As a kid, when the weather turned warm, I eagerly kicked off my shoes and went barefoot. In May and even early June, a trip across my grandmother’s stone-filled driveway would result in stinging soles and an odd hopping dance.
“You don’t have your summer feet yet,” my dad would say.
Summer feet were tough. They could brave all sorts of terrain – concrete, sand, asphalt, crab grass, and wood chips. By July, I could cross the stone driveway without the slightest flinch. Did I get the occasional splinter? Yep. Did I step on a few bees? Yep. Did I get poison ivy? You know it. Were my feet covered in dirt and grime at the end of the day? Of course. But it was worth it.
My feet hit their optimum level of happiness and comfort without the confines of shoes. Even today, I never wear them in the house. I kick them off when working at my desk. I relish a stroll through the cool grass. So, it should be no surprise to me that my toddler son has taken to eschewing shoes.
In many situations, I fully support my shoeless dude. It’s not only a lovely sensory experience; it is also probably the best thing for the health of his feet and the development of his balance and coordination. He runs free at the beach, in the backyards of friends, around the pool, and along the sidewalk. He rides his bike barefoot, too. In contrast, I insist that he wear his shoes at restaurants and supermarket — not for safety, but to show him existing social norms.
The gray area for me is the public park. I live in an area that is more urban than the residential and rural areas I grew up in. Forest River Park, my local hangout, is well used and highly frequented. It is mostly clean and grassy, but I have seen shards of glass, dog poop, and other bits of garbage lying about. On our last trip, after about the sixth re-shoeing endeavor, he promptly kicked them off again, and I gave up trying. He went barefoot for the rest of the outing without negative consequences.
Should I take a hard line on shoes next time we visit the city park? Probably. It’s hard for me to really assess the risk involved. Doggy waste can be washed off, bee stings can be treated, splinters can be removed — but what are the chances that my son will step on glass or sharp metal and seriously injure himself? Maybe they are slight and I am being overly cautious and depriving him of a simple childhood pleasure. Maybe they are high and I am slacking off on my parental responsibility to keep him safe.
I welcome thoughts and comments from readers on this (silly? trivial?) parenting dilemma.