At four, I learned the sad truth that the world outside my neighborhood had requirements for inclusion. I rather expected that I would show up at school and be accepted, just like in my neighborhood. Then, it happened; tribulation entered my life.
“I’m sorry, Honey, but this parents’ letter says that you must know how to tie your shoes before you can go to school. When Daddy comes home from work today, he’ll teach you.”
I wondered if, behind Mom’s smile, she was hoping that he could. My sister had tried to teach me to tie my shoes since the very day she had acquired the skill. It mattered not how many times Donna, with the patience of Job, demonstrated her spoken instructions; I just couldn’t get my pre-school fingers to successfully manipulate the laces. One or two paces after fashioning something similar to a bow, the laces hung as forlornly as ever down the sides of my shoes.
“Now, Punkin, the first question in learning to tie your shoes is the most important.” Daddy’s eyes twinkled, but his lips formed a straight line; I waited for a smile that didn’t come. “Are you ready to learn to tie your shoes, even if it means a lot of practice?” He waited until I nodded with vigor; I didn’t smile. “Okay, let’s see you untie those shoes.” I was good at untying my shoes; sometimes, they even untied themselves.
“Take the lace of the left shoe and I’ll take the one here on the right. Make a loop just like this.” Daddy watched as I tried. “Now, take the other lace and bring it around like this.” Daddy did it easily and watched as my clumsy attempt caused me to loosen the loop, which made it fall.
“I can’t do it, Daddy; I really can’t. Ple-e-ease, ask them to let me go anyway.”
“It’s the rule, Punkin. Don’t you want to learn to tie your shoes?”
I hung my head, tossing my dark-brown, sausage-like curls from side to side as I offered my sobbing, wordless reply. Daddy reached out and took me in his arms. “Okay, Punkin, go play. Today’s not the day for me to teach you how to tie your shoes.”
I turned my tear-streaked face up; his radiant smile focused right on me. “But, Daddy, I can’t go to school until you do.”
“I know, but you’re not old enough to go yet, so you don’t need to know right now, do you?” I smiled back, the sparkle returning to my deep, chocolate-brown eyes. I squeezed my Daddy with all my might, grabbed the ball I’d put down when called, and out the door I sprinted.
The next afternoon, as soon as Daddy crossed the threshold, I latched on to his hand, tugging him to the first chair inside the back door. He sat, a broad grin on his face. I burst out my news. “Daddy, Butchy got new shoes today and, guess what? They don’t have any laces. They have a flap with snaps on the ends. You just push down; that’s all. Oh, Daddy, isn’t that good news? You can buy me a pair of those shoes for school!” Joy poured out of my dancing form, dark curls bouncing in time with my clapping hands.
Pulling the familiar old pipe out of his lips, Daddy’s fingertips scratched the start of his five o’clock shadow. “Well, the problem is that they don’t make snaps on the saddle shoes little girls wear to school.”
His words burst my bubble, and I slumped in a heap on the hard-wood floor. My Daddy reached down and lifted me to his lap. “Shhh, it’ll be okay. I know that you can learn to tie your shoes; we’ll work on it together.”
“But, Daddy, why do girls have to wear shoes with laces? I can’t--” Daddy’s gentle fingertips pressed against my lips.
“Punkin, do you want to go through the rest of your life trying to find a way around the rules; or do you want to do things Daddy’s way?”
He always knew just the right thing to say. Sliding off Daddy’s lap, I plopped my small body on the floor next to his feet, and began untying my shoes.
All the way to school that first day, I couldn’t take my eyes off the laces I’d tied on those brand-new black and white saddle shoes. Daddy’s way rid my heart of fear, and left behind an indescribable joy.
Author’s Note: This is a true story.
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