Last week was a victorious week in our house. You see, my seven year old has been trying to learn how to ride his bike (with no training wheels) off and on for the past four summers since he was just four years old. My older son decided he… was ready to learn how to ride just before his fourth birthday, and after about three days of working at it, he was off and riding. My daughter, on the other hand, took three summers to ride her bike fully without training wheels. So the fact that my younger son was taking a long time was not surprising to me if he was going to take after his big sister. But the added challenge that he faced was a bit of gravitational insecurity. She was basically unaware of the “boo-boos” she could get if she fell off, but he is very aware. He has been extremely cautious on his bike, which has prevented him from just hopping on and figuring it out. Since last summer, he has had the balance to ride, but never wanted me to let go of the back of his bike due to his fear of falling down and getting hurt.We have our annual big group, 37-person camping trip (in tents) coming up this weekend, and all of the kids bring their bikes to ride around the campsite. Each year, Brady has had to bring only his scooter and try to keep up with the other (older) kids on bikes. So I reminded Brady last week that our camping trip was coming up, and wouldn’t it be nice if he could learn how to ride his bike before we left so that he could ride it during our trip? The first day I suggested this idea to him, he went ballistic. I think the pressure of thinking about having to learn how to ride his bike under this (in his mind) intense deadline was more than he could bear. He got so upset he gritted his teeth, his face turned red and he stomped out of the garage. When he calmed down, I backed off somewhat and said it did not really matter if he was able to ride by the time we go camping, but it might be nice to set a goal and we could practice each day until we leave for our trip. He still did not want to agree to it. I then gently suggested that maybe when he learned how to ride, it might be fun for us to celebrate with a full-sized candy bar for him (a rare treat in our house). This got him to agree. I do not generally like to “bribe” my kids, especially with food, but I was looking for something that would excite him enough to be willing to try to overcome his fear. The candy did it.We agreed that he would practice on his bike for just five minutes every day. The first day we went out, he tried and did pretty well, but still did not want me to let go of the back of his bike. I made sure to stop his practicing before he got tired or fell down, which would have ended his willingness to work towards this goal. That night, I told him how proud I was of him for working at this goal that we set for ourselves. I know that he is the kind of kid who needs time to think about and process big or difficult things. He clearly did that the first night when he was falling to sleep (which is when he tends to mull things over). The second day when we went out to the street to practice, he told me that today, he wanted me to hold his bike, but to let go when he said so. I agreed. So he took a deep breath, and began to pedal. I could literally see and “feel” how hard he was working to overcome his fear. He pedaled a little bit with me holding on and then he said “ok, let go!” I did and he got a few feet before he got wobbly and I quickly grabbed to help steady him. He got mad when he saw that I was helping him. He reminded me that he did NOT want me to hold on to his bike after he said to let go! So the next time, I did exactly as he asked and let go and just followed behind him. Again, he got wobbly and almost fell, but managed to put his foot down and stop himself before falling. He gasped as he saved himself from falling, and again, I could literally feel how scared he was, but I could also see how determined he was (for the first time ever) to once and for all learn how to ride his bike. After about three more tries like this, I let go once more and he was off and riding!I felt a thrill that I can scarcely describe. I was elated that my child had finally earned this childhood rite of passage. And as soon as he knew he could do it, he quickly looked so comfortable, it seemed like he had been riding for years. It has been exactly one week since he learned to ride, and he has been on his bike every day since. We have taken family bike rides and traveled for miles. It is awesome, and I am so happy. I told him that it feels like Christmas to me; I have been waiting for so many years for all of my children to be independent bike riders so that we could take family bike rides and my wish has now come true. At bedtime the night he learned, Brady told me that he had to work very hard to overcome his fear of riding his bike. We talked about how he had found his courage that day and that from now on, he could always remember back to that day whenever he felt scared.
I have been mindful to fully absorb and bask in the joy I found in this victorious experience for my son. This is one of those parenting moments which is so rich and fulfilling that I know it will hold me up through the more difficult moments that will inevitably occur. These are the moments we must hold on to so that we have the energy we need to get through the tougher times. It is when we are rushing through our days and we do not get the chance to slow down and really appreciate these events for the gifts that they are. Coincidentally, these past two weeks have been very laid back and slower for our family, which certainly allowed me to fully appreciate this event in his little life and mine.
I wanted my son to ride his bike when he was four. I could have forced him to practice every day until he got it, and we would have both been miserable, but I knew that was not the approach I wanted to take, nor the way I want our relationship to work. I knew it was right to go at his pace. So even though it may have taken him longer than it takes other kids, he is now officially a bike-rider, and he learned a lot about his own courage in the process.