The kids went back to school this week. I’m both happy for them to move on into their new lives, and finding myself wondering what to do with myself with them out of the house for most of the day. (Answer: more writing and prospecting for new business). So far we’ve been keeping up with our ritual of a “Night-Night Bike Ride” as my first-grader calls our late afternoon/early evening rides that take us around our neighborhood, to local parks, and even finding rainbows if we’re out at the right time.
Both kids also expressed interest in biking to school. For Emily, my first grader, it’s a little over a mile: a manageable distance, but she is still tentative on hills. She comes to a complete stop and straddle-walks her bike downhill. In our hilly neighborhood, that makes for a challenging ride to school. Sam, my seventh grader, on the other hand has about a four-and-a-half-mile ride to school. His ride would have a number of steep hills, as we discovered when he and I set out on Labor Day morning to see if we could make it to his school. Halfway into the ride, he realized that he is not ready to ride his bike to school and we headed home.
One-mile and four-mile bike rides may not seem all that ambitious, but it is important to keep in mind that both of my children have been able to ride a bicycle for only two weeks. It may seem odd for a 12-year-old to have not yet learned to ride a bike, but we did not live in an area conducive to learning. Our old condo in Massachusetts had a tennis court where we played Wiffle Ball, but we weren’t supposed to ride bikes there, and our driveway/parking area was not a good spot either since some of neighbors were less than aware of their speed. Sam also didn’t seem all that interested in learning, probably, in part, because Val, my wife, and I left our bikes languishing in the garage for years where my gear shifters melted and my Val’s tires tires flattened from under use.
Once we got to Minnesota, all the kids in our neighborhood rode bikes and/or scooters. That’s what motivated Emily to go out to the driveway every day: she wanted to keep up with her older friends. Our driveway in Minnesota was not a great place to learn to ride a bike. It’s a fairly steep incline from the street to the garage – looking forward to winter! It evens off at the top of the driveway, but does not leave a lot of room to maneuver a bicycle.
But Emily was determined. She would take out her very small Frozen-themed, or “Anna and Elsa,” bike with training wheels and ride around the top of our driveway. She would then exchange it for the slightly bigger hand-me-down bike that some friends had given to her. She would stop and start but not really get going with the hand-me-down bike. Then she would switch back to the “Anna and Elsa” bike. Occasionally, I’d be tasked with removing the training wheels, only to have to put them back on five minutes later. She discovered that the “Anna and Elsa” bike was too small. But she was determined and every day we would go out.
While she was attempting to ride her bike I would take out Val’s bike and ride it around the driveway hoping to entice my son into learning to ride a bike as well. But he was embarrassed about learning at his age and felt defeated every time to did try. While Emily was riding on the driveway, he would head out to the yard to hit Wiffle balls into the street from the worn-out patches of grass where we played Wiffle ball all summer.
Emily went from half a pedal turn, to two pedal turns to being able to ride a bike across the driveway. When you first see your child pedal upright on a bicycle, it’s like some magic has taken over. I knew, from riding a bike myself, that riding is possible, but to watch Emily, who had been struggling with it, suddenly keep her balance was beyond special. “Look at you!” I shouted, which broke the spell of her ride. Once Emily learned to ride, we brought her bike to a local park where she would ride around in the outdoor skating rink. On her second day of riding the rink was flooded with rain. At first, she rode around the puddles, but then decided to ride through them after seeing some boys ride through them on scooters. I simply rolled my eyes and let her get soaked.
Now that his sister could ride, Sam was inspired to try. He would try to move forward and lose his balance and his temper. He could not quite understand how the bike worked from pushing on the pedals to maintaining balance as it moved forward. Despite his frustration, he kept coming back to it as his sister had done. And then, magically it seemed, he too was balancing on two wheels, pedaling around the outdoor rink, wondering why he had waited so long to learn. Now, his bike offers him a certain freedom.
It’s easy to forget what a challenge it is to learn to ride a bike. My kids both said it felt like they could always do it once they actually did it. But watching them from the outside, I saw a lot of frustration and doubt. There were times where each one of them wanted to give up. But they didn’t because they knew it was possible. Sometimes when we’re frustrated, we need to take a break, reset, and get back to it, and then we’re magically moving forward on two wheels and thinking about where we can go next.