January 3, 2023

My shoelaces story

Never forget...

I was not a very smart first grader. I routinely tell the story as to how I was flummoxed by a first-grade subtraction assignment. The assignment encompassed a series of problems where I was to practice subtracting by one -- two minus one, five minus one, eight minus one, and so on -- to which I proceeded to give "one" as my reply to all of these problems. (I like to think my math skills have improved since then.)

I was particularly flummoxed by shoelaces. It was a given that shoes had laces and that I had to learn how to tie my shoes like any self-respecting first grader. But I never got it. No matter how many times members of my family showed me, or classmates showed me, or my teacher showed me, or the nice man at Red Wings Shoes showed me, I didn't get it. It didn't click for me.

The approach (read: crutch) I relied upon was to have someone else more capable than I tie my shoes early in the day, and hope that my laces stayed tied for the balance of the school day. Otherwise, every attempt to tie my shoes left me with untied shoes, an embarrassment seemingly unsuffered by everyone else in my class, and the source of some consternation with my first grade teacher.

I finally "got it" one day after an event of supreme embarrassment. In my first grade class, students at select announced times went to the lavatory (not "bathroom", not "restroom", lavatory) all at once at the same time, and lined up near the classroom door -- boys in one line, girls in another. One day, at one of these announced times when we lined up to go to the lavatory, my shoelaces were untied and my teacher noticed this.

She erupted at me, and immediately ordered everyone in the class to get out of line and return to their seats. She then ordered me in front of the class, in full sight of everyone in class (probably with full bladders), where she then walked me through, step by step, how to tie my shoelaces. Now it clicked.

(The problem I did was that I needed to hold the looped laces while inserting them through the loop I was holding. I never held on, and untied shoes were the natural result.)

I frankly don't remember what happened immediately afterward; I think the class skipped our lavatory break that one time. Needless to say, it was a scarring experience which I never mentioned again, and I don't recall anyone else bringing it up either. But one good thing came out of it -- at least I learned how to tie my shoes.

As an additional side-effect, the memory of this episode -- now more than four decades after the fact -- always plays in my head every time I tie shoelaces. It has every time since this happened, and likely will every time for the rest of my life.