At Loose Ends

We had a kindergarten tradition at Flint River Academy. Every fall, Mrs. Nina Lemmon (yes, with two ems…and it’s a long i in her first name, not a short i) taught her students to tie their shoes.

shoe lace practiceShe cut out dozens of little shoes from yellow construction paper. You end up with a lot of yellow construction paper when you are a school teacher named Mrs. Lemmon. She wove one white shoelace through each, and labelled them with the names of her new students. The shoes hung on the wall inside her kindergarten classroom with their laces loose and dangling.

Every few days, Mrs. Lemmon, who was an angel of patience, gave us a chance to practice tying our shoes. If you did it right, your shoe was moved out into the hallway under construction paper letters that shouted: “I CAN TIE MY SHOE!” If you couldn’t get it to work, your shoe stayed in the classroom and waited for you to solve the magic puzzle that brought the loose ends together into a neat bow.

I wasn’t the first to get my tied shoe moved out to the hallway. Or the second. Or third. Each day, as we walked in a rambling line to the lunchroom or the library, we passed the parade of neatly tied shoes outside Mrs. Lemmon’s classroom.

It had started to worry me–yes, my neurotic little five-year-old self was already worried about measuring up. What if mine was the last shoe added to the line? What if I never managed to make the rabbit go around the stump and into the hole?

No kid got out of Mrs. Nina Lemmon’s kindergarten class without learning how to tie her shoes. NOT A ONE. I should have known that she wouldn’t let me miss out on this important piece of knowledge, but I wanted to be done with the hard part of learning and on to the celebrating. I wanted my shoe in that hallway for everyone to see. So they would know that I was smart. That I was capable. That I was OK.

One crisp October morning before sunrise, I sat on the living room floor in our trailer and I worked on tying my shoes. It wasn’t happening. I remember my dad’s boots stopping near me (boots–that could be my Plan B if I never figured out the laces!). He squatted down and showed me again. Maybe it was the angle or maybe something clicked or maybe I was just ready, but IT WORKED. I tied one shoe and then I tied the other. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Tigner to pull up in the driveway and honk the horn on her brown station wagon so that I could get to school and show Mrs. Lemmon that I knew how to tie my shoes!

A couple of weeks ago, G took the kids shoe shopping. Vivi came home with a powder blue pair of sneakers…with laces. Oh boy. That’s when it hit me. My kid is in third grade (gifted, no less!) and still doesn’t know how to tie her shoes. Thanks, Velcro. What would Mrs. Lemmon think?

Every morning, when I had to tie her shoes for her, I added “teach Vivi how to tie her shoes” to the running list of things in my head that I have to do or someone will find out that I’m an incompetent mother. It’s overwhelming, that feeling. That dark gray shadow in my mind that says, “What have you forgotten?”

loose ends

We sat down last night after dinner with no distractions. I took one blue shoe and held it in my lap while Vivi sat across from me with the other.

“OK. Before we ever start, let me just tell you–you’re going to mess this up about 20 times before it makes sense…OK?”

She got it after seven.

After she tied the laces correctly a couple of times, she was ready to quit and go watch Pokemon on Netflix. When I insisted that she sit there on the rug and tie her shoes at least 20 times, she moaned and groaned.

“Hey, Viv. Watch this.” I closed my eyes tight and tied the shoe. She marveled. I took the shoe with loose laces, put it behind my back, then brought it back tied neatly.

“Whoa! You’re a magician!” she laughed and grabbed for the shoe to try it herself.

“No, it’s just that I’ve practiced this since I was in kindergarten. Once you’ve practiced it enough, you won’t even have to think about it. You won’t even be able to remember the time when you couldn’t tie your shoes.”

Ah. When I find myself at loose ends, I have to remember to keep on practicing. Even with mothering, or forgiving myself or breathing through the hard stuff. Eventually, it gets easier. Eventually, I won’t even remember that there was a time when I didn’t know how to do this.

10 thoughts on “At Loose Ends

  1. Kathryn

    Ms. Lemmon sounds like a great teacher. Unfortunately, today she would probably not be allowed to do that. She would be reprimanded for making students feel left out or publicly embarrassing them. I loved this story who encouraged you to be your best and recognized and taught the value of hard work.

    As a mom, don’t stress. They will be potty trained, know how to tie their shoes and know the difference between he and she by the time they get to college, maybe even high school.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Oh my goodness! The he/she thing with Carlos…and then I wonder if I should bother with binary gender pronouns. Maybe he’s trying to teach me something!

  2. Nina Fischbach

    Not to many Nina’s with a long i but I am one of them!!! I always tell people “just think nine o’clock and you’ll remember my name is NIIINA, not Nina. My husband always writes me notes and addresses them to 9Ahh. It’s pretty cute. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories! I always look forward to reading them.

  3. Anne

    I just love your writing. Thank you for sharing your wisdom

    That last line is so true. After I had my second baby I was faced with staying home with a 2 year old and a newborn by myself all day. I wasn’t prepared at all for that. I was having crying fits and freak outs all over the place. (Might have been the hormones too, can’t be sure). Anyways I made it through those first few weeks and, just like shoe tying, it did get easier. Now I try to frame all my difficulties in that light. It will get easier if I keep going.

  4. Chris

    I think I love Miss Lemmon. I taught Julie how to tie her shoes by sitting behind her, and I don’t remember how many takes, but I do remember Julie taught Amy how to tie her shoes and since she sat in front of her to do it, Amy’s shoes never had the bow straight across. She continued to tie her shoes that way into adulthood, and I’m willing to bet she thought of Julie every time. I’m really old-fashioned, we didn’t use the rabbit ears thing, just the ‘make a loop with this side and wrap the other side around it . .. . so you almost had to sit behind to show it.

    I can’t bend too easily any more, so one day my shoe was untied as I went into Kroger. There were two teenage girls standing in front of the store, so I asked one of them to please tie my shoe for me. They were so nice, and the girl very neatly lay the laces across my shoe so it looked as though it were tied, but it wasn’t. I wonder if she learned after that incident. More velcro victims I suppose. Wes was the third, so I guess he learned. I’ll have to ask him. I know I had to go have a conference with his English teacher in high school. She told him to tie his shoes and he wouldn’t do it. Seems it was a fad about then for the boys to leave their shoes untied.

    Who knew there were so many stories about tying shoes?

  5. ktmade

    It’s funny to think of how hard learning to tie our shoes was. I also remember trying to learn to open and close a safety pin. I thought it would never happen. And now, how I wish all those things I have to learn as an adult – to forgive myself, to accept things that are not how I want them to be – were as easy as tying my shoes.


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