We were also aware that a bike in Arden’s in-between-a-child’s-and-an-adult’s-size would be hard to come by. And so we weren’t surprised when the best choice for her was really a bit too big. Dan adjusted it as best he could for her, and she spent some time this morning, in fits and starts, pedaling – somewhat half-heartedly – up and down our street. Yes, it’s a city street, but it’s only about 100m long, is one-way, and has very little traffic at all. But somehow, riding new terrain on an unfamiliar, almost-too-big bike when you’re mere weeks from being eight-years-old, can mentally feel akin to learning to ride without training wheels for the first time. After a couple spills, she wanted to call it quits.
We reminded her that most of bike riding, maybe even as much as 90%, is just simply believing that you actually can ride. She didn't want to hear it. We put the bikes away and walked to the park a block away where the kids got soaked, running and splashing in the fountains there, built specifically with kids and hot summer days like this in mind.
A pair of brothers was riding their bikes on the trail through the park, and I convinced Arden to try the new bike there while Dan and Madeleine rode down to the canal. After I made her say a ridiculous, eye-rolling, self-affirming mantra, she got back on the bike. I helped her get going a few times, but then, once those wheels got rolling, it was all her, pedaling away. And then she’d circle around and pedal back, and away again, and back. Before today, all of my teaching-a-child-how-to-ride ideas were just that: ideas. Dan’s been the one to actually handle this department of parenting. I could talk about it, sure, but it was all theoretical.
A child riding off on a bicycle really is the ultimate metaphor for parenting, as Sloan Wilson so aptly notes:
The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.
As much as any other endeavor my child will embark upon, first and foremost, she will have to believe that she can do it. And instilling that belief, by far, is the most important task a parent has. Today, I had history on my side, as she’s ridden bikes before and knows she can do it. All I had to do was remind her of her ability.
I wonder, though, how much more difficult will my task of encouragement become when her task is something she’s never, ever, done? Or something I’m feeling a little shaky about her doing?
Running alongside and whispering encouragement, though, are actually pretty easy to execute. It’s that last act of teaching a child to ride. When I realized that my hand grasping the back of the seat was no longer what she needed, and in fact, had become an awkward hindrance. When I realized that by holding on, I might actually cause her to fall. Eventually, I had to let go. Let go, and let her ride off, alone, trying to convince myself that she is ready, she is prepared! for any obstacle in her path.
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