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Leave Them at the Door: When did so many houses become shoe-free?!

When did it become de rigeur to demand people to bare their disgusting feet when they enter your home? It seems like every other playdate we go to I’m asked to go barefoot. You’d think I’d remember to groom accordingly, but I’m a working mother! I have no time for pedicures! Isn’t it rude to demand this kind of exposure without warning? – foot fed-up

Dear fed-up,

We feel your angst. Just the other day, one of us was forced to remove her sweaty ballet flats in public and was horrified by her young son’s acknowledgement of the subsequent wafting (never mind the visuals). Kids say the darndest things.

It does seem that more families are going shoeless these days. Aside from yoga, we can’t remember when we were asked to take our shoes off pre-baby: a Japanese restaurant? A Moon Walk in fourth grade? When there’s an infant in the house, the point is to prevent the tracking of grunge onto the terrain where crawling, eating and licking might occur. Sometimes the tradition sticks and families with grown kids are still lining up the Crocs at the door. This may be an outgrowth of increased germ-consciousness, or the desire to keep the family space somehow sacred or separate from the rest of society.

We understand the appeal of a clean floor, in general, and specifically when there are kids around to frolic in the filth. But the shoes-off mandate can be inconvenient and even embarrassing for guests. In some homes there seems to be a genuinely carefree back-to-nature vibe: It’s informal, it’s natural, hey man, who cares if you have a triple-decker wart on your bunion? But, in others, there’s just a feeling of uptightness and the lingering odor from your Converse.

Perhaps there could be a polite way to convey a shoe-free policy in advance. A delicate abbreviation or acronym on birthday invites, or maybe some kind of universal symbol for shoelessness. There are some generous solutions: A play-space one of us recently visited offered new socks for sale! And at only a dollar, they didn’t even seem to be seeking to profit from the ill-prepared. Martha Stewart once positioned a selection of cozy slippers in the doorway of each of her homes to gently convey her shoe-banning message.

We’d like to tell your play-date hosts to stock their mudrooms with fresh cotton and soft wool for you. But in the case that they don’t read our column and comply, we suggest you keep a spare pair of sockettes in your bag. That should work, until you unroll them and discover a wad of your kid’s discarded gum/hairball/melted crayon/renegade lip-gloss or any number of other purse snafus. Would these be more or less embarrassing than an untended set of toes? That will depend on the toes, and the audience.

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