I bought Isabelle tie sneakers when she was in first grade. She had been practicing tying laces with her occupational therapist for months. It was time for her to try it on her own. She loved the sneakers, but resented being asked to do it on her own since it was difficult for her to motor plan how to do it.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech, which Isabelle was diagnosed with when she was two, is a motor-speech disorder. Thanks to intensive speech therapy, Isabelle can motor plan most of the things she wants to say. A few times a week a word still gets stuck or she finds something she can’t pronounce. (For instance, she read a book with the word ridiculous yesterday. It took multiple tries of us working together to get her to say the word correctly.) But what most people don’t know is that many kids with Childhood Apraxia of Speech often have difficulties with motor planning in other aspects of their life. For instance, a typical kid can learn to tie their shoes in a few weeks. Isabelle had to work on it for over a year and a half to get good enough to wear tie shoes when she wasn’t with me. However, as recently as last week, she was still having trouble double-knotting her sneakers. As a parent, it’s frustrating to watch your kid struggle with things that come easily to other children. Despite the frustration, I have learned to adjust my expectations so that I can work with Isabelle at a pace that suits her.
This morning, I needed to use the bathroom at the exact time Isabelle needed to tie her sneakers. I told her, “I need you to put your sneakers on while I’m in the bathroom. If you need help, I will help you when I come out.”
I expected to see Isabelle sitting on the floor — frustrated — with untied laces when I came out of the bathroom a couple minutes later. But that’s not what I found. Instead, I discovered her on the carpet — calm — with two perfectly-tied sneakers. However, she was still fiddling with her laces.
“Looks like it went well. What are you working on?”
“I’m trying to double knot my sneakers,” she replied.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
“I’m trying it myself,” she said.
“Okay,” I responded. “I’m here if you need help.”
Isabelle persisted for another minute. Finally, she looked up and said, “I think I’d like your help.”
“Good for you for trying. Remember when it was hard for you to tie your sneakers?”
“Yes,” she replied.
I knelt down to double-knot her sneakers. “It’s not hard for you anymore. Eventually, you’ll become a pro at double knotting your shoes too.”
I tied the sneakers.
This is not the hand of cards I expected to be dealt when I had kids. However, to riff off of the quote from author Cheryl Strayed, I’m trying to play the hell out of the cards I’m holding.