“I’m not doing it anymore,” I said firmly to my son, Robbie. “You’ll just have to figure it out yourself.”
Outwardly, I was calm and resolved. But inside, I was in turmoil. Robbie is a ten-year-old dynamo with world-class video-gaming skills and amazing dexterity on a waterski. Next week, he’ll start fifth grade, but he still can’t tie his own shoes.
How did we get into this situation?
Years of Velcro sneakers enabled him to put off the tedious task of mastering this essential skill. Then, on the few occasions when shoelace-tying was urgently required, it was generally easier and faster for us to do it for him. Time marched on and so did Robbie, in shoes tied by his parents, his brothers, or any handy adult bystander.
Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I patiently shown him how to do it at least a hundred times, all of which were unsuccessful. So have his brothers, his mother and even his teachers. Each time, he insists, we’re to blame for giving faulty instructions or blocking his view of the action with our hands.
Robbie came to me earlier this week, sneakers flopping, and asked for a tie. Suddenly, I realized I can’t let the kid go back to school lacking this critical skill. “No,” I said. “But, Dad,” he pleaded, “I can’t. Tie them for me, please! I don’t know how.”
Frustrated, I tried to walk away. Robbie flopped after me noisily. The boy is nothing if not persistent. After all, he’s our third child. With two noisy older brothers and two busy working parents, Robbie has mastered all the tactics of parental manipulation. He had no trouble learning that.
Robbie argued that my lousy teaching was holding him back in life. I fumed that he wasn’t serious about learning. Our discussion got louder. Finally, I had to walk away. “Figure it out. I believe in you,” I advised him coolly.
Actually, I was sweating. We had two goals this summer for Robbie: complete the school-required summer reading and learn how to tie his shoes. With only days remaining before the deadline, we’ve accomplished neither. Will I be tying his shoes on his wedding day? I felt my failure as a father acutely.
I left him to his own devices, literally, and went back to working on the lawn. Twenty minutes later, I saw a red flash out of the corner of my eye. Robbie streaked by, sneakers firmly attached to his feet. I summoned him over and demanded to know who had succumbed to his pleas and tied his laces. “Dad,” he exclaimed triumphantly. “I did it myself! It was easy. I watched a video on YouTube.”
It’s been a long summer. I’ve been outdone by YouTube. I was crushed, but I did manage to get in the last word. “Good,” I managed to choke out. “Now you can GO TO SCHOOL.”