It’s Like Riding a Bike

My son turned six a few weeks ago. The kid’s always been big, like 98th percentile for height and weight from birth (which wasn’t easy, let me tell you) and inherited my awkwardness. Unlike many of his peers he’s very calculating when it comes to the pain/reward ratio. At swim lessons when the other kids were jumping into the pool regardless of the water depth, my son would gauge where he could get in and still touch the bottom of the pool with his head above water. He learned very quickly that falling over on a bike hurts, and therefore would do his absolute best not to fall over. He got pretty good at pedaling, okay at stopping without running into a stationary object – car, parental unit, curb – but could not get himself started from a full stop.

But this weekend we put our collective parental feet down and told him he had to learn how to start the bike in motion by himself, without a push from Dad. His other friends are riding their bikes with ease, and he knows this. Peer pressure motivated him to ask us to take him to the school parking lot to practice, but he struggled to learn how to push the top pedal forward and lift his other foot off the ground and keep pedaling, all which keeping his balance. I could see he was getting frustrated with each failed attempt. He wouldn’t look at us. A bit of angst crept across his little, sharp-chinned face. He stopped talking (a feat so rare it’s like a medical condition on House). So I said we should go home and try again another day.

What happened next might be the best moment I’ve experienced as a parent so far. He said, “No. I don’t want to go home. I can do it.”

This prompted completely out-of-proportion cheering from his dad and me. “Never give up!” we yelled. “Never surrender!” (We’re not ex-military. We’re Galaxy Quest fans, and total geeks.)

Shouting encouragement is all well and good, but I was standing in the parking lot of the elementary school across the street, shivering in shorts and a t-shirt because a cold front dropped the temp a good ten degrees while we were out there, and I felt fear. What if he couldn’t do it, couldn’t muster the physical coordination and balance and all the steps necessary to get the bike started? He runs like his legs don’t bend at the knees, and he occasionally crashes to the floor for no explicable reason whatsoever.

The next try the whole bike-kid unit fell over after two feet. We said nothing. He got up from his awkward scramble of bike and limbs.

“You have to commit,” my husband called to him. “Commit to going forward! You can do it!”

Come on, honey. Commit. Push the pedal forward, lift your other foot, and commit to motion.

What I said was, “Never give up, honey.”

More silence. His gaze was focused somewhere in the distance as he picked up the bike and straddled it, and I could see him thinking through how to do this, as if he knew there was more at stake than just getting the bike started on his own. His pride, his sense of self as an individual with some control over his world was at stake, and that’s a huge deal when you’re six. You control so little of your life when you’re six.

Left foot on the pedal. Right foot on the ground. He shimmied the top pedal forward, pushed off, lifted his right foot, and he was IN MOTION.

Cue the parental screaming. From our reaction you’d have thought he landed on the moon, and you could have driven a Mack truck through the grin on my son’s face. He stopped, all James Dean casual. He started again, this time riding in figure eights around the parking lot, cutting the turns a little close, but showing off a little, too. Another stop. Another start, and this time he looked at us, the parents still shouting like total morons, like “What’s the big fucking deal?”

The BFD, kiddo, isn’t that you can ride a bike. It’s that you didn’t quit. You said you was going to do it, you stuck it out through the failed attempts, and you did it. Today you’re my inspiration, little man, and inspiration for anyone out there who’s run into obstacles in pursuit of a dream.


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