Ailin Quinlan: You won’t measure a child’s foot because of Covid? Gah!

Back to school shopping in Covid times can throw up some unexpected challenges, says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Ailin Quinlan: You won’t measure a child’s foot because of Covid? Gah!

“This shop wouldn’t allow a child to stand in his socks on a small, flat measuring board to check the shoes would fit properly?"

WE got him a lovely warm, rain-proof winter coat for school, his first ever school uniform and tracksuit, his first ever school-bag with his initials on a key-ring, a special water bottle, and a new pencil case.

The happy glow continued until we got as far as the school shoes.

The traditional style of leather school shoe that I’d presumed we would be getting in a traditional Cork city shoe-shop wasn’t, it emerged, in the running; the primary school where he would be going in September allowed Junior Infant pupils to wear trainers as long as they were black, so his mother decided she was going to go for black leather trainers of a particular brand from a popular sporting goods chain.

Grand, I said. The coat and the shoes were my starting-school gift and I wasn’t going to come all heavy-handed about which kind of school shoe I thought he should wear.

After she had picked out a few different styles she liked, we requested to have his foot measured to confirm his size, given that he’s shooting up like a weed after a rainstorm. We hit a bit of a wall.

Ah, sorry, the assistant explained, the shop wasn’t measuring kids’ feet, because of Covid.

Eh? The shops, the cinemas and the theatres are open. The restaurants are heaving with indoor and outdoor diners. The gyms are functioning. Buses are now allowed to travel at 75% capacity. People can travel by plane for non-essential purposes. We’re allowed to attend sports events and have 200 people outdoors at a party. Up to 100 people can attend a wedding service and reception. Funerals can now cater for up to 50 mourners.

Meanwhile, most people are still being careful; wearing masks inside shops and other public places and carefully sanitising our hands.

But this shop wouldn’t allow a child to stand in his socks on a small, flat measuring board to check that the shoes we were buying would fit properly?

I snorted into my mask. It was quite a muffled snort, but my sardonic disbelief was possibly not that carefully hidden.

“Muuuum…” begged my daughter.

What mum could do, suggested the assistant, who, by the way, looked young enough to be fitted for school shoes himself, was, ask the four-and-a-half-year old if the shoes felt comfortable on him and see if he felt they fitted him properly.

I stared at him, now completely bemused. I started another snort but turned it into a cough at a pleading look from my daughter.

Alternatively, he added, maybe mum would like to, eh, pinch around the toes of the shoes herself to make sure they fitted.

I thought about the controversy last March when consultant paediatrician Niamh Lynch revealed that many children were walking around in shoes that were too small because of the continued closure of shoe shops, and parents were having difficulty ordering the right size shoes online.

Long-term, she warned, if a developing foot was put in the wrong sized shoe, it could affect how a child walked.  Ms Lynch said a simple solution would be for shoe shops to be permitted to re-open to sell children’s shoes by appointment, presumably so children’s feet could be measured and shoes properly fitted. Fair dues to her.

Yet now, I mused, here we have all the shops, including shoe shops, selling children’s shoes completely open. 

But here was a shop that was happy to sell you an expensive branded shoe but wouldn’t measure or fit the child’s foot for it.

In fact, not only that, this shop was quite prepared, it seemed, to sell shoes for a small child on the basis of whether that small child decided, in his professional experience, that the shoes fitted properly or not.

Or whether a mother thought they fitted, based around her ability to gauge the fit from squeezing the toe of the shoe with her hand.

Right, I thought, enough said.

I took my daughter to one side. 

“I never bought you a pair of shoes unless an experienced sales assistant measured your foot and then checked that they fitted you,” I said. 

“And I’m not buying school shoes today unless we can get his foot properly measured and have the fit of the shoe checked. So I’ll put it another way: I’m not buying his school shoes here.”

We went somewhere else.

I should add that on our way into that same shop, the one that was refusing to measure or fit children for their shoes because of their concern about spreading Covid, I had automatically tried to pump some gel on our hands from the hand-sanitiser at the store entrance. It was, and this was before 11am, empty. Hmm. Telling.

Onwards. We found a shop which sold children’s shoes and where there was a policy to measure the child’s foot and check the fit once the shoes were on. We got him measured with his socks on obviously, then we chose the shoes and the masked, clearly adult, assistant carefully checked the fit. No problem. Everyone was happy.

And at no point did she have to actually touch the child’s foot, God between us and all harm. And their sanitiser dispenser worked.

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