There are many milestones over the course of a lifetime. Marriages, births, first loves, children, but not all milestones are big things, there are small milestones as well, the riding a bicycle, learning to whistle, the first day at school type of milestones. I guess you could call them big rocks and small rocks. But sometimes even the small rocks can seem pretty damned big to a child.
I think that the biggest milestone of my life to date has been learning to tie my own shoelaces. It was such a big rock at the time even though now it seems such a pebble now; like telling the time and knowing my left from my right. These days with Velcro, zips, and elastic tying your laces hardly seem to matter, but when I was a boy it was pretty much all laced shoes, except in summer when it was side-buckled sandals. Of course, before I went to school it was okay that I couldn’t tie a bow; my mum could always tie my laces for me. But once at school it became a nagging need, something, that if you couldn’t do, made you obviously and publicly stupid in the eyes of everyone who could.
Over and over, for hour after hour, I’d try to manipulate those laces into a bow only to manage knot after knot. I don’t know just how many times I almost got it, only to tangle and fail at the final crossing and pull of the lace. Driving me was the fear of my primary school teacher who had taught Victorian children and believed that if you could not tie your own laces then you should be stood in a corner and pointed at until you could.
All that pressure on a four year old made my fingers fumble, and of course the ‘help’ my father gave me didn’t help much.
I can’t remember exactly when it all slipped into place. But like most of these things I suddenly found myself, rather miraculously, with one perfectly tied lace and another which was passable even if it was only a half bow. After that, and with only a few minor setbacks, it was all plain sailing in the lace tying department. I must have been almost six.
These days I struggle to tie my shoelaces, but not because I can’t make a bow. These days it’s my back that has become the sticking point.
I’ll never forget the elation and relief I felt on the day I managed to tie my own laces for the fist time after music and movement in the school hall. It was one of those milestones that should mean very little, but at the time was the difference between shame and pride, stupidity and cleverness, ridicule and simply being left alone.
It didn’t end there though (well, it never does, does it?) Not far behind the tying of laces the challenge of the school tie was just a few short years away.
But that is another story.