My son is three months old. I gaze in adoration at this tiny miracle before me, fascinated by his flexible toes and soft feet, which he uses like hands to grip onto my sides. Springtime six months later, I watch transfixed as Ewan expertly crawls around our garden, using his toes to propel him forward, pulling himself up and beaming with pleasure at his new found freedom. On holiday at fifteen months, Ewan walks tentatively, steadying his balance on the deck of a ferry on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada. I almost cry with joy as he takes ten steps all at once, his little feet nestled in soft-soled slippers providing him flexibility yet protection from the ground. By mid-winter, at eighteen months old, Ewan walks confidently; beaming with pleasure as his vision and mobility reach new heights.
My gaze moves to the babies and toddlers around Ewan. Almost all are clad in Clarke’s crawler, cruiser or walker shoes. Some stumble around ungainly, struggling to walk. Clarkes have monopolised the children’s footwear market, aided by the propaganda that children need the support of shoes from a very tiny age. Mass-consumerism, relentless marketing, sentimentality about baby shoes and over-protectiveness of our children, have all contributed to this mindset. ‘Shoelessness’ may also still be an indicator of poverty. Whatever its causes, excessive and inappropriate shoe-wearing can have detrimental effects on children’s growing feet.
Allowing our son to walk barefoot as often as possible is one of the many natural parenting choices my husband and I have made. We also practice bed-sharing, sustained breastfeeding, child-led weaning and baby-wearing. Adele Coombs demonstrates the link between the barefoot movement and nature; ’Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living [...] that has the lightest impact, removing the barrier between us and nature’ (‘Barefoot Dreaming’). This movement can also encompass natural parenting, a lifestyle choice where our children are closer to ourselves and our planet.