The Lesson

by Linda S Barth

Story Illustration by Crowmama

“Vincent, can you please tie my shoe?”

“Of course, Leah.” He helped the four-year-old hop up onto the bench, then crouched in front of her. Frayed laces dangled from a mud-stained sneaker as she stuck out her foot and wiggled it back and forth.

“Leah, you need to hold your foot still.”

Her blonde curls bounced in rhythm with her nodding head. “Sorry, Vincent! I promise!”

He smiled at her. “Nothing to be sorry about. Just try not to move your foot for a minute.”

Leah’s toothy grin broadcast her delight at having won the attention of every child’s favorite person. Determined to keep it, along with her promise, she held her outstretched foot nearly motionless.

Not to be left out, several other children clambered onto the bench, while the rest gathered around Vincent.

Who would have guessed shoe-tying could be such a crowd pleaser? This was one of those teachable moments, and Vincent knew he couldn’t waste it.

“Children, someday you’ll need to know how to do this for yourselves, so I want you to watch very closely while I tie Leah’s shoe.”

Every child immediately leaned forward and focused their gaze intently on Leah’s foot.

Vincent smiled, quickly correcting his error in ‘preschooler speak’. “Not that close. Everyone needs to move back a little. Otherwise, I can only see the tops of your heads.”

Timothy’s wispy blond hair tickled Vincent’s nose as the little boy scooted an inch to the left, clearly unwilling to budge further. After all, as Leah’s twin, he was entitled to the best viewing spot.

“Is everyone ready?” Vincent waited for multiple ‘yeses’ to subside. “Now watch carefully.”

As he began the shoe-tying process, he explained the initial step. “First, take one lace in each hand.” He demonstrated the procedure, then continued, “Next, cross one lace over the other.” He glanced at his audience, noticing that several children were imitating his hand movements. He smiled in satisfaction. “Now –”

“Vincent, I like your fingernails.” He looked up at Gemma’s smiling face. “They’re long.”

“Very long!” Sakura, her best-friend-of-the-moment, verified.

The children leaned in again for a closer look.

“Yes, they are long,” Vincent replied. “Now watch what I do next with the laces. And please take one step back again.”

Quinn tapped Vincent’s hand. “You could paint them pretty colors. That would be nice.”

“Very nice!” Leah clapped her hands. “I like pretty colors!”

Javier snickered and rolled his eyes. “Boys don’t paint colors on their fingernails!”

“They can if they want to!” Gemma glared as only a just-turned-four-year-old can, while Leah and Quinn stuck their tongues out at him.

Ignoring them, Javier proclaimed, “And besides, Vincent’s not even a boy!”

Vincent held his breath as the child’s cohorts nodded knowingly.

Javier crossed his arms over his chest, waited for everyone’s complete attention, then proclaimed, “Vincent’s a man!” He grinned at the group, thoroughly pleased with his superior powers of observation.

But Gemma was not about to cede her argument to anyone. “Mans can paint their fingernails pretty colors if they want to!”

“Not mans, men,” Vincent muttered, even though he knew he was losing most of his audience.

Timothy took another careful look at Vincent’s nails and then examined his own small hands. “My fingernails aren’t long. They’re little.” His voice trembled with disappointment at his perceived shortcomings.

Leah nearly kicked Vincent in the chin as she squirmed on the bench to get a closer look at her brother’s hands. Then she gazed into Timothy’s tear-filled eyes. “They’d look pretty if we painted colors on them.”

“But we don’t got paint,” Quinn pointed out.

Vincent knew he could be as stubborn as the children. “We don’t have paint.”

Sakura patted Vincent on the head. “Quinn already told us that.”

Vincent winced as he felt his legs – and his patience — start to cramp.

Usually shy and often speechless, Nathaniel was caught up in the group fervor. “I bet Miss Elizabeth got some paint!”

Quinn jumped up and down, narrowly missing Javier’s toes. “And markers and glitter!”

Not quite ready to declare defeat, Vincent raised his voice over the cacophony. “Children, we can talk about this later. Now, please watch me tie Leah’s shoe!”

“I’m gonna paint rainbows on my fingernails!” Gemma yelped. “All different colors!”

Leah opted for her favorite. “I’m gonna make mine pink! With flowers!”

“I’m gonna make mine red,” Timothy yelled, “with stripes!”

“Purple!” Sakura’s shrieks nearly deafened Vincent. “Purple, purple, purple!”

“Just blue,” Nathaniel whispered.




“Sparkly stars!”

“Sparkly squiggly stars!”

Apparently, Javier had reconsidered. “I’m gonna paint spiders on mine! And snakes!” He grinned at the high-pitched squeals from the girls and ear-splitting cheers from the boys.

Vincent sighed and finished tying Leah’s sneaker. He rose to his feet amid a sea of rollicking preschoolers, all waving their hands and scampering in circles.

The lesson was over.

Vincent tying Leah's shoe in the tunnels. Art by Crowmama

Art by Crowmama


  1. Linda, this is ADORABLE!!! Thanks so much.



    • Thank you, Lindariel! I had to put those 32 years of teaching 3- to 9-year-olds to good use!

  2. Linda, I really laughed. Vincent wants to take the opportunity to give a lesson that is useful to all children and the beginning is encouraging…however, children are known to shift their attention quickly …and Vincent’s nails are much more fascinating than learning how to lace shoes…I felt that joy of theirs, and saw those colors…Maybe Leah remembered something from the tying procedure?😉…Linda I truly enjoyed this study. Thank you…
    A nod to Crowmama for the beautiful graphics.

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Paula! I had a lot of fun with this one, along with flashbacks to my days as a preschool teacher. It was always a challenge but lots of fun, so I hope Vincent enjoyed this little experience despite no one paying attention to his lesson!

  3. A child’s attention is about as easy to catch as the child. A teacher would know. 😉

    This was a treat to read again. Thank you for writing it, and asking me to contribute! I had a ball. ❤️

    Your kids of the tunnels are some of my absolute favorites.

    • So true, Karen! That old saying about herding kittens totally applies here!

      Thank you so much for enjoying reading the story again and for letting me know.
      And thanks again — so much — for your fabulous illustration. I felt a bit guilty asking
      you to do it since you already do so much for fandom — but not guilty enough to keep
      from asking! Your depiction of the “calm before the storm” is excellent, and Leah looks
      exactly the way I had pictured her. Thank you so much.

      I’m honored that my tunnel kids are among your favorite characters. That means the world
      to me! They will be back in future stories, because like many of the kids who were my students,
      I’m not ready to let them go yet and I want to see what happens next with them. In fact, a
      new story featuring Jasmine, whose image you found for me in “Dead of Winter”, is in the
      works now.

      As always, thank you for your art and your inspiration!


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CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose







by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”


“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.