Barefoot and carefree!

One hot day in early June, it was my turn to mind my friend Astrid’s two daughters (Ara, 7, and Happy, 2) plus my two for the afternoon, in return for her minding my kids in March.

The question: how do we take care of that many kids? The answer: if our parents / grandparents could do it, so can we.

I know that in most of my articles, I sound like a super hands-on momma. In truth, I would describe myself as more of a hands-off and hands-free nanay.

Ara, Achi and Shobe wanted to have a picnic at the University of the Philippines grounds. I brought food and water, collected Astrid’s two girls, and off we went.

We found a spot on the grass near a nice low tree that the girls wanted to climb. We wanted to set up shop there, but I forgot to bring a banig. We laid our food on a nearby pavement instead.

The youngest, Happy, wanted ice cream. I left the three older ones climbing a tree while Happy and I slurped some sorbetes.

Shobe and Ara had immediately taken off their shoes and climbed up and up. Achi refused to take off her slippers because there were ants all over the tree.

As expected, Achi stayed near the bottom where the trunk and branches were wider. She held on to a higher branch for dear life.

After our ice cream, Happy wanted to climb too. I placed her on a low branch, but could not let go – her shoes were sliding off.

But the opportunity for a photo could not be missed, so I asked Happy to hold on and clicked off a shot. Then I took off her shoes so she could be left by herself. As long as she was holding on to another branch, her feet could grip the branches.

When Shobe was in kindergarten, she was the only child allowed to wear slippers to school (only the t-shirts were uniform. Bottoms and footwear were anything goes) because the teachers knew that Shobe has superb gross and fine motor skills. Plus, it was easier for her to take off slippers than shoes, so she could just go barefoot the entire time she is in school – even when running with classmates or during P. E. class!

Playdate at University of the Philippines grounds.

Both my girls were bought up going barefoot. Even when we went to malls, they went barefoot. I put shoes on them only when outdoors, where physical injury is a big possibility. When we went to their favorite playground inside a private subdivision, they would also go barefoot.

Is there danger there? I don’t think so. The subdivision is a posh gated community where strangers are monitored. I doubt if the residents there would discard broken bottles into a playground their children play in. There are not even cigarette butts around the playground, signifying to me that smokers consciously stay away from children’s areas.

As Achi grew up, she got more finicky about dust and dirt. But that’s another story.

Shobe meanwhile, is like me. We go barefoot all the time. When the girls go with me to Kaisa, Shobe immediately parks her shoes under my desk and goes barefoot the whole day.

She learned to do that because I forbade her to wear shoes while going up and down the staircase.

Research and our own practical knowledge tell us that our feet were meant to touch the ground we walk on. The soles of our feet can grasp every little nook and cranny, offering us more balance and hold. They are not slippery, unless they are wet. Feet may get dusty, but dust can be washed off and toenails cleaned.

How about those worms that our parents warned us about? If we stay in dry spaces, there is little chance of parasites entering our bodies. Furthermore, parasites only enter the body through “openings” like wounds or body cavities like the nose, ears, mouth, eyes. Chances are, our children put their hands in their mouths, not their feet.

For young toddlers who are learning to walk, going barefoot means that their feet, ankles, legs, knees and hips are strengthened. They become more balanced, and at the same time, agile – an ability that many children are now not developing because we “protect” them too much.

Think of the bare foot as a sense organ just like the palm of your hand and your fingers. While walking and playing, children’s feet can feel the subtle different textures of the ground – from soft earth, to sand, to smooth marble or tile, or rough cement.

As they feel these differing textures, their feet make countless small adjustments in how each step is taken. These adjustments help each of us form our balance, movement systems, and posture for life.

Back to my picnic story… the UP grounds are huge! I had to hold on to the toddler, and so needed to be hands off with the three older girls. Hence, I asked them all to take their shoes off so they don’t fall and hurt themselves.

They soon tired of the tree and started running round after each other on the grass. Happy soon joined them – barefoot and carefree! — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 8 (September 20-October 3, 2016): 11.

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