Then this weekend, our first weekend of sunny, warm, spring weather, my daughter said, “Can I ride my bike today?” And my heart filled with dread.
We dusted off the helmet and wheeled the bike down the driveway. The tires were still springy with air, as if the bike were filled with the excitement of promise and hope. I, however, was not quite so enthusiastic. She didn’t get all last summer and it seemed highly unlikely that the first bike ride after six months would be a magical discovery of balance and grace.
The training wheels were attached a little high so that they only touched the ground when the bike tilted. She sat on the bike with some authority, but riding it was an illustration of frustration and thwarted motion. She’d lean on the training wheels so much that the rear wheel wouldn’t get traction when she pedaled, spinning helplessly, barely grazing the asphalt. After only a few minutes, I knew we were going to have to take those training wheels off again.
Of course, my daughter protested. She needed them to ride it, she declared. I pointed out that she had not actually ridden it yet. Besides, if she never took them off, she’d never learn. She sulked as I unscrewed the bolts and tossed the training wheels to the side. I prepared myself for maybe fifteen minutes – twenty, tops – of walking alongside her, trying to help her balance before we both gave up. “Let’s try this for a while,” I soothed her, “and then we’ll put the training wheels back on.”
As we’d done last summer, I held her under the arms as she boarded the bike and pushed forward. I tried holding her very loosely so she could find some balance, but found her leaning on my hands as she pedaled. Despite a cool breeze, I quickly began to sweat, jogging beside her and holding her steady. Up and down the road we went, me supporting and turning her around when we got to one end.
And then suddenly – without any prelude or warning – she was riding her bike. All by herself. Balancing, pedaling, moving forward with growing self assurance despite slightly shaky steering: she was riding a bike all by herself without training wheels.
Dear readers, do you know what I discovered is the secret to teaching a child to ride a bike?
That’s right. At some point, for some reason – I don’t even know what! – I let go of her. Maybe my body sensed that her body had figured it out and I was responding to some unspoken kinetic wisdom. Maybe I got frustrated with how much work I was doing and just stopped. Maybe I was tired and needed to rest. Maybe she just got loose. But as soon as I let go of her, she had it. All it took was for me to stop holding on. Simple as that.
Of course, the simplest things are the hardest to do. She fell a couple of times. There were tears and a few scrapes. It was really, really hard not to grab hold of her again. She showed me a long scrape down on shin, tears beading up on her red cheeks, and said, “It hurts!”
“Can I tell you a secret?” I said. “Every time we learn something new, it hurts a little bit.” Her brow furrowed with puzzlement, confusion on her wet little face. “Remember last night when we were learning your spelling words?” I said. “Remember how you wanted to play instead of work on those words? It hurt not to be able to play, didn’t it?” She nodded. “And how did you do on your spelling test today?”
“I got them all right,” she answered.
“Yes, you did. You learned those spelling words. It hurt a little bit working on them instead of playing, but you learned them and now you know them. Now you’ve scraped your leg, but you’ve learned how to ride a bike. The hurt will go away, but what you’ve learned won’t.”
She took a deep breath and looked thoughtfully at the scrape on her leg.
“Do you want to stop and go home?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I want to keep riding.”
Learning is painful and it always costs us something. I learned that holding on to my child keeps her from growing. And oh my, that hurts. I don’t want to let her go and it costs me to know that I am holding her back. It is painful to watch her take off without me, to see her fall. I’m hopeful the hurt goes away soon. But what I learned sure won’t