Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Ties That Bind

 Like most parents, I often wonder if my child will achieve important milestones. Yet, when my son Jack was almost three and stubbornly refused to "pee in the potty,"  I never envisioned him going off to college in a diaper. Nor did I fear he would arrive at the fraternity house, swigging beer from a sippy cup. Kids have a way of accomplishing tasks on their own terms. Until this week, however, I could see a future—some nine years down the road—when my exceedingly bright child might arrive on an Ivy League campus in tennis shoes fastened by Velcro. Yes, I’m ashamed to say that I had neglected to teach my nine-year-old son how to tie his shoes. It's not all my fault, but attaching blame is sticky. Especially in this case. Surely Velcro inventor, George de Mestral, did not envision his innovation would bring about the decline of childhood dexterity and self-esteem.
Shoes make the boy.
   Well, at least I’m not the only slacker mom in the world. Earlier this year, Internet Security Company AVG published the findings of it's "Digital Diaries" study. 2,200 mothers of 2-5 year-olds in eleven countries were given a list of technical skills and life skills and asked which ones their children had mastered. Turns out that while 25% of these tots could "navigate a website with ease," only 11% could tie their own shoe laces. Is it possible that parents all over the world have given over to the path of least resistance—aka Velcro? Although the study aimed to illustrate how children gravitate toward technology at an increasingly early age,  it also made painfully clear that we have collectively thrown up our hands when it comes to teaching basic "life skills." If we're too busy to be bothered with shoe laces, what else are we neglecting?
  Thankfully, the denouement for Jack v. Shoe Laces occurred the night before he entered fourth grade. His current pair of sneakers were at least a full size too small. The kid needed new shoes. Time to shop! 
  In the past, the mere suggestion of shopping for clothes elicited the same response from him as a trip to the dentist.  But this outing proved different. In another rite of passage Jack demonstrated a keen awareness of brand names: Nike, Reebok, Adidis, Sketchers. No sooner had we entered the consumer vortex, Jack spotted Footlocker. Good-bye J.C. Penney. So long, Sears. We're headed to the Bigs now. Turns out, Jack knew exactly what style and brand of shoe he wanted. "These are the ones the football players wear," he says, pointing to a sleek Reebok with a vibrant green sole. I had to admit, they were very cool. A glance at the price tag reminded me why they were so cool.  I swallowed hard and asked the clerk for Jack's size. But there’s one little, tiny 36-inch problem: These cool shoes come with shoe laces. Jack hunted for a Velcro model in the same style, but there ain't no Velcro in Coolsville. Jack's bottom lip began to trimble. The store clerk backed off, suddenly remembering the miss-matched sock bin that’s calling his name. 
   "But I'll never be able to tie them myself!" Jack wails. 
   "You know Jack, you didn't think you'd ever be able to ride a bike, but you can do that now like a pro," I said.
   Jack kicks at the very cool Reebok box. I fight my urge to escalate my argument to Parenting Tactics Code Red. You know, where you say brightly, "Well, then, c'mon, let's go down to Penney's and get those Lightning McQueen numbers with the Velcro!" (Even I know Lightning McQueen is SO first grade.) Instead I say: "I know you can do it, son. I mean, you're on the five-thousandth level of that Harry Potter DSi game, I think you can figure out how to make the rabbit go into the hole."
   Jack tries on the shoes, and I show him how to tie the laces in the simplest way possible. With these ultra-cool "football" shoes on his feet, he's immediately given a boost of confidence. He primps and preens in front of the mirror and then makes a lap around the store. 
   "So, what do you think?" I ask.
   "I can learn to tie the laces," says Jack.
   Back home, Jack and I sit side-by-side. After some initial frustration, he allows me to help him. "Left over right and under. Now make two ears. Now, left over right and under..." Jack's little fingers, which are normally so nimble and capable, falter at first. I hold my breath as he attempts to make the bunny go through the hole. "Please work," I pray. I know if he can tie a bow one time, he'll get over his aversion to the task. As he pulls both "ears" to complete the bow, Jack proudly says the three words that I've been waiting to hear, "I DID IT!"
  Jack beams and immediately turns his attention to the other shoe. When I offer guidance, this time I'm flatly turned down. "Mom, I can DO it!"  There are still some false starts and stops. Tying shoes takes a good ten minutes the next morning, but there's clearly more at stake here than a child learning to tie a bow. Overcoming a seeming insurmountable challenge—or even completing a task that's less than convenient—for the sake of self-satisfaction is a positive example to lay down for future reference. In years to come when facing his SATs, will Jack think of the night before his first day of fourth grade when he calmly listened to instruction and then found a way to accomplish a goal? Perhaps. One thing is for sure: He would have never gleaned such a reward from straps of Velcro.

1 comment:

  1. My 15 year old told me the other day that she can't read an analog clock. I feel a bit guilty about that ...but I could just blame it on that 1st grade teacher way back when, who obviously dropped the ball! However this will surely be one of the easier items on my master list of "Things I want my child to know before he/she turns 18 and goes out into the world."