Prolonged for the Ride

your awesome bikes don’t learn to ride themselves, kids

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Erik Christenson

My daughter and I share the same affliction: we are often terrified of the things we want most. I’ll spare you my armchair psychoanalysis, my sage (though largely untested) parenting advice, and my super cute kid stories. Instead, let me say this:

When your kid is afraid to ride her bike yet really, really, really wants to ... ain’t nobody happy about it.

This summer, our oldest has been asking (quite often) to ride her training wheel-festooned bicycle up and down the street – with my help. This is awesome, and we’re very proud of her. On the other hand, these rides are often an exercise in frustration as she tries to overcome her fear and hesitation.

I myself did not learn to ride a bike until after all my friends had. I can remember feeling very unsure on my Schwinn “BMX” with the cool handlebar grips. I can remember wobbly rides over to my friend’s house where I’d park out front and hope my buddies didn’t want to ride anywhere while I lagged behind – unsteady and worried about falling over. But as much as I dreaded riding that bike, I loved it too. It looked awesome. It was jet black. Did I mentioned the handle bar grips?

My friends had already graduated from simply riding around to attempting aerial tricks off crappy homemade jumps that never, ever, not even once worked the way we imagined.

When I rode my bike all by myself, at my own pace, I felt no stress at all. It was a blast. But it was lonely. When I rode with my friends, I felt frazzled and anxious, but at least I wasn’t missing out on the grand neighborhood adventures. I mean, I didn’t want to be the dork who stayed home while everyone else rode over to the empty lot to ... um, dig a hole or something exhilarating like that.

Basically, there was no course of action in which I felt happy. I think I wanted so bad to be so good at riding that bike ... I just built it up into some sort of towering pile of awesomeness and pressure. The pile was large enough to be scary. So, in the shadow of the pile, I really didn’t ride very much and I never really got confident on a bike for about a year or so.

Eventually I got to a point where I stopped worrying about falling over or crashing into a parked car or hitting a small rock so hard I’d go flying over the handle bars to land headfirst in a big, stinky garbage can. (I watched a lot of cartoons.) My friends had already graduated from simply riding around to attempting aerial tricks off crappy homemade jumps that never, ever, not even once worked the way we imagined.

A bendy hunk of plywood and a cinderblock? That’s our ticket to the moon, man!

The most “air” anyone ever “caught” was perhaps a glorious half second in which neither of the bike’s wheels was touching the ground. Though I suspect our hind wheels never actually pried themselves from gravity’s stubborn fist. Lucky, insane levels of 8-year-old adrenaline fueled by a gob-full of Starburst candy made it feel like flying.

Anyway, last year, my wife and I found a cool bike for my daughter at a garage sale. The most challenging part for me was putting the training wheels on. Not sure why, but this required a feat of Hulk-like strength and steely perseverance. I had to squeeze the frame together using my considerable body weight and not-quite-as-considerable arm muscles while my wife screwed on the nuts. If there’s an easier way to attach training wheels that I’ve somehow missed, DO NOT EMAIL ME ABOUT IT. It’s an achievement I’d like to keep in the win column.

So, we’ve got this great bike with sturdy training wheels and my kid wants so badly to ride it, but she gets scared and frustrated and kind of sassy when she tries. She feels like it should just come naturally, but it doesn’t, and this bugs her.

The funniest, um, I mean, most frustrating part for my daughter is our driveway, which contains low spots where her hind wheel ends up spinning free while she pedals and pedals to no avail. The most frustrating part for me is remaining patient and positive as she gets more and more annoyed at me for suggesting she could maybe just pedal a little faster and wouldn’t get stuck.

I think I know how she feels. She’s torn between wanting to do something awesome and wanting to not get hurt. I never had a eureka! moment like they do in the movies when someone suddenly finds himself doing the very thing he fears most. There was never a moment where my theme music* swelled and I realized, “Hey, this ain’t so bad!”

It just kind of happened slowly over time. Not sure how it will happen for our daughter. But either way I’ll try to let her know that what she is doing is awesome, no matter how long it takes.

*Danger Zone by Sir Kenneth Loggins