I spent several weeks with my hands at the back of my daughter’s bike after the training wheels came off, feeling her wobble as I held on, trying to guide her, making sure she didn’t fall over. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t. She’d be up—the bike would pull hard at my left or right side—then down she’d go. The wheels would move, but not quite fast enough for her to maintain her balance. I kept encouraging her to keep her legs moving—“Keep it going!” It was during these weeks that I taught my daughter Shachar, 6-years-old at the time, to ride a bike.
I found myself contemplating the bike riding lessons recently as my daughter finished high school and began to prepare for college. When I mentioned our lessons to Shachar (“Do you remember when I taught you to ride your bike?”) she remembered it as the time I taught her the word “momentum.” I had completely forgotten our battle cry. It had become a mantra for us: “Momentum! Momentum! Momentum!”
I remember standing at the corner of Shenandoah and Airdrome Streets, my hand on the back of her bike for just a moment. I was probably yelling “Momentum!” Maybe we both were. And then, magically, there was no more pressure at the back of the bike at all. The bike was gone. And there she was, riding down the block—a tiny tilt to the left, a tiny tilt to the right, and then upright again. Tilt, tilt, upright. Tilt, tilt, upright. It was beautiful. Safe and steady. Just the right amount of momentum.
As she kept riding toward the end of the block, she got smaller and smaller, and I realized that I couldn’t catch up with her if I tried. I thought, “This is it. This is the way it goes. She learns something new, gets up, pumps and pedals, and eventually recedes into the distance. And this is the way it’s supposed to go. If all goes well, this will happen over and over again.”
Over the past several years I’ve stood on the corner and watched her learn to navigate the rough pavement of high school—particularly the dreaded junior year. I’ve witnessed her ride down the road of her first real relationship—and back up the path of friendship following the break-up. I’ve watched as she’s developed her own path of leadership, and I’ve marveled at her organizational direction—which far outstrips both mine and my husband’s.
Now, almost 12 years after her first bike ride, Shachar readies herself for her next journey, this time eastward for college. My hand is still gently at her back as the training wheels come off this time: Making final doctor’s appointments, helping her identify things a person needs to survive a real winter, acting as sounding board as she considers how to keep her balance while getting as much as she can from her college experience. I believe we’re both ready for me to let go again. She has places to go and things to do. There are still plenty of text messages, occasional phone calls, and perhaps some snail mail every once in a while between us. And I’m looking forward to creating my own momentum; I have been spinning my wheels just enough to keep my balance (most of the time) and I’m ready to build my own speed.
From the corner of Shenandoah and Airdrome Streets, I watch Shachar once more recede into the distance, thinking to myself with bittersweet triumph: “Momentum! Momentum! Momentum!” I take a moment to absorb some of that energy, and then I get back to work.