Beware a child’s shoestrings

I had dinner the other night with a neighbor couple who are good friends, mostly because they both work for the school system in some capacity, and you know, pain should be shared … I mean … we can relate.

Michelle is an elementary school PE teacher, and while this may sound really fun to those of you clueless out there, let me tell you, this particular career path can lead to the destruction of the physical body as we know it, faster and more decisively than any other. Bryan, her husband, is praying she will still be ambulatory by the time she retires.

Seriously, though — and astonishingly — Michelle is in pretty good shape, but then again, she’s only in her late 30s, plus she’s also a high school volleyball and basketball coach, which is totally helping her stay physically agile … although, it’s taking a terrible toll on her mentally, due, we think, to being repeatedly bonked on the head by one kind of ball or another.

So, we were driving to dinner, and Michelle mentioned to me that her back was hurting. (Naturally, I snickered, because being … well … past my 30s, I’m always on the lookout for a reason to pity this young, adorable, energetic, always-give-250-freakin’-percent woman!) However, she said it wasn’t from teaching PE per se, but from bending over to tie little shoes on little feet.

She said she’d decided halfway through the day that it was easier just dropping to the floor and letting the kids sit on her lap or beside her while she tied them (this is another inducement to hate her, being that I am currently physically incapable of “just dropping to the floor” instantaneously … or, ever … unless I’m having a stroke).

She said when she started teaching, she was shocked one day when she asked a colleague of hers — a male PE teacher, now blissfully and annoyingly retired — how many shoes he’d had to tie that day, and he told her zero. When she asked how that was possible, he replied, “Oh, I learned a long time ago to say to the child, ‘Find a friend, dear.’ ”

She was aghast at his insensitivity, but he blithely went on: “Hey, I know where those shoelaces have been. I have my own little boys, and I’ve seen my little boys in the bathroom miss the … (ahem) … target, and hit the shoelaces, time and again. I’ve watched children play with frogs, pick their noses, squish bugs and then play with their shoestrings. I’ve seen untied shoelaces dragged through mud, sand and spilled juice, and then they want me to tie their shoes? No thanks! These children are nothing but little petri dishes, I’m telling you.”

As a matter of fact, Michelle went on, while she’d been tying a certain young kindergartner’s shoes that day, he’d erupted in a window-rattling sneeze — all over her. She was already contemplating calling in for a substitute for approximately two to three days hence, knowing that some horrid, mutant, killer germ was, by that time, setting up camp in her sinuses/throat/and/or bloodstream. Luckily, the little one had the presence of mind, and good manners, to wipe his nose afterward … on his hand … and then gave her a big hug to say thank you.

When I heard this story, it made me think back to all of the horrible, gross and undeserved afflictions to which I’d fallen victim because of children — either my own, or my students — and decided that children are the reason my picture hangs in our pharmacy as a “Possible Zicam Addict.”

They are why I had mono at the age of 35 (despite being divorced and … lonely … if you get my drift) when everyone knows this is strictly a teenage disease.

They are the reason I had a supposedly incurable ear infection for 11 years.

They are undoubtedly why I fell (over a child) into the bathtub; slipped (on a child’s skate) on the stairs; tripped over (a child’s) shoes into (a child’s) desk, hitting my head on (a child’s) bookcase. Children are the reason I’m a klutz!

Children are why so many doctors have been repeatedly stumped by my various symptoms, to the point that there is now a Vicki Wentz Memorial Mystery Diagnosis Wing at the hospital (sure, I’m not officially “memorial” yet, but it’s just a matter of time).

And, it all starts with the shoelaces. I don’t know why they haven’t outlawed shoelaces for anyone too young to tie them. What’s wrong with Velcro? Velcro is a wonderful invention, and should be used on everything from pants flies to the bottoms of skis.

You say your kindergartner would still need help with his shoes — or his pants? Say it with me, Michelle: “Find a friend, dear!”

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at

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