Take Your Shoes Off

person wearing blue denim jeans standing on green grass
Photo by Anna Guerrero on Pexels.com

As children, the instant they told us school was over for the summer, the shoes came off. If we had to go to church or to one of those places that say “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” we wore sandles. Rarely did socks and sneakers or those fancy church shoes with those horrid tights come on. They felt so tight and confining.

In the beginning of the summer, I remember learning how to walk on the pavement or across tough ground for the first time every year. The sharp feel of every stone or imperfection or prickly vegetation would eventually be dulled as my soles toughened. The blackened soles of my feet and no tan lines from straps of my sandles were a badge that I was of the pack of feral kids in our neighborhood. I was proud of that.

My favorite feeling was soft blue grass before it grew crispy with the heat. I loved the mud seeping through the toes as we explored ponds, streams and puddles. Walking on the hot pavement was a test of how tough your feet are, but sometimes we needed sandles to get to our friend’s house.

As I grew older, I would go barefoot in the fields picking sweetcorn, pumpkins, beans, tossing hay or whatever the farmers needed us to do. The cool feeling of the earth first thing in the morning was so different from the hot dry soil when we would finish for the day. The cement was cool in the packing sheds while we packed sweetcorn into cabbage crates “60-ears to the crate, can’t you count?”.

I came back to the place I grew up to give my daughter a safe landing while her father and I went through the divorce process. I knew the schools were better and I could get some help from my mom and my daughter’s [paternal] grandfather. My daughter never liked anything on her feet, even in the coldest depths of winter. She would kick clogs on and off without socks or wear flipflops, but she did not share the same feral summers we did with a ton of barefoot kids exploring the neighborhood.

I forgot about the thought of going barefoot or the feeling of the ground as I walked until this spring. I was talking about my anxiety with a colleague of mine and how hard it was to count or try the breathing exercises my therapist suggested with this cognitive stuff. As we compared notes on my chronic Q-fever and her long-term battle with Lyme. She said, “Take your shoes off. Feel the dirt. Walk in the grass. It really helped me.” The simplicity of that statement stopped me.

I had all of those childhood memories flood me as I drove home. Of course, this could work. It was one of my most enjoyable early memories of my body and it is the one thing nobody hurt. Besides, I have all of these fun soaps and salts my daughter and I collected. I can use them to pamper myself. Isn’t that the self-care thing the books and memes keep telling me I should do?

When I got home, I took my shoes off. I am not anywhere near as hardy as I was as a child. I focus on the wood floors, the ceramic floors, the cement on the porch, the crispy bluegrass, the cooler and softer crabgrass, the asphalt (in the shade) along the walkway. I am mindful of ticks now. We didn’t have to bother with them as kids. There are things to do for them though.

As I go along on a hike, I am slowly starting to remember the feeling of walking on paths and old logging roads barefoot. I am proud of my dirty ankles and toes once again. I enjoy the cool shapes of the rocks and the sharp edges of the stones on the beach. It is grounding and when I am most overwhelmed, I try to use this as a moment to remember what it felt like to be safe and ok.

Take your shoes off. You will be glad you did.

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