Dads who have special-needs children understand that even small accomplishments mean a lot. We’ve learned to respect people who work extra hard to do simple things, like learning to tie shoes.
My eight-year-old son, Brian, wanted to earn a Cub Scout merit badge by learning to tie his own shoes. He was given a week to accomplish this goal. Because Brian has Down syndrome, our whole family participated, working tirelessly to teach him the knotty art of “tie-man-ship.” Strangers found Brian squatting at knee level studying their shoes. While watching TV, he honed in on foot scenes, squinting for hints. Days passed and he could not seem to master it. We started to worry that he might miss the deadline. He became somber and moody. The cats avoided him.
Frustrated, he cried because he couldn’t master it. We cried with him. The day came for the scout meeting and he still sat in the same spot with a furrowed brow, fussing over the complexity of it all. We fretted over our lack of ability to teach such a simple task and spoke quietly about not taking him to the den meeting that night, to spare him—and ourselves—embarrassment.
I nearly opened my mouth to tell him that it wasn’t important for him to learn to tie his shoes, and I fully intended to let him off the hook. But before I did that, his older sister spoke up and suggested a new idea.
“Brian,” she softly asked, “why don’t you try closing your eyes? Loop your laces over one another and see if you can tie your shoe in your imagination. That way, if you get up to go someplace early, before the sun comes up, you can tie your shoes in the dark.”
It worked. Brian sat, with eyes tightly shut, and tied a perfect knot on his right shoe. Without looking up, he crossed laces on his left shoe and tied another perfect knot.
His mother quickly dressed him in his scout uniform, and we all raced to his meeting.
Brian went first. A dozen other scouts and their families sat quietly, almost reverently, and watched in awe as Cub Scout Brian Lewis May, with eyes closed and tongue out, earned a badge that may well have been the Congressional Medal of Honor and an Olympic Gold Medal rolled into one. Congratulatory hugs commenced and tears of joy fell.
Brian won more than a merit badge that day; he turned something complex and difficult into something ordinary, small, and simple. When he found a new way to solve the problem, it became a significant event, a milestone act of greatness. Brian still ties his shoes with his eyes closed, the way his big sister suggested so many years ago. And he taught his little sister to tie her shoes in the dark just like him.
Since then, I believe that when things get tough and I can’t find the solution to a problem, I just close my eyes and find a different way.
A former Disney executive, radio broadcasting owner/manager, fledgling writer, patio tomato farmer, and Intergalactic Caribbean Horseshoe Champion twelve years running, Bob May currently lives in Dallas, Texas, in proximity to three grandchildren who are in need of a lot of spoiling.
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