posts tagged with 'bare feet'
For our adventure today I took the boys and a friend to Minuteman National Park. We walked a couple miles from the Concord end of the path to the Hartwell Tavern, where we had lunch and saw the historic sights, then we walked back. All three boys and I did the walk barefoot. It was nothing to them; they did all the hiking of the recent camping trip shoeless as well. My feet didn't mind the rocks on the trail, but that's the longest I've walked barefoot in a while and I felt it in my calves a little. As we got close to the tavern I told the kids how, if they'd been driving sheep or cattle to Boston Market, they would have been able to stop for refreshment there; and also that kids in those days probably would have been walking barefoot. They approved. The tavern doesn't serve refreshments any more, so we brought our own.
You'll notice shoes are on in that picture. We brought them all that way so we could go into the tavern without getting in trouble. It does feel a little funny to put shoes on to go inside, but we're used to it by now. Such is modern America; even when it's pretending to be the olden days. They probably wouldn't have a place to put sheep if we'd brought them either.
One of the many books I took on our camping trip was Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela J. Hanscom. Super appropriate, since camping is all about the ways which, per the subtitle, "unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children." Among many other worthwhile points, the author notes that "going barefoot in nature helps develop normal gait patterns, balance, and tolerance of touch in the feet, all of which provide a strong foundation for confident and fluid movement." Check.
That is to say, they had plenty of time barefoot in nature—like they do. I actually made the two who were doing their own walking put on shoes to start both hikes, but both times they quickly decided they were too hot, and the footwear became cargo. The book suggests that outdoor play builds core strength and endurance; I don't know about the former, but over the two days of hiking we covered about six and a half miles, with something like 1800 feet of elevation gain. (Now that's a vacation!) Zion actually did more like six and a quarter miles—Leah carried him a couple times, for encouragement—but either way it was an impressive effort.
Since we've been back, they've dived right back into playing with their friends in the neighborhood. Lots of that play is outside—none of us parents wants a gang of eight kids filling up the house for long (of course, video games, pokemon cards, and play sets all exert a powerful indoor pull...). I do wonder, though, if the outdoor play that's happening on Beacon Street fulfills all the requirements Hanscom would look for in proper therapeutic play. For one thing, I think it might involve a few too many plastic weapons.
One of the things she talks about in the book is how using natural materials in play spurs kids' imagination and social-emotional development. Store-bought toys, the argument goes, have specific and limited modes of play—a toy car is a car and it's only supposed to drive one direction. To say nothing of a Batman Batcave play set. The problem is all those toys exist, and they exist in the houses of our lovely neighbors (and, yes, in our house too). How can sticks and pinecones ever hope to compete? There's a question of space, too; our woodsy play area is pretty small, here on our suburban lot. Most of the kids are old enough now they should be playing in the town forest less than a quarter mile away, but they aren't allowed to on their own.
I don't know what to do about it. Certainly, I have no worries our boys aren't spending enough time outside, and in nature. But I think they need more time to play in the woods. On my adult schedule, we do hikes—which they love!—but the limited play times available in hiking pauses isn't enough to start to develop complex interpersonal games. Although, now that I think about it... the last time we went to Fawn Lake on a summer camp outing the rocks above the pond turned into a spaceship and a pirate ship and I don't know what else during the half-hour post-lunch play time. We're going there again today, and play time will definitely be on the schedule. Maybe we're doing alright after all.
The weather report tells us that today saw a return to bitter winter cold, and indeed, it "felt like" 6°F when we got up this morning (a breezy 16° or so). But when it's spring and sunny, it's hard to keep shoes on the boys! Never mind that, above their bare feet, they had on lined pants, two shirts, sweatshirts, and winter coats—the spirit of the day demanded that snow boots be kicked off so that feet could feel the sweetness of the sun-warmed grass.
Well, actually, it didn't demand it to me, and probably not to Zion either, but it did to Harvey. And with him running around exclaiming gleefully about how wonderful each bit of ground felt under his feet it was hard not to join him in his revels. So I did. And it did feel nice; and also pretty cold.
But not so cold that we didn't stay out for a long time—even Zion, who has not been the most hardy in the past was happy outside the whole time, including more than an hour shoeless. The air may have been—read, was—below freezing, but the late March sun is incomparably warmer than what we had a month or two ago. As you can see above, our animal population was also very happy to take the air.
I don't put much stock in the calendar or the equinox as a marker of spring: in many ways it still feels pretty late-wintery around here, and the planting is delayed accordingly. But clearly even on this chilly afternoon there was something irresistibly springlike in the air, and besides fixing the fences we took plenty of time to run and wrestle and roll in the grass.
They kept their boots off until the end—past 4:00—though that did mean I had to carry them inside, because between the sunny spot where we were playing and the house is still a considerable patch of snow and ice. Oh well. Our feet tell us it'll be gone soon.
This afternoon in the library a trustee stopped to chastise me for allowing my children to be there without shoes on. "It's a policy," she told me. "It's for safety reasons."
In retrospect I'm pretty impressed that we merited correction from someone as important as a trustee, but at the time I was a little annoyed; not least because she interrupted us in the midst of doing the important work of getting our books checked out. And then of course there's the "safety" thing.
It probably would have been rude to get into it at the time, but to claim that the library doesn't want folks walking around with bare feet because the trustees are concerned for our well-being is completely ridiculous. There's no way that, inside a building, being shoeless is any more dangerous than the alternative. In fact, I bet it would be an order of magnitude more dangerous to be wearing high heels—and even then the worst that might happen would be a turned ankle, which I believe is a risk that we as a society are prepared to tolerate. And never mind that the boys were also barefoot at home, at the playground, and everywhere in between without any disaster befalling them; after pavement, wood chips, and acorn-studded lawn I think their feet could probably handle carpeted floors without too much trouble.
Not that I object to them wearing shoes in the library. It's a rule, and since we appreciate tremendously all that the library has to offer us I'm happy to follow whatever silly rules they come up with (at least when I think there's a chance of getting caught). But I do feel there's a real problem with claiming safety as a justification when any rational person can see that there's no real danger involved. Not only does it add one more little straw to the ever-growing pile of needless fears that we let modern life heap on us, it serves as an argument-proof club with which to beat those whose choices deviate from the norm. No shoes? Unsafe! Not driving your kids to school? Unsafe!! Giving birth at home? Terror!!
If the people behind all these norm-enforcing policies actually took the trouble to come up with real reasons for them they might have to think about what they were really after (which, in many cases, seems to be control). For the library, I'm sure it comes down to liability concerns and a distaste for seeing people's feet, which seems to be a thing. Those, we can talk about—and I'm confident that any discussion would lead to at least some misgivings on making policy based on either reason. Crying "safety" is just trying to short-circuit real thoughtful conversation.
I actually went through something similar last year, only it was my bare feet instead of the kids. The librarian who spoke to me initially told me it was against the law to be barefoot in a public building, which is patently false. I called her on that one (politely, of course!) and asked her to tell me the law in question, because I was curious. She enlisted the reference librarian and then admitted that it wasn't a law, but a library policy; and in doing so admitted that it was a little silly (the policy is actually for "acceptable footwear", so watch out if they really do start worrying about women in heels turning an ankle!). The made-up law thus served the same purpose as the safety argument: to keep the person enforcing it from having to think too hard about why this was supposed to be a problem in the first place.
I brought shoes along on every trip to the library since then, because I pay attention to rules that other people are important even when I find them a little ridiculous. And now that we've been spoken to, I'll try and remember to bring the boys' along too. Good thing it's forecast to start getting wintery soon; that'll help me remember, and give the boys a better reason to cram their feet into shoes than "you might get hurt". Because how could I expect them to believe that?!
This week is the best week of the year, as far as weather is concerned. It's all downhill from here! However, we enjoy it while we can, which means working in the garden and not wearing shoes. I always welcome the opportunity to kick off the shoes when I can, but this year it's not only about comfort: no, it's a statement about my deepest values, and an investment in my health too!
See, it turns out that shoes are bad for your feet—or at least someone at New York Magazine thinks so. Sounds good to me. The article I linked to there was posted on MetaFilter and Boing Boing, so I got to read a great deal of interesting commentary on it, both by crazy hippies who go barefoot all the time, and by suave urbanites who cannot imagine taking off their shoes, ever. They might step on a slug!
Really, that was the serious suggestion of one commentator. Also pointed out as potential hazards of the barefoot lifestyle were broken glass, fallen arches, dirt, callouses, HIV-infected needles, pavement, worms, "monkey-like feet", and putting podiatrists out of business. Folks also suggested that the co-evolution of our feet with our urban environment means that, while it was obviously acceptable for our ancient ancestors to go shoeless, it will no longer work out. The ground is just too hard now.
Another group of staunch anti-barefoots took the line that going without footwear marks the shoeless as "college-educated liberals with too much time on their hands." Since that pretty much describes me, I suppose I must do my part to uphold the stereotype and forgo shoes for the summer. After all, if the shoe fits...