He was running, keeping up with his mother who was animatedly talking on the phone. Then, suddenly he dropped. I turned from where I was seated waiting for Joe, I thought he’d fallen but he hadn’t. He just stopped midstride and dropped to tie his shoe. He must have noticed the laces flapping and decided spur of the moment, to fix the situation. His mother, not noticing, kept walking. After a couple of steps, she noticed he wasn’t beside her anymore she turned and saw him studiously tying his shoe.
After a couple of attempts, he started softly crying. He reached for his mother when she arrived and her phone was plopped into her purse and she accepted the hug. “What’s wrong,” she asked. He launched into a stream of frustration and self-abasement. He was stupid, he was dumb, he was never going to get it. His fingers all the while worked at the laced as if they independently were wishing the laces into a knot.
“Take a breath,” she said.
“I’m going to make you late, Mom,” he said.
“Take a breath,” she said. “You aren’t dumb, you are rushing. We have time. You have time,” with that she took his hands and stopped the fingers. After a couple of seconds, she said, “Take another breath. Try now.”
He focused on the laces and his fingers, under his command, did what they were supposed to do. The knot was tied.
“See,” she said. He went to hug her and she stopped him. “You need to promise me that you will stop hurting yourself, calling yourself names, it’s not okay. Now promise me.” He did. Then she hugged him and they were on their way.
I have been sitting here struggling with what to do next. I want to leave it there, I want this to be simply an example of wonderful parenting. But, the devil is in the details, and sometimes meaning is too. Does it matter to the story that the son fighting to tie his shoes was in his thirties and his mother was at least 20 years older than him? Does it matter that this was a man with an intellectual disability?
I think, maybe it does.
I think that makes what she did more remarkable.
She didn’t tie his shoe for him and rush off.
She hadn’t given up.
She taught him how to create space for himself to succeed because she believed that success was possible. She taught him to be kinder to himself in a world wherein he may find little in the way of compassion.
We, all of us, need help with both those things. Making space. Inner kindness.
We, all of us, will be learning these things throughout our whole lives.