Girl on a Bike
by Jen Rouse
The Short Years
“It’s really hard for me,” she said, looking down at her shoes. “And a lot of other kids in my class…they already can do it.”
I understood what she meant. Oh boy, did I understand.
It took me forever to learn to ride a bike. I think I was 8 years old, and still pedaling around on my sister’s tiny training-wheel model. There were a lot of reasons, I’m sure: I hate trying new things. I’m naturally uncoordinated. I took a bad fall one day while I was learning. And most of all, it scared me.
All those things mixed together and made me paranoid, so paranoid that I didn’t want to try, even though I was embarrassed about being the only kid in the world (or so it seemed) who still couldn’t ride a two-wheeler. It was a circular thing: wanting to ride/being scared to ride/being embarrassed that I couldn’t ride = stubborn resistance to riding.
I could see all those same fears and conflicting emotions in my daughter’s eyes. And I did not want her to follow in my footsteps. So often, I find, I don’t want my kids to be like me. I want them to be *better* than me.
The thing is, though, Beth was so close to doing it. We first started working on riding last fall. She wanted to learn. A lot of other 6-year-olds had the balancing skills for it. And we could tell she was outgrowing the training wheel model anyway.
But fall days came and went, and Eric practiced with her, and I practiced with her. And she wobbled here and she wobbled there. She would ride a few feet without a parent holding on, and she seemed so close to ready…but she never quite mastered it. And then winter came and the bikes were tossed in the garage and the practicing stopped. And in the meantime, kid after kid would go whizzing down our street, balancing straight and tall.
I knew she wanted to be one of those kids. I could see it. And so on this sunny day I told her that I remembered how hard learning was. I told her I would help her practice. I swore I wouldn’t let go of her bike, not at all, not once, until she was ready.
And so, bent nearly double to hold onto the seat and handle bars of her tiny purple bike, I balanced with her over to the school yard, where the big expanse of nice, smooth pavement seemed more auspicious for riding than the narrow, bumpy sidewalk in front of our house.
I held on. She pedaled. I held more lightly. She pedaled more, begging me not to let go. And then Evie called from the top of the jungle gym–up way higher than she ought to be, and with no way to get down. I had to go help Evie. I had to let go.
At first Beth put her feet down on the ground immediately to support herself. But then, ever-so-slowly, she started pedaling on her own, throwing her feet down for balance with every little wobble, but doing it. When I wandered back over and casually offered to hold onto the bike again, she said, “No, it’s okay. I can do it by myself.”
And little by little, she did. By the end of the second day, I was just standing back and watching, helping Evie climb up the slide and pushing Lucy on the swings while Beth rocketed around the playground furiously, not needing me at all.
Sometimes she’s still wobbly.
Sometimes she needs to concentrate.
But she’s doing it all on her own. Just like that.
I guess when you’re finally ready for something, you’re ready. And my girl was ready to ride.