My youngest learned how to ride her two-wheeler this weekend. She’ll be 7 in a few months and though a lot of people would argue that that seems kind of old for someone to be learning how to ride their two-wheeler, we don’t often follow the standard milestone calendars. In our house, we let them learn things at their own pace. And though we’ve tried to teach them early how to ride their bikes, they all struggled with the balancing thing. You can’t really force that. Just like you can’t really force a lot of things we teach our children. We teach them manners, and how to show appreciation, but that, like bike-riding, takes time to develop and hone.
Bike-riding has been all the topic of conversation this weekend at our house, as you can imagine. But one thing that got my brain going was how hard it is. Have you really thought about how hard it is?! I mean really stopped to think about it?!!
Think about being 5 or 6 or 7 years old and climbing onto this rather large piece of equipment, something that very likely weighs more than you. Now imagine balancing yourself, trying to figure out how to balance yourself – your tiny little frame – on this thing, that if it falls on you, or you fall off of it, is likely to hurt … a lot.
Think about mom (or dad) helping you, holding on to the back of the seat and imagine knowing that at some point, without you really being ready for it, at some point, they’re going to let go. Mom and Dad who for as long as you can remember have always held on, always helped talk you through the scary stuff (Ursula’s scary face in Disney’s Ariel, grandma’s scary false teeth, the scary woods in the dark). So if the fear wasn’t enough for them to worry about, there’s the balancing, steering, looking up every now and again to ensure you’re not running into anything, pedaling, starting/pushing off, and stopping. You’re trying to learn how to do this hugely impossible task, but the one thing you’re worried about, the one thing that you can’t get past is, “Mommy’s going to let go.”
We try to spare them the falls, but we know that the learning process must include the falls. We hope that in getting them back on that bike quickly, they’ll be able to recall that feeling of balancing just before they toppled. On a couple of occasions I’d quickly get her back on for fear that she’d give up, “Let’s jump back on! You’re sooooo close to getting it.”
The irony is as she was struggling with learning all of her new cycling skills, I was struggling with my own fears and doubts … when do I let go? When I thought she was going to be able to ride it alone, I’d let go, but she’d start to wobble, and I’d grab on again. When it seemed like she finally straightened herself up again, I’d inch off, and let go, but she and the bike would lean into me.
I tried a new tactic … holding onto her back. Every few rides, she’d feel more comfortable, and every few rides, I’d hold on a little less. Eventually I only had my hand on her back. I wasn’t balancing her any longer, she was doing it all on her own, but she didn’t know. That whole time I realized, she didn’t care that I wasn’t holding on, she just wanted to know I was there. The warmth of my hand was all she needed to know that I was there.
When I finally thought she was at the right speed, had the perfect momentum, and the “you can do this” had finally sunk in, I let her go. A part of me went with her — the warmth of my hand on her back.