MY kids have had dirty feet since mid May. We’ve tried washing them (a few times, we went a bit lax on the showers during lockdown) but this stuff is ground in. I don’t mind really, I nearly wish they had dirty feet all the time. Because dirty feet is a sign of kids running free.
I hadn’t really thought about it before until I heard two of my wife’s friends talking about their summer holidays growing up. One of them said her abiding memory is the state of the bedsheets from their dirty feet. Before you start judging them for shoddy personal hygiene, it was the 1980s, we all had dirty feet all summer.
When you’re a child in Ireland, summer is all about having your feet out. They’re usually the only thing you can expose, given that it’s 13 degrees with a wind that could take out a tooth.
Kids know that shoes and socks are basically jail for their feet. The shoes and socks come off mine whenever they arrive home or into my mother’s house. This leads to the ‘where did you leave your shoes?’ hunt when we need to go out again, which takes a year off my life every single time it happens. But their happiness quota goes up 50% without socks, so it’s worth it.
They’re even happier when they go a day without putting anything on their feet. When the sun shone during lockdown and we couldn’t leave the house, they could go for days without seeing as much as a sandal.
It reminds me of my young summers, growing up in Kinsale. The sun shone every day, for every single summer between 1971 and 1979. It didn’t of course, but I only remember the sunny days when my mother would pile us into the back of her Mini and drive out to Garretstown beach. There would always be a couple of cousins out there before us, and we’d hang there until high tide, eating sandy sandwiches and learning how to squeal in the sea. None of us had experienced the Mediterranean at that stage, so we thought that a near-death experience was part of the deal when you went into the sea.
No one wore shoes or socks or sandals. We’d pick periwinkles in the rock pools, and bring them home with sunburned feet, where they were boiled and eaten with a safety pin. (The periwinkles, not our feet.) We’d wake up the next morning, shake the sand out of the bedsheets and do it all again until late August swung back around again and our mothers went looking for our socks.
For reasons I still can’t figure out, I stopped going barefoot from about the age of 15 to 30. I can remember traipsing around a very hot Florence in 1990 with my feet undercover. I think I was trying to be different – but all it did was make me different to a happy person with his feet out to the air.
It was my wife who persuaded me to buy a pair of Birkenstocks, and I’ve never looked back. Even now, I feel a surge relief when I wear sandals instead of shoes and socks. (I read somewhere that extreme hipsters are now wearing socks under sandals, trying to make it a thing again. Good luck with that.)
The only problem is I never got into the habit of cutting my toenails, so there are days when I look like the Wolfman, with my lethal set of claws. That said, I'm getting better at the clipping because I don’t want to take a slice out of my kids.
I just want them to enjoy the next few months and bank some sunny memories, like I did. I also want to seem them in their bare feet for another few weeks. There will be plenty of time for socks when September rolls around.