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.

“Bunnies!”

“Kitties!”

“Stars!”

“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

6 Comments

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

    HUGS,

    Karen/Lindariel

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

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply

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