I watched as my son’s fingers contorted around his shoe laces. Carefully, he tried to manipulate each string into a tight bow, but the laces just dropped limply onto his shoes. His face fell, and I could see his body tense with frustration. “This is just too hard,” he lamented, and inwardly I agreed with him.
The concept of teaching my son how to tie his shoes has always felt overwhelming. Despite decades of mindlessly tying our own shoes, my husband and I had no idea how to teach this important skill. As a result, my son entered kindergarten sporting Velcro shoes. We successfully dodge this milestone until the following spring when my son’s teacher encouraged each student to master shoe tying by the end of the year. Suddenly it felt very critical that we tackle this challenge.
I had high hopes about our shoe tying lessons. My son was motivated to learn, and he seemed confident as I slowly showed him the steps. But when he grabbed the laces, even the first step proved to be a challenge. Over and over we practiced crossing the laces and tucking them under each other to create a base. Frustration was high for both my son and me, and we hadn’t even made it to the bunny ear step! My hopes of an easy win were dashed.
For the next couple of weeks, my husband and I repeatedly explained and re-explained how to contort those pesky laces into bows. We tried different methods – one bunny ear, two bunny ears and even a new technique we saw online – but my son struggled to make progress. Shoe tying practice became a point of contention in our house, and I began to question whether it was worth it. We were in the midst of a pandemic and navigating a new world of face masks, video calls, social distancing, online school and at-home work. Did we really need this extra frustration? It was incredibly tempting to push this challenge to another time.
But then I realized that my son needed this win. During a difficult time filled with can’ts, my son needed to know that he could overcome a challenge. So we persevered. Gradually my son’s fingers became more dexterous and his tenacity began to shine through. He recovered more quickly from his shoe tying setbacks and was set on conquering the challenge. He was learning the art of resilience.
I once heard resiliency defined as the ability to bounce, not break, when challenges come your way. Now more than ever, I want my son to know how to bounce back. I want him to understand how to move himself forward during times of adversity. Building that grit starts small. It’s developed as our kids learn how to read, ride a bike, make new friends – and tie their shoes. These ordinary successes form a foundation that our kids can fall back on when bigger challenges come their way. Challenges like enduring a pandemic.
I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face when he successfully tied his shoes for the first time. The pride radiated from him, and his eyes danced with excitement. He had done it. He had overcome a challenge that at one time felt insurmountable to him. This small victory felt incredibly big that day, and my goal is to help him tap into that confidence the next time he encounters something hard.
Life’s stumbling blocks will always come. In fact, we’re living through a worldwide stumbling block right now. Years from today when my son looks back on the pandemic, I want him to remember more than just face masks and Zoom meetings. I want the pandemic to remind him that he is capable of more than he knows and that he can not only survive hard times but thrive during them.
Who would have thought that this life lesson would start with learning to tie your shoes?