. In the span of 2 minutes he received two very different experiences through the skin on his feet – cool, spiky grass and moist, grainy sand — and he relished the experience.
I thought about his sweet little feet. I thought about how much I love them and how much cuter baby feet are than adult feet. It’s not just because of the size, I realized – it’s because he uses them in a completely different way then I use mine. His feet seem capable of so much more movement; So much more wiggling, curling, grabbing and spreading. He expresses himself with them, showing excitement by pointing his entire foot and toes as he lets out a sharp yell; Or the way he “domes” the ball of his foot and curls his toes when he’s being tickled.
Later, I serve him a smoothie at home. He sits on the edge of our staircase and holds the cup I give to him, simultaneously drinking from it and lifting his right foot off the ground to touch the cup. I can’t believe how flexible and strong he is as I watch him explore the coldness of the cup with his foot. It amazes me that it’s natural for him to use his foot to explore his environment when his hands are engaged (both are holding the handles of the cup, which are room temperature).
Would he have explored the sensation of the grass or the sand if he had shoes on? Only if he sat on it or put his hands on it. Sensations on other parts of his skin would be blocked by clothing, as in kneeling or sitting. He will only touch something with his hands for as long as his short attention span allows. Feet are different, though. They are always in contact with something – you can constantly experience sensations through your feet if you leave them bare.
As adults, we spend that “sensation time” feeling our socks or the sensation of our feet-against-socks-against-bottoms-of-shoes. It’s not as big of a deal to us – I mean, we’ve felt grass on our feet before. And sand. And hot pavement. It’s not magical to us anymore. To a toddler, though, it still holds magic. It still holds beauty. It still holds important information about the how the world works. It teaches him that sunlight carries heat and he can expect the pavement to be hot in bright spots. It teaches him that it hurts to run on gravel and he needs to walk gingerly (His body naturally responds more cautiously to things underfoot, slowing pace and changing movement patterns to make walking more comfortable).
Most of all, though, it makes both of us happy. I love seeing his little baby feet enjoying the world around them. One day those feet will be big and clunky, maybe bigger than my size 10s, and I will miss these tiny feet and their contribution to my son’s adorable toddlerhood. I love knowing that he is enjoying the unmistakable sense of freedom that comes with being barefoot. Most of all, I love kicking my shoes off and enjoying it with him.
The Beauty of Barefoot Babies
Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.