Learning how to tie my shoelaces is my earliest memory.
It is also my earliest failure.
Shoelace tying, as a concept, was first introduced to me when I was five years old, by my kindergarten teacher. She gave each of us little pieces of cardboard, with holes though which the shoelaces had been strung, ready and waiting for us to tie them together.
Up until now, shoelace tying was a menial task left to the slaves (apparently, the politically correct term for them nowadays is ‘parents’). We would present to them our shoe-clad feet, and voila! Within seconds, we were ready to go. No mess, no fuss. In fact, I didn’t even notice that shoes had shoelaces until my kindergarten teacher pointed them out.
So needless to say, when we presented with the shoelaces, we were taken aback. What was it? Some of us peered closely at it. Some of us (I won’t say who) began to chew on the alien object, hoping its taste and texture would give us a clue as to its origin. It didn’t.
“Children, today you will learn how to tie your shoelaces,” announced the kindergarten teacher, her voice containing a tone of glee that immediately raised suspicion in our young minds. “Shoo lay suz,” we repeated after her, in a robotic tone. I didn’t like the sound of the word. It seemed sinister somehow.
“Alright, so, everybody, pick up each end of the shoelace.”
I did that, and smiled. ‘I’m pretty good at this shoelace tying business,’ I thought. ‘I should probably become a professional shoelace tie-er.’
“Okay,” the teacher continued, “Now make two bunny ears. The bunny runs around a tree. The bunny jumps into a hole and then jumps out again.”
I looked up at her, perplexed. Bunnies? Trees? Either I was going completely mad or completely deaf.
She looked straight me at smiled warmly. But to me, it seemed mocking. I could read her mind. ‘Ha!’ She was thinking. ‘I can do something that you can’t.’ (Now that I think of it, I was probably wrong about that. But who knows?)
I attacked the shoelaces fiercely, twisting and turning them into what seemed (at that time) vaguely bunny-ish. I pulled and tugged, hoping that this violent behaviour would somehow persuade my shoelaces to tie themselves. It didn’t work.
My teacher knelt beside me. “Let me show you how to do it. After all, I am a brilliant teacher, but you? You’re just a good-for-nothing child.” (Wait. Perhaps I’m confusing my teacher with Cindrella’s stepmother. But let’s move on.)
I looked at her angrily, and then looked around at the rest of my class. Many children had already mastered the art, but an equally large number of children (the ones with the more primitive, cavemen-type instincts) were, like me, beating their shoelaces to death. Although I’m not so sure whether it was out of haplessness or frustration.
Anyway, I had always counted myself among the more, um… let’s say ‘evolved’ children. After five years of people commending me for every drawing I made (even though my drawings were often misinterpreted), and praising me for learning the first ten letters of the alphabet, I had begun to think of myself an exceptional human being. A child-prodigy, at the very least.
Turns out I was wrong. I was nothing more than the ordinary mortal, struggling with basic life skills that others of my age had mastered already. Not a whiz kid, not a genius – just average.
Turns out I was wrong about that too. I was even less than average, because when everybody else had finished tying up their laces, I was still sitting there, trying to make sense of the bloody rabbits and the holes. All I could think about was throwing the stupid rabbit down the stupid hole. Everyone was just staring at me, wondering why one little piece of string was such a challenge for me. Now that I think of it, the phrase ‘damn it’ may have been coined by someone trying to learn how to tie their shoelaces.
By the end of the day, I was close to tears. The teacher soothed me with some kind words and a pat on the back, and as I walked out of kindergarten, I realized that I had experienced something new that day. I had experienced my first (of many) failures.
The next day I came wearing Velcro shoes.
In response to the Daily Post Challenge.