There was an era when stiff white baby shoes were de rigur. Parents were assured their children’s feet wouldn’t develop properly without them. This was before the Internet, so it wasn’t easy to disprove industry lobbyists’ advertising campaigns, women’s magazine articles, and mainstream doctors repeating all the same falsehoods.
But my husband and I, being freethinkers, believed barefoot must surely be nature’s perfect design, so we didn’t get our first child shoes until he was nearly two. Grandparents on both sides muttered about our poor unshod child wearing hand-knit socks in the winter. When we finally broke down, we broke down completely, and ended up buying those same little white shoes. (Freethinkers? Not so much.)
We knew we’d made a mistake. The shoes cost approximately the same as our weekly grocery budget. They seemed to cause our child to fall more often and made his gait somewhat awkward, so we put them on him infrequently. The sound of those shoes clumping on the floor brought back memories, I swear, of wearing similar shoes when I was small except that mine had maddening little bells attached. <shakes fist on behalf of toddler selfhood>
We were determined to get more flexible footwear when we took our child to get his second pair a few months later. We eased his little feet out of the white baby shoes and the shoe salesman checked sizing on one of those metal measurers unique to shoe stores. (The term is Brannock Device, I looked it up.)
This time, we insisted on a soft pair of sneakers. The salesman knelt, put the shoes on, laced them up, and asked our little boy to walk in them. Our sweetie did as he was told. I don’t know if he he’d been wearing shoes he’d outgrown or if the new shoes finally fit his wide feet, but he took a few tentative steps and a big smile slid across his face. He said clearly, with the wonder of the newly liberated, “My toes don’t have to make a fist any more!”
The phrase has remained a family joke even though that toddler is now a young man (still with feet so wide they’re hard to fit). Each time I hear it I cringe to think of the pain his poor crunched up toes must have been in. And it continues to remind me that children, especially young children, can’t always tell us something is wrong. They accommodate as best they can to a tight fit, to falls, to an awkward gait, even to !#*! bells that jingle at every step.
Children accommodate to all sorts of things. That’s why we’re not aware they’re suffering from chronic headaches (as my daughter did) or meekly compliant around a babysitter who hits (as my friend’s son was) or have to battle rats that get in their bedrooms at night (as a child in our neighborhood did). We have no idea why it seems they’ve become clingy, whiny, or unreasonable. Sometimes we can’t see any change in their behavior at all.
It’s a blessed relief when we’re finally able to figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we make it better.
Let’s remember to be on the lookout out for anything in our children’s lives that forces them to accommodate to misery. Let’s keep a look out for constriction and pain in our own lives too.
I’d love to hear your own “toes making a fist” stories.