Five new lessons learned about tying shoes

The truth is that even this most basic of life skills can be improved in its teaching and executing, and you have to be open to these things even after thirty years of doing it the old and inefficient way.

I had one hell of a time learning how to do tie my shoes when I was five. My father even took an old Florsheim dress shoe and painted each part a bright color to teach the vocabulary of the shoe (tongue, sole, heel) because I was not getting any of it. The shoe was awesome: more colorful than a clown shoe and utterly ridiculous because it was a dress shoe.

But it didn't matter: I just could not get the knot right long after my younger brother aced it. My sister, who was about 1 at the time, learned before me, according to the ever more exaggerated family myths. Like many of my troubles as a kid, the parents chalked this up to being my fault (lazy, uncooperative, etc.) rather than something beyond my control. My parents were pissed and I felt like a worthless idiot.

It turns out that there are at least 17 different ways to tie your shoes. I found this site by googling 'tying a shoe' and choosing the first site it returned. Lesson #1: check the internet on how to improve on the most mundane tasks. It will prevent you from stumbling along in frustration due to incomplete information and outdated methods. And frustrating others trying to learn your ancient ways. Unfortunately, I learned this only when writing this blog post.

It turns out that many of us have been working with a substandard shoelace knot, at least for beginners. There are two stages to tying the knot: the starting knot and the loop knot. With the standard starting knot, you have to plant a finger on the knot to hold it tight while you do the loop knot. Lesson #2: use a double starting knot instead. You will have both hands free to tie and twist the loops. Go ahead, try it.

It worked, huh? My wife learned this from a coworker whose child was taught this in preschool years ago. Lesson #3: talk to others. Like many innovations, this is simple, effective, but does not appear to have spread very far, in part because who shares shoe-tying information? It happened only because my wife brought it up when discussing the travails of teaching my son to tie his shoes. Even still, I don't expect many to try this, because tying shoes is an everyday task, and people are used to the inefficient method, some will no doubt consider this weird.

Speaking of weird, when I was trying to teach my son, my wife watched closely and pronounced that I was doing it wrong - something about which loop was first, or which way to circle the loop. We realized that righties and lefties do the loop knot differently. Which would make it very difficult for a lefty to teach a righty or vice versa. My father and my son are both righties, and I am a lefty. Lesson #4: find the right teacher.

Lesson #5: Subtle structural issues are often the culprit for what are mistaken as a child's behavior problem. In my case, it was being left-handed. This same lesson went unlearned in many other episodes with me.

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