I make the same joke every other parent makes, “Did you leave any in the sandbox?” Then I dump out the sand, retie the shoes, come home, have him put away his shoes and prepare to do the whole thing over again the next day.
Today, as I double-knotted his laces in a futile safeguard against friction and time, I was overcome with sadness. Everything we do for our kids can be summed up in that effort to tie their shoes. We do our best. We tighten the hell out of those suckers, but eventually it all comes undone. One day (and, really, when is that day going to come already, mister?), he will tie his own shoes. One day, my influence over the security and steadiness of his step will be reduced to a memory.
Then there’s the sand. That part of the metaphor saddens me the most. Every decision he makes, every interaction he has, determines whether he’ll end up with a shoe full of dirt. The sand “means he’s having fun,” as some dad on the school yard invariable says to me. But fun has consequences, and one day he’ll have to navigate those on his own.
So I tie his shoes and glance up at his face to find him looking at my hands. He’s trying to figure out how to tie his shoes himself. So far, he’s figured out about half of the steps, but that pull-the-loop-through part in the middle has him stumped. He’s watching for my technique. He’s learning a skill that one day he will think of as completely his own, if he thinks of it at all. I make a mental note to call my mother.
My oldest lumbers over, all lanky limbs and pubescent awkwardness, to lace up the ridiculous high-top sneakers he bought with his own money. They’re ridiculous because they’re white. Or they were white, which is why the choice of color was ridiculous. But it was his money and his decision and his learning experience. I don’t remember how old he was when he learned to tie his shoes himself. How can I not remember something like that?
My youngest bounds over to her shoes and shakes her butt at her brothers as they sit on the floor. There’s rarely any sand in her shoes, even though I know she plays in the sandbox. What’s her secret? She slips on her Velcro shoes herself in two seconds and goes back to shaking her butt, as if to gloat in the ease and skill with which she has shod her own feet.
Because nobody acknowledges her, she gives up her dance and crouches down next to me, to watch me explain my tying technique to her brother. I draw the first lace under and around the second, and my daughter sees an opening.
“First you pull this one under that one,” she mimics, shoots back up and sticks her butt in her brother’s face. “And then you shake your booty.”
There will be many distractions along the way to his learning basic life skills. He responds to this one by yelling “Stop it!” and punching the air. I use the distraction to quickly finish the job without the YouTube-like painstaking explanation I had been giving him.
“Hey!” he shouts, angry that I had chosen expediency over parenting.
“Sorry,” I say, still sad because he will one day tie his own shoes, get married and forget to call. “I will teach you how to do this yourself, but not today. I’m not ready.”
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles who frequently overthinks parenting.