Is Tying Your Own Shoes Really Important?

by Jill Wilbur Smith

This is one of my favorite pictures. I love it for a number of reasons.

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I love it because it reminds me of my dad and his infectious laugh. He’s laughing because—as was typical—Emily has her shoes on the wrong feet. It reminds me of his joyful attitude and his ability to always see the lighter side of life.

I love it because it shows Emily with her shoes on the wrong feet. Silly, I know. But significant. Significant because 1) she was independent enough to put on her own shoes, and 2) it didn’t matter to her that she hadn’t done it perfectly.

In this picture, Emily is wearing shoes that have Velcro closings because, at 5, she couldn’t tie her shoes. A few months earlier, I had worried about this fact in the same way I had worried in previous years about whether or not she would ever give up the bottle or successfully potty train. (Of course, she eventually did both of those things, and reached many other developmental milestones. Just sometimes a little later than her peers.)

Emily has always done things at her own pace. Sometimes behind her peers. Sometimes ahead of them. At 4, she taught herself to read.

One day, her preschool teacher asked her, “Emily, when are you going to learn to tie your shoes?” Emily replied, “I already know how to read, you mean I have to tie my own shoes, too?”

She had a point. So for a while I only bought her shoes with Velcro fasteners.

Eventually Emily learned to tie a shoelace, and she hardly ever wears her shoes on the wrong feet anymore. It’s good for me to look through the lens of time at reminders that things happen at a different pace for everyone.

Life isn’t a race to see who can get to the developmental finish line first. It’s a journey. If I spend all of my time focusing only on what’s at the end of the road, I’ll overlook the things that really matter. I’ll miss out on the moments of joy—like the vision of a fiercely independent little girl blazing her own way through life. And the laughter of a grandfather who is totally in love with her.