Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tying Shoes

Thirteen years ago I was in a state of panic!

It was the summer before Graham would start his academic career, and his school had sent out a list entitled "Kindergarted Readiness" that outlined the essential developmental benchmarks for students entering kindergarten. Graham could do almost everything on the list--he could count to 100 (or more!), he could recognize all the letters in the alphabet, he could write his own name, he could remember and execute three-part instructions.

But he could not tie his shoes.

And shoe-tying was on the list. I just knew that I had somehow failed as a parent because my five-year old could not tie his shoes. I was fairly sure that it was not due to a lack of manual dexterity, he could make Lego models that were meant for 10-12 year olds. I was fairly sure that is was not due to a lack of intelligence, because at 5, Graham not only recognized the letters of the alphabet, he could read simple chapter books. And darn if it was wasn't due to lack of instruction! I had been trying to teach him to tie his own shoes for six months. The boy just wasn't interested.

Graham and Kayla, the delightful young woman that he is courting.
He was happy for me to tie his shoes. He let the eager-to-mother-anyone little girls in his preschool class tie his shoes. Actually, I think even his younger brother would tie his shoes.

But there on the official "Kindergarten Readiness" list was the dreaded and lacking criteria: Tie Shoes.

And so I worried, and redoubled my efforts. I probably bribed, and threatened, and belittled, and chided. But when the first day of school arrived, Graham still could not tie his shoes. So I did what any over-achieving mother on the verge of facing failure would do. I gave up and bought slip-ons, secretly fearing that my son would one day graduate from high school still not knowing how to tie his shoes.

Graham and Kayla sipping cider in Warsaw
Fast forward thirteen years.

Yesterday, as Graham completed the very last of his on-line High School courses,  I was in town trying to buy him some shoes. He only wears one style: Converse Laceless Slip-ons. To tell you the truth, I can't remember him ever owning a pair of shoes that he had to tie. And in that moment I realized two things:

  1. It is possible that my son is graduating from High School not knowing how to tie his shoes.
  2. I don't care!
You see, something that I feared when he was five may have actually come true, only for me to realize that it was a stupid fear in the first place. So many wise mentors told me not to sweat the small stuff, but the problem was, as a young mom, I had a hard time figuring out what the "small stuff" was.

So I panicked about things like whether the chosen shirt went with the chosen pants, or how many brussels sprouts each child consumed, or whether we had purchased exactly the right folders on the school supply list. I fretted when he went on a field trip to the roller rink because my son had never been on skates before. I wondered how to know if he no longer needed swiming lessons. I felt devasted when he was reprimanded for wearing BLACK-soled shoes on gym days! What kind of a delinquent mother was I? And I just KNEW that a lunch box left at school over the weekend would be mold-covered and contaminated beyond repair by Monday.

But now, as I look back over the school years, now I get it. Tying shoes--and ALL that other stuff--is small stuff. So are standardized test scores, hair length, clothing labels, clean rooms, bed times, adolescent facial hair, and food preferences.

Being sweet.
On the other hand, my scruffy long-haired boy who hates shoelaces has the big stuff just right.

He starts each day in God's Word--not because we require it, but because he chooses it. He is compassionate and kind and eager to serve anyone who has need. He can play a guitar so beautifully it brings tears to my eyes. He's the kind of guy who gets 100% on his English final, and never announces it. He honors his parents, he challenges weak thinking, and he works diligently, no matter the task.

So to all you mothers out there stressing over school supply lists, developmental benchmarks, and swimming lessons, I declare to you this happy news: They don't matter. Be free. Enjoy your summer.

And just to be on the safe side, don't buy black-soled shoes.

Note the laceless Converse.


  1. Who took all of these adorable pictures of Graham and Kayla? And Happy Graduation, Graham!

    1. Kayla's parents took the pictures when Graham met them in Warsaw. They really are amazing photos.

  2. Wonderful, encouraging article. Congratulations to Graham!! Proud of him!!

  3. Congratulations Graham!
    And David & Jenn too!
    Love you all. Chandler, too!
    Too fast!....