a shoe hack

February 26, 2018

The most important thing I did today might have been to tie a pair of shoelaces. Or perhaps, more precisely, to explain to a 7-year-old that his shoe was not broken because he could not get the lace through one of the holes. I taught this class towards the end of the day, and by this point he had spent the day glowering each time the shoes had to be put back on, angrily protesting that he could not do it. “They’re broken,” he scowled, when I pointed at his untied shoelaces. Another student piped in to complain that they all had to wait for him since his shoes were broken. He glared back at her from his spot on the floor, while the others not-quite-patiently stood in line. I gave up on the argument for the sake of crowd control, letting him walk out without tying them. But a few moments later, I walked out to the hallway to chat with their teacher while they had their bathroom break. Seeing him fiddling again with his shoes, I walked over to take a closer look. “Ok, B, show me what’s wrong with your shoes,” I said. He repeated his “broken” refrain, adding that the hole didn’t work. I realized instantly that he had never learned the hack of just skipping a hole if the lace won’t go through it; he simply assumed that it was impossible to tie his laces when both were on one side of the show. I explained to him that he didn’t have to push the lace through that hole at all, but redid the laces to demonstrate the still-tie-able nature of them. “You get it?” I asked. He nodded, silently . . . but I could sense a soothing in him—a relief at not having to worry about his shoes any longer. A relief at being returned to self-sufficiency, and to not drawing undesirable attention to himself. It was an instantaneous realization for me, in that moment, that the tying of shoelaces was a far more important lesson—at least for him—than the difference between a folk tale and a fairly [the lesson I had carefully planned and scripted for the class, as I had intended it to go]. Truthfully, I think he’ll remember the shoelaces far longer than his library lesson today.
But the ironic truth of it all is that I’m the one who needed this lesson the most. I’d been so intent on following my “script” for the day, and for my life as I intended it to go, and to look, that I’d forgotten that life is more important than the script. I had to stop what I was doing, bend down, and listen. I had to let go of myself to loop those little laces. I had to stop rushing and start noticing. I had to live unscripted.