It’s Never As Simple as Just Putting On Shoes

Forget lacing. We’re just working on right and left and pulling the flaps!

Life rages on outside, with hurricanes and elections and continued violence in Syria. But the little things inside the walls of my home continuously capture my attention and pierce my heart in ways that brings my head reeling back from the frenetic pace.

It’s the little things that remind me how vulnerable we all are, especially Lil D.

I supervised Lil D as he put his shoes on this morning, like I have done every school morning for nine years. There is a lot of independent skills he has gained in this time, and I remind myself of it when I get overwhelmed with the mental list in my head of all he still cannot do. He puts his socks on by himself. He gets his shoes out of the bench and puts them on when told to. He can put his underwear and pants on if they are laid out for him. He can button a shirt (HUGE!). He can undress himself. He can eat with a fork, and he can buckle his own seatbelt with a verbal cue.

But the fine tuning that gets me every time. He will pull his pants on over his underwear, but he doesn’t know to adjust his clothing. If I let it be – the underwear will peep out on top of the jeans (and this is not the fashion I’m going for), and his shirt will be pulled on but bunched around his middle.

He’ll pull his socks on, but the heel will be on the top of his foot and the sock may sag around his ankles. He’ll constantly put his shoes or sandals on the wrong feet – despite years of us trying to help him discern his right from left. But he will promptly switch them when I remark, “Your shoes are on the wrong feet!”

And, when he puts his shoes on, the flap always gets pushed down. If I’m in a hurry and don’t see it, he will go off to school like that, and the whole day will go by with the flap bunched on the bottom of his shoe. Not a big deal, but if you have awareness of these things, it feels uncomfortable and you fix it. He will just endure the uncomfortable-ness and wear it like that all day.

I thought about this as I watched him put his shoes on this morning, and I automatically showed him the flap and instructed him to pull it up. An acquaintance of mine, who has a brother with special needs, saw me fiddle with Lil D’s shoes at an event yesterday and told me to buy Converse sneakers, which slip on and have no flap to deal with. Because she knows how all the little things add up.

I put a new pair of shoes on Lil D last week in the morning and sent him off to school. He came home with a limp. As good as his teachers are, no one seemed to notice that his shoe has been bothering him. I took it off of him as soon as he walked in the door. It had been rubbing his pinky the wrong way.

I could’ve kicked myself. Never send him off to school in new shoes. First test them out on him while I’m around.

Once, I remember him being edgy and upset all day, with meltdowns occurring for no apparent reason. My grandmother, who was visiting that day, asked me if his pants were bothering him. I became annoyed and exasperated. I keep tabs on the smallest of things, and more often than I care to admit, I cannot figure out the exact reasons for why he is upset at times. How could my grandmother know?

“He’s tugging at his pants, beti (daughter),” she gently remarked to me. “Maybe his pants are bothering him.”

Really? Pants? I don’t think so. Still, to be polite, I took him into the bathroom to check. And discovered a plastic tab left over from a tag I had removed a week ago. It has been irritating him, and his skin had grown red. How could I have missed that? Why did he continue to wear the pants and get upset instead of regulating his emotions and just removing his pants?

Why? Because Lil D has been taught that it’s inappropriate to walk around with no pants. So he wears them, even if something in the pants is irritating him. He doesn’t have the social wherewithal to know that if his pants are bothering, he can take them off and put on a different pair. Or that he can grab me and show me what the problem is. Sometimes he may try to show me. More often he will not.

So, if I don’t figure it out, he will be bothered by it all day long. If I put a shoe on him and it rubs against his pinky the wrong way, the greater chances are that he will wear them all day in school instead of kicking them off, because he has been taught to keep his shoes on in school.

He has come so far in so many ways, but it’s these little things, this fine tuning of skills, this self-regulation of what to do if something feels wrong, or is tight, or is irritating, or bothersome – this kills me every time. Hamza immediately pipes up if a tag on the back of his shirt is itching him. Amal is the queen of letting me know which shoes are getting tight or which ones just don’t feel right on her feet.

Lil D? He comes home limping.

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