Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Papa Taught Me

Recently I had the opportunity to watch my Grandchildren Kaya, five, and Oliver, one, for a few hours while their parents were busy. At some point during our time together Kaya asked if she could tie my shoe which was sitting on the floor next to me. I was under the impression that she didn’t know how to tie shoes yet so I wasn’t worried about it.
“Sure.”, I said.
She happily went to work tying my shoe. It occurred to me that she didn’t really have any shoes with laces. Hers have buckles or Velcro. Don’t get me wrong, I think Velcro is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s right up there with duct tape. The thing is that nowadays I’m pretty sure the only kids who know how to tie knots anymore are Boy Scouts. Knots can be pretty useful. They should have classes on knots in school.
“Ok Papa I’m done.”
She handed me back my shoe with a knot that I’m sure bore a remarkable resemblance to the Gordian knot that Alexander the Great had to contend with just before he went on to conquer Asia Minor. He used a sword to deal with his. I always appreciated his straightforward approach to that. I was afraid I might have to contend with this in a similar manner, although I could probably do it with scissors, even though I have a friend who collects real swords and has a few he would let me borrow.
For someone who didn’t know how to tie shoes she had done a pretty remarkable job. The laces looped under and around each other with knots tied randomly amongst them. Then they were looped haphazardly around the area where the laces are strung through the holes in the shoe and tied again. Have you ever seen a handful of earthworms all intertwined in a mass that looks like one big earthworm all wrapped up in itself?
That’s the best description of what it looked like.
She grabbed my other shoe and began to work on that one.
“Uh sweetie, that’s not really the way you tie a shoe.”
“Well I don’t really know how to tie a shoe. Would you show me?”
I was at one of those points in the day where I actually didn’t have anything that needed doing, and, after realizing that this was indeed the case and my time was actually free for a while, I said, “Sure”.
So I proceeded to show her how to make the first knot, which she had already proven pretty adept at, and then the first loop, and then wrapping the lace around the first loop and pulling it through. She then tried it herself and didn’t quite get it right, but it was a very good first attempt. I showed her again what needed to be done, telling her in the process, “I didn’t get it right the first time either. It took me a little while before I got it.”
Of course, immediately after I said that she got it.
I looked down at the shoe, and realized that it was tied correctly!
“Hey! You did it!” I said.
She looked at the shoe with eyes wide and her mouth open in surprise.
Then she looked at me and smiled.
“I did it!” she yelled and clapped her hands.
“Very good! It took me a lot longer than that! Good job!” I said. You’re supposed to make a big deal when kids do something right and act excited, but I was really excited about it! I’d forgotten how much fun it is to see a child’s face light up like that when they come to understand something good for the first time.
“I want to do it again! Can I do it again?”
So she did it again, and again, and again. She got it right every time, refining her method a little more each time.
Then she turned it around on me.
“Ok, now let’s pretend that you don’t know how to tie a shoe.” She said, “You have to do it wrong and then I’ll teach you how to do it right. You have to get it wrong six times ok?” she said.
So I pretended to mess up tying the shoe laces.
“That’s good but you didn’t get it quite right.” She said in her best teacher’s voice. “You need to make sure you put the loop through here like this.”
We went through six variations of messing up the tying of the laces until I was allowed to get it right.
“You did it! Good job!”
It occurred to me that the “Tying of the Shoes” is kind of a milestone in childhood. I’ve never really asked anyone else about this, but it turned out to be a big deal for me. To this day I remember the first time I tied my own shoe without any assistance. I was in kindergarten at the time so I was Kaya’s age when it happened. I remember being so surprised. I was almost afraid to untie it to try again for fear I would be stranded with flopping shoe laces. I practiced and practiced without success and then at some point for no apparent reason it all just came together at one specific moment, and there it was! A tied shoe lace! Will you look at that! One more step toward independence complete. I think it was about that time I started thinking about trying to ride a bicycle.
It wasn’t until the next morning that it really hit me about exactly what had happened.
I was getting ready for work brushing my teeth. I could hear Kaya in the living room showing her father how she could tie shoes.
“Good job Kaya! I’m so proud of you!” he said.
“Papa taught me!” she said.
When I heard those words it all crystallized for me. You see I know that my daughter had been working with her and teaching her how to do it before this, but it just hadn’t come to that final moment. I was given the privilege of seeing everyone else’s efforts come to the moment of fruition. I didn’t really teach her so much as she just came to that final stage of learning. I was just a witness to it.
In that moment I became acutely aware of the memories we give our children. There is no way to determine what will stick in their minds, or how they will interpret what we do or say with their child’s mentality. Every parent who loves their children wants them to remember them well, but still we have to discipline them at times, and this they will remember too. But with enough love they will see the balance when they are old enough to think it through. We parents have to wait a while for that reward though.
But here’s the kicker: just as I remember the first time I tied my shoes, I’m pretty sure she’ll remember it too. And the most precious thing for me is that I will be there in her memories of it, and she will remember that I love her long after I am gone.
I hope they still have shoes with shoe laces when she grows up.
I hope she’ll be able to smile at the memory when she teaches her children, and she will see my face and remember me with fondness.
©Dan Bode 2009