She wanted to take the training wheels off.
Her four-wheeler was about to become a honest to goodness two-wheeler where upon it would likely be up to me to teach her how to ride a bicycle.
It was a monumental moment for dear old Dad. On the same level as taking her first step, saying her first word, eating her first slice of bacon. It was, in my mind, a pinnacle of parenthood. One of those responsibilities so cherished that even Norman Rockwell captured the experience and put it on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
Never mind that she had turned the not-so-elder age of five a few months earlier. Not a big deal. I was five when when my stepdad taught me how to ride that little red Huffy.
Never mind that she’d only been riding her pink Disney Princess training wheel-assisted bike for less than a year. When Santa first delivered it, she had wasted no time getting on and riding away. She was a natural. Fearless.
Never mind that the seed had been planted after watching the older kids ride their bikes. Never mind that, of course, she was easily influenced. She wanted to learn. She wanted to try. Too young? Too small? Not ready? Not her.
Who was I to stand in her way?
When I first took the training wheels off, I had her sit on the bike to feel the weight distribution. When I let go for a moment, she began to tip. She panicked. No worries, I said. We’re going to take it slow.
We did not take it slow.
Within minutes she was pedaling furiously down the sidewalk as I held on for dear life to both her seat and her handle bars. It was an ungraceful sprint, me doing my best to dance around the mail boxes and tree branches while trying to coach her up. Every so often, I’d let go just for the briefest of moments.
Dad holding onto the bike? Good. Dad letting go of the bike? Not so good. There was that panicked look again. There was Dad trying to keep her calm, “Don’t worry sweetie. I’m not going to let you fall. But, um, if you do fall, you just get back up.”
Her response? “This is harder than I thought.”
Then the older girl came rocketing past us and she made it look really easy.
Of course, she rode a much smaller bike than Baby Girl but she rode it like a pro. I was half expecting her to start bunny-hopping curbs. Maybe bust out a wheelie. Her proud father ran past exclaiming that it had only taken her a week to learn how to ride.
I looked at my daughter. Challenge accepted.
I told Baby Girl, sure it’s hard. Everything’s hard at first. But if you keep practicing, if you keep persevering, eventually it gets easier. This was not just a lesson on riding a bike. It was lesson in life.
We went back at it. My daughter insisted I hold the seat and handle bars. I insisted I let go every so often. She insisted that was a really stupid idea. I insisted she just keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling.
Then she stopped pedaling. She stopped the bike altogether, got off and went back to the security of her pink Cozy Coup.
I was surprised but I didn’t take offense. It was only day one.
I looked up videos on YouTube. How to teach your child how to ride a bike:
Take them to a clear area where there are no obstructions and little to no traffic. Parking lots are best. Crowded sidewalks? Not so much.
Make sure the seat is low enough so that your child’s feet are firmly planted on the floor. Gives them a sense of security. Imagine that.
Take the pedals off and have them push themselves with two feet. Allows them the feeling of balancing the bike with some stability. Would’ve been a good thing to know.
Finally, have fun. You want this experience to be an enjoyable one. Set up cones and have your child see if your child can coast between them. Games. Fun. Got it.
I suggested we move our lessons to a church parking lot. Nothing doing. Baby Girl was set on the sidewalk.
I lowered the seat. No arguments there.
I took the pedals off the bike to make it easier to learn. She wanted the pedals to remain on. She was used to the pedals now. Taking them off would be like starting from step one when you’re already at step two. To her credit, she tried it sans pedals. Then I put them back on.
I tried to make it fun. I set up the cones. She pushed off with two feet but it was awkward because the pedals impeded her. The game wasn’t fun.
Practice and persevere. Practice and persevere. If you fall, get back up. Try again. It’s a life lesson. If that other little girl could learn how to ride in a week, you can too. You can do this. I know you can. I know you can. I know you can.
After a few more days, she dropped the bike altogether, walked back inside and closed the garage door. When I asked her if she wanted to give it another try, the answer was straight forward. No.
I had failed this pinnacle moment of parenting. This moment so culturally significant that Norman Rockwell felt compelled enough to paint it. I couldn’t understand. I mean, I was five-years-old when my stepdad taught me how to ride a bike and I did just fine.
Except…when I thought about it harder…I wasn’t actually five. I was seven. And it hadn’t been all that easy for me either. I still had some of the scrapes to prove it.
I had frustrated her. In my attempt to teach this life lesson I had sucked all the fun away. Maybe the reality was as simple as she just wasn’t ready yet. Maybe the real issue here was that I had been overeager. My ego had blinded me.
No wonder she said no.
It’s a fine line. I want to push her to excel but I don’t want to push her away. I want her to know that she’s capable of anything she puts her mind to but I don’t want her falling over the edge. How do you know when to press and when to be patient?
I put the training wheels back on and guess what? The smile returned. She started riding again.
Baby Girl has time and in due time she’ll learn how to ride that two-wheeler. When she’s really ready. For now, she’s back to having fun and, for me, that’s what should matter. Sometimes I need a reminder.
She’ll turn seven soon enough.
Copyright 2017 Damien Alameda. All Rights Reserved.