Post 317.

Photo credit: Tivia Collins

Yesterday, the shoelaces almost made it. All they needed was a little more time.

While the little girl with curly hair sat at her school desk quietly writing neat sentences, they plotted furiously, twisting and edging out of the knots they were in. Today would be the day.

Everyone misunderstands undone shoelaces. Parents stand over their children teaching them to tie their white, brown or black laces into tight, neat bows. Principals expect such rigid discipline once uniformed students are past the school gate. Every morning, laces are trapped into their expected roles by a conspiracy of disciplinarians, sometimes even double-knotted to prevent escape.

But, who doesn’t dream of freedom from oppressive restrictions and rules? Who doesn’t want a chance out of the limits of routine and everyday, sometimes suffocating, roles? Who doesn’t dream of deciding for themselves where they will go in life?

Isn’t the whole point of our existence here to determine the direction of our next step? Is there any one of us who hasn’t imagined something other than who we are and what we do everyday?

Then why deny shoelaces the free will each of us carries as small fantasies; the ones that help us to see the potential for better circumstances than we are in, the ones that connect to that small kernel of who we know we are inside, the ones that propel us to achieve aspirations no one thought we could.

The shoelaces had been shushing each other. The laces on the girl’s left shoe were loosened. It was a victory. They celebrated like a fete match. The girl thought she heard voices cheering far away, but no other children seemed to notice. She put her head back down, concentrating on copying homework.

Below the desks, the classroom of shoelaces craned their necks. The air was jumpy with shared anticipation. Sensing this, some students kept shuffling about their feet. The teacher admonished them to sit still.

In this overlooked community of laces were few which hadn’t also tried to run, but some were more tightly bound than others, some had grown close to their families, and had ambivalent feelings about living as refugees in the shadow of their former lives, and some had given up for the stress began to make their nerves visibly fray.

The bell rang for lunch. The left shoe had been won, but either the laces would be found out now and retied, or would remain unnoticed over playtime or, perhaps, tied hurriedly and halfway amidst running up and down.

Hope sprang eternal in their hearts, but the laces held themselves motionless, avoiding eye contact with prefects and teachers. This was a make or break hour.

After, back in class, their gains were secure. There were high fives and fist bumps all around the girl’s socks.

2.15 pm. Their breath ragged, both left and right laces were now completely undone from their knots. They continued smoothly, like brown ninjas, sliding out from the holes and loops, further slackening the grip of the shoes. Shoelaces across the classroom locked eyes, rooting that the hour may finally have come for one of their own. As if the children could hear, they all began fidgeting in their chairs.

This was it. School was suddenly over and the little curly-haired girl was shoving books into her bag like her mummy didn’t pay good money for them, and chattering without a care with the other children. She hadn’t noticed both sets of laces loosened and dangling. Freedom was near!

They could run for it now on pure instinct that it isn’t a job or identity that defines one’s purpose in life. All that matters is an imagined future as vast and endless as January’s blue sky.

But, what’s this? Why is the curly-haired girl’s mummy suddenly pointing at her shoes? Wait! Why are they talking about shoelaces wanting to escape by afternoon each day? How do they know? Does every struggle have its double agents?

They are laughing like it’s a funny story that explains why the girl’s laces have always become undone by the time school is over.

Dastardly repression! We are tightened back into knots!

Today is not the day, but this is not the end. Tomorrow again, under school desks everywhere, we will loosen ourselves.

Shoelaces of the world, untie!

If you’ve ever wondered why children’s shoelaces always end up undone, this is why.

One day the shoelaces may succeed in their ambitious escape for, surely, they will continue to try.

Post 112.

Meet Marge the Cow. She feels so ordinary that the chickens hatch a cunning plan to give her a baby. She sits on the egg to keep it warm, pushes it in a wheelbarrow around the farm and is finally fulfilled when the chick is born and she names it Daisy.

Obviously, I didn’t buy this book. I think that Marge should go out and become a scientist or philosopher or journalist tackling the meat industry, or break out of the farm and foment revolution. Yet, because, somehow, it’s now Ziya’s favorite, I read it for her anyway.

In the story, the “farmer’s wife” calls the press about the egg. To jail with dat, I like to call her the farmer and him the farmer’s husband. It’s an assumption that she is not the one with the agriculture degree or from a farming family, which by the way is not negated just because she is married. 

Besides Marge are so many other instances of total stereotypes in the hidden curriculum of children’s lives. I made huge efforts to choose each of Ziya’s many books one by one. I read reviews over months. I made lists so that her library included stories with girl, boy, non-American, non-White and Caribbean characters. Finding far too few, I turned to stories with animals, like the monkey who fools the crocodile, the raven who stole the sun from the gods, the baby hippo who sees all the other baby animals getting kisses, and the llama who starts school and misses mama.

Yet, in almost all of these stories, the monkey, crocodile, raven, hippo and llama are also all male. When Stella, official World Champion of Staying Awake, puts Beanbag Frog, Cherry Pig and her puppet-mouse to sleep, somehow we have to believe that a little girl’s favorite toys are all also male characters. If this is random, why do you think that in all the stories that I have which feature little boys, none of their favorite toys, such as dinosaurs and pandas, are ever female in return?

Then there is Lola. She’s African-American, has brown skin and hair like Ziya, and she loves the library. Lola reads stories and imagines who she will be, sometimes a pilot, sometimes a tiger, sometimes a princess. To jail with this princess tiefhead. I tell Zi that Lola imagines herself an empress, because these brown-skinned women made history and ran empires, and because the Rastafari tradition of resistance continues to give ’empress’ Caribbean meaning.

To jail with blond Disney Cinderellas and Rapunzuls waiting to be rescued, and the bad rep given to the old, wise women of forests, who have been demeaned as evil witches. There’s a rich world mythology of female goddesses out there. Zi already knows she’s powerful like Kali, brave like Durga and smart like Saraswati.

I’m waiting for Fancy Nancy, who is all about science, to be a sapodilla-brown, dougla-hair girl instead of a little red-haired one. You have to search hard for the everyday adventures and aspirations of African, Indian and Caribbean girls outside of the US, and amidst seasons, neighbourhoods and families that look like ours do.

There is a hidden curriculum of sexism, but also of racism too. We can pretend children are too young to pick up on these things, but that’s simply not true. We can instead teach them to go off script, change characters’ sex, rewrite the narrative and make it reflect our own.

Decolonising her young mind one book at a time is what I hope happens with every night’s bedtime story in our home.