Last week we bought my daughter, Lauren, a two-wheel bike. She is seven years old, tall and big for her age and I decided it was just time for her to ride a bike. I started talking it up to her, how we could ride to school in the mornings and to the library this summer and all the fun we could have. I love riding my bike, and I selfishly wanted her to have a bike of her own so we can use the car less and our legs more to get around town. We all went as a family to pick the bike out. Of course she gravitated toward the flashy models with baskets, bells and streamers. Somehow though, her dad and I managed to talk her into a mountain-style bike. Metallic pink, but no bells or streamers or other accessories. This is a bike, with gears and breaks and tires that look like that can go places. “You’ll be able to keep up with me on a bike like that,” I told her and she was sold. We got the bike and a new helmet to fit her big brained noggin and headed home.
I have wanted my girl to ride her bike with me for a while. Such big chunks of my childhood memories revolve around adventures that were had as my sister and I pedaled our bikes around the roads of our sleepy neighborhood. I wanted that for my kids – that sense of freedom that comes from knowing your could get yourself somewhere. I especially wanted it for Lauren. She has always struggled with her sense of self and I couldn’t think of a better way to help her feel more self-reliant than to get her on a bike.
About a year and a half ago we took the training wheels off Lauren’s princess bike and tried to teach her to ride. She fell once, took her helmet off and said she would NEVER ride a bike again. I tried to talk her into it, showed her how I rode my bike, bribed and manipulated her – all the insane things a parent does to try and get their kid to do something they don’t want to. She wasn’t having it. Even when we brought a Strider bike home for her brother a few months later and he began gliding all over the place she remained unmoved. Lauren has never been one for danger or risk. She delights in routine, safety and comfort. She’s not one to mess with a good thing, and to her that bike was dripping in danger and the oblivion of the unknown. Bike riding was off the table. My dreams of mommy/daughter bike rides were dashed and I was pretty disappointed, but I dropped it. I remembered what it was like trying to learn how to ride a two-wheeler and I just wasn’t interested in pushing her.
I was surprised when she showed interest in the new bike, and excited when we got home with it and she really wanted to give it a try. As my husband checked the bike out to make sure it was assembled correctly, I helped her get her protective gear on – elbow and knee pads, gloves and of course her new helmet. Her face was ablaze with tormented worry. The excitement had waned – abject fear had eagerly replaced it. We headed out to the front of our house and the cul-de-sac across the street. She pushed the bike in front of her slowly, her eyes flashing to mine clearly questioning the situation. I jumped on my bike and rode around the street showing her how it was done. Her dad coached her, “See how mom is always watching where she’s going? See how she pedals fast so she doesn’t tip over? See how she doesn’t lean too far when she turns?” Lauren took it all in, her lips pressed tightly together memorizing my moves like there would be a written exam. Finally, she got on the bike – so much bigger than her last that it was hard for her to figure out where to put her legs and feet. She took a deep breath and looked back at her dad. “DO NOT LET GO OF ME,” she said in a panicked whisper. Her feet took to the pedals and her dad pushed her, not letting go.
We spent the next hour running behind her on the new bike. Her balance was abysmal, her legs like noodles pushing on the pedals with no rhythm or purpose. She was scared, crazy scared even, of falling to the ground. She couldn’t keep her eyes off the pavement that seems ready to swallow her whole which in turn destroyed her balance and fatigued her poor dad who was trying to keep her upright. After several laps of the court my husband relinquished the holding and pushing duties to me. I did my best to keep her willy-nilly weight upright, and was fatigued in no time. “I think I need a break,” she finally said and I was more than happy to help her off the bike. We walked the bike back into the garage, giving up for the day. As I put the kick-stand on her bike down I put the idea of us riding to school the next day out of my head too. Would she ever get this? Would she be able to get over the fear of falling? Would she be able to stand back up when she did fall and refuse to give up? I had no idea.
In that moment as I watched her undo her helmet and protective gear I saw myself learning to ride a two wheeler. I was a little older than her, determined to learn to ride a two wheeler because my younger sister had just gotten on a two wheeler and taken off like a shot – not even looking back at my dad and older brother. I was terrified of that bike with no safety net. I was terrified of hitting that gravel and dirt road we lived on. I didn’t want to ride – but I had to. The memory is choppy. I know there were tears, I remember my brother rolling his eyes at me and my dad getting pretty frustrated. I remember that first short glide where the only person touching that bike was me and how exhilarating and terrifying it was. I don’t remember falling, but I know I did. I don’t remember hitting the ground, but it is impossible that I didn’t. I don’t remember feeling accomplished or excited or any of it. But I do remember my dad trying to coach me through it all in his gruff, salty way. As I stood in my garage almost 30 years later the only thing I wanted in that moment was to call my dad and ask him how he did it.
“Dad,” I wanted to say through a sigh. “How in the hell did you get me to ride a bike? I was such a wimp! Everything scared the crap out of me! I don’t remember how you did it. I don’t remember how you taught me to keep pedaling and get back up after I fell down. I don’t know how to get Lauren to keep going. What do I do, Dad?”
But calling my dad was the one thing I couldn’t do. He’s been dead for almost five years, and with him are the secrets of getting a wimpy kid to ride the damn bike her parents paid so much money for. I haven’t had the urge to call my dad that badly since well before he died. I haven’t needed that advice that only your dad can give you. The unbearable weight of his absence hit me again and again in a way it hadn’t since those first months after his death. I wasn’t prepared for the dull ache that comes from missing someone to become the searing pain it had been when it was fresh. I didn’t know how much I missed him, until I so selfishly needed him and I was dumbstruck by it.
We put the bikes away that night, and they had stayed put away until tonight. I had spent the past several days trying to remember how I learned to ride a bike, trying to conjure up the advice my dad would give me if he was still around. Finally, I knew what he would tell me. He would tell me to just keep going. To not get mad, to not be disappointed, to just keep at it until she had it. So, this morning as she got ready for school I suggested we try riding her bike again and she agreed. After school she was less keen on the idea. We ate dinner together and I asked, “Wanna try the bike again?” She nodded.
I think my dad was with us tonight, watching her and running alongside my husband as he let the bike go and she took off like a shot – fear so etched on her face I will never forget it. But there was something underneath that wasn’t there last time. There was a determination I haven’t seen in her before. I clicked off pictures and whooped with excitement. She rode for a second and then stumbled to a stop, her dad catching her before she toppled over. She got off the bike and looked at me, she was almost crying. “YOU DID IT!” I screamed. “Lauren! You did it!!” She started to cry and then ran to me and hugged me so hard. “I did it, Mom,” she whispered into my chest. “I did it.”
After high fives and hugs and hollering she jumped on and took off again. Getting better each time. My husband and I kept looking at each other, shocked and excited by her accomplishment. She was really doing it! After we put the bikes away and started getting ready for bed she quietly asked me, “Mom, do you think we can ride our bikes to school tomorrow?” and my heart danced. Mommy/daughter bike rides are most definitely in my future. And for that, I have to thank my dad.
May is Bike Month in the Sacramento region. Check out the Bike Month WEBSITE to join the Cap City Moms bike team. You can pledge to bike, log miles, sign up for challenges and attend events! Let’s get pedalling mamas!