My son is learning to tie his shoes. It is not easy. It’s not easy to teach and it’s not easy to do. Learning to tie shoes, it turns out, requires desire, patience, persistence and no small amount of fine motor dexterity.
I watch him carefully cross the laces. He does not pull them tight before racing to form the first loop. Bunny ear. He pinches it together, hard, high above the shoe. Too high, I think, but I say nothing because he is already on to the next step, the one that gets us both every time. He takes the second lace, loops it around the first and… randomly stabs it through a space. He pulls. The maneuver does not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. So far, neither he nor I can figure out what makes the difference. I’m guessing it’s luck; he thinks it’s magic. Same same.
The bus will arrive in a few minutes. Does he have time for another attempt? Before I even finish the thought, he is pulling and pinching, looping and stabbing again. Without looking up he says, “You do the other one.” His focus is unbroken. Nope, it doesn’t work again.
He scooches his foot towards me, “Your turn.” If he is disappointed this morning, it does not show. This is just part of the routine. How many times has he tried this? How many more before he will be able to do this automatically? How many before he is teaching his own child, trying to remember the steps that elude him right now?
When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?
Today, my son stands up, shoulders his backpack and skips out the door. His shoes don’t fall off. He knows that eventually he’ll be able to tie those laces. He’ll try again tomorrow.