My eight-year old son struggled to balance when we took the training wheels off last spring. We tried all summer, him riding and me running behind, but he never picked it up. Crash after crash discouraged him and eventually, he lost interest in learning. When his friends came by on bikes, he made sure his bike was buried in the garage and pulled out his scooter to keep up.
The first great weather day we had this spring, I took the day off to teach him how to ride. In the car on the way to Black Bob Park, I told him that he really wasn’t ready to ride a bike last year – that was the problem - but this year was different. We discussed extensively how much he had grown, reviewing his larger shoe size, bigger shorts. I told him that I believed today was the day. And I did. And it was!
After just a few obligatory runs behind, he took off on his own (with me panting in his wake). This was maybe the proudest moment of my life. As he sped away from me, pedaling and sweating with the effort, I was reminded of the first time he walked away from me at 9 months (yes, early). I am not usually so sentimental, but this was one of those “big” moments of childhood falling away, independence asserted: the boy is growing up. The boy is going to be a man - before I know it. He turned, pedaling toward me, his still too-big, awkward front toothed smile emerging from beneath the helmet. Tears filled my eyes as I smiled back. It was then that he turned and crashed into the front of my car. The spell was broken; I need to teach him about the brakes.
This kiddo’s obsession with bicycling has just begun. I remember how mine took over my adolescence, culminating in a ride with my dad and his best friend Gary from Kansas City to Boonesville, Missouri in the MS150. The three of us rode 150 miles in two days when I was just 14. I mostly lagged behind the two grown, fit friends. It was hot and exhausting. We crossed the finish line triumphant in civic service and personal accomplishment. (Gary died last week after a brief struggle with cancer. Remembering the MS150 and riding bikes with my kids both serve as a tribute to his gracious life.)
Once I got my driver’s license, I grew into the quintessential bratty teenage girl; my interests drifted toward boys and the mall. Eventually, college and then a career took the place of the simple fun of riding bikes and bonding with the people who love me the most. Husband, babies and the wonder of family and home monopolized my heart and my attention. Now I have the privilege of seeing the world through my child’s eight-year-old’s eyes, remembering the simple beauty of the world as only a child can perceive it.
I want to reclaim those feelings of familial shared interests, courage, endurance and fun for my son. I want him to enjoy riding back roads and experiencing the countryside first hand. I need him to feel as connected to the earth and the community as one can only experience by slowing down and really seeing, feeling, believing in the landscape that surrounds. I want him to love his bike (like I loved mine) for giving him that.
Every day of spring break, I rushed home from work to take my son to the big parking lot in the park for practice (thank goodness for daylight savings). We found an old bike with training wheels for little brother to join in. One week in, I bought the cheapest bike I could find on Craig’s List, and after a stop at Bike America, started biking along, instead of standing on the curb to watch.
My husband is the last hold out, but I don’t think he’ll last long. He’s already started riding my Craig’s bike when I’m not on it. His big head looks funny in my cute helmet, but the helmet rule doesn’t bend for anybody – not even the grown ups. We only have safe fun in this family.
We are going to stick to the big parking lot and the cul-de-sac until the boys learn some traffic laws. As much as I treasure their childhoods, I look forward to a time when we can go on longer family rides and venture outside our neighborhood. I have already started laying the foundation, telling them the exciting places we’ll go, like their school and grandma’s house. We talk about the bicyclists we pass when we’re driving, too. I’ll say things like, “Notice how he’s riding on the right side of the road, close to the curb. He’s being careful.” I know that I need to prepare them now to be safe riders in the future. I make efforts to drive courteously, too, and hope that pays off when they become licensed – though I shudder at the thought.