My grandson can’t tie his shoes.
You might imagine a boy of three or four, his brow knit in Pre-K concentration. The harder he tries, the more his chubby fingers become entangled in the laces.
No. Elijah is seven. He’s in the second grade. He’s among the brightest children in the second grade.
But he can’t tie his shoes.
He doesn’t like shoes. He sheds them at every opportunity, necessitating frantic hunting expeditions before he can play outside, or accompany me to the market, or help with walking the dogs. He finds them, though. The speed with which he finds them is usually dictated by his interest in the reason for wearing them, but he always finds them.
What he doesn’t find is socks. I don’t mean to suggest he searches for socks, because he doesn’t. It seems he holds socks in even lower esteem than he does shoes.
It would be his obvious disdain for socks, in fact, that led to the purchase of new shoes which he then had to tie and couldn’t, but I’m getting ahead of myself….
High school football is a big deal in Georgia. In fact, when compared to professional football, there’s very little difference in terms of fanfare, music, noise, face-paint, dancing mascots, and other related tomfoolery that a seven year old might find entertaining. Elijah had never been. That and the fact that, at thirteen, my son is sure that missing even one game would be instant social suicide made choosing Friday night’s entertainment a no-brainer.
I exchanged pleasantries with the parent manning the gate as he halved our tickets. My son’s hand barely grazed mine as he grabbed his share, darting off in the direction of a group of boys that appeared cloned, from their unruly mop-tops right down to their khaki cargos. Elijah and I picked our way through knees and feet to gain seats on the fifty yard line.
The game didn’t hold my interest; our team is two and five and they play like it. Instead, I watched the girls sitting next to me. I decided that the one with long blonde hair was much too young for the skin-tight hip huggers she wore under her cheerleader’s vest. Attempting to get an answer to the question, “What kind of mother lets her daughter walk around like that?”, I craned my neck in an effort to see further down the bleacher.
That’s when I smelled it.
I knew right away what it was. And there was no question as to the source.
“Yes?” Bent in half, he shooed his shoes under the seat.
“Did you take your shoes off?”
“Yes.” Sitting up now, he spoke quietly while instinctually covering his shoes with his bare feet.
“We don’t do that. We don’t take our shoes off at football games.”
I watched as he hurried to replace them. The laces had been cut and knotted, making them slip-ons. They looked like they’d been slipped on a lot.
The next day, at the department store, I grabbed a package of socks before heading for the shoes. I slid sneakers over his freshly socked feet, tied them, and pinched the toes the same way my mother always pinched mine. Hiding the others inside the box the new ones came in, we headed out to find more things to buy.
Minutes later, he whizzed by me. One shoe had come untied.
“Tie your shoe, Elijah.”
I walked a few paces before stopping to read the label on a jar of protein shake mix. The air around me moved as he whizzed by me again. At the meat counter, I waited my turn in front of the steaks. Seems lots of us were planning to cook out. Elijah squirmed around one corner of the refrigerated case, dragging one shoelace behind him.
“Tie your shoe, Elijah.”
“It’s untied. Tie it again.”
Pouting, he plopped to the floor. I watched him make shoelace bunny ears, then everything fell apart. He started again. One bunny ear, two bunny ears, and a mess. And, again. One bunny ear, two bunny ears, and something resembling an attempt at a bow that came unraveled as soon as he made a move to stand. I cursed silently at the memory of knotted laces and bent to help.
I’m not one of THOSE Moms. I don’t give my daughter parenting advice unless she asks for it. And I can count the times she’s asked for it on one hand.
This was different.
On Sunday, I passed Elijah off to his parents with a kiss to his begrudging cheek. My grandson did not inherit my penchant for “kissy face”.
Ten minutes into the drive home, I dialed my daughter’s cell phone.
“Did you know Elijah can’t tie his shoes?” Either the question or my complete lack of pleasantry surprised her. It took her some seconds to answer.
“I saw you bought new ones.”
“Well, I was going to buy laces. One of them was broken. But then he took them off. He doesn’t wear socks, you know…”
“It’s the knots. Someone is tying knots in his laces. He’s forgotten how to tie. This isn’t good.”
“I know. I’ve asked him to stop.” “Him” is always her husband, my son-in-law.
“Do I need to ask him? Because, I will. I’ll ask him to stop.”
I hadn’t used that tone with her since she was a teenager, a teenager who’d held so much promise, a teenager who’d seemingly lost her mind, the answer to my mother’s twisted mantra, “You’ll get yours! I hope you have a daughter just like you!”
She got there so quickly. In that moment of separation, that space of time during which I could speak and also watch in horror as the words left my lips, my mother was there. She lives in my snarl.
“No, Mama…” My daughter’s voice was tired, because she’s not like me. And most of the time, I remember, most of the time that’s okay.
It’s just sometimes….