On a recent Sunday, I took my 5.5-year-old daughter to the local park to engage in the celebrated rite of passage of learning to ride a two-wheeler. I had mixed feelings about it, because I knew it had to be done, but I also was afraid of having to run alongside her. I don’t usually run. I’m a therapist: My job involves a lot of sitting, and that’s the way I like it. But run I did, for hours, or possibly days, I think. The last time I ran so much, “I phone” was a verb, not a noun. My thighs and calves burned for the better part of a week (literally). It was an absolutely excruciating experience.
And I think it might have been one of the best days of my life.
My eldest daughter, now 8.5 and riding a two-wheeler with the greatest of insouciance, didn’t require my services in this arena. The spunky, excitable tween living next door at the time decided to teach her the ropes one day, and I can’t say I offered any protest. In fact, I quite encouraged it, feeling only the slightest twinge of regret over not handling the conventional task myself. With absolutely no running on my part, my daughter got the hang of it, and I was off the hook.
But there was definitely a twinge. Combined with the fact that our new neighbor is a sexagenarian, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands this time. So, with great resolve and trepidation, I took my daughter out to the park, and I ran. It was awkward and difficult, as you certainly know if you’ve been that parent before. Indeed, we passed by many an adult who offered a knowing smile and a “great job!” (me or her?) as we lapped around the track over and over (not continuously, of course; I stopped to pick up my lungs every few minutes). Her riding skills definitely improved over the day. Still needs some work, but we’re getting there. Practice makes progress, as they say. (I like that one better than the spurious “practice makes perfect.” No, it doesn’t.)
That evening we sat on the couch together, setting up for a bedtime story. I opened a brief dialogue:
“You really did great on the bike today!”
“I went for so long!”
“You sure did! Soon you won’t need me to run beside you!”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, they came back and hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. It’s true—soon enough she’ll be riding on her own. The fact of the matter is, soon enough she’ll be doing a lot more on her own. Running beside her, along with her two sisters, for years—well, it’s been tiring, to say the least. I’m always exhausted, frequently frustrated, all too often outwitted. I feel like I am forever catching my breath, and as soon as I do, there’s a new workout to be mastered—diapers, potty training, tantrums, first day of school, friends… it never ends.
Until it does.
One day I am going to let go of the bike, and she’s going to sail off without me, no longer in need of a hand to constantly hold her up as she pedals along. She’ll keep her own balance, pull her own weight, go where she wants to go. Maybe I’ll get to catch my breath then, standing there, watching her shrink into the distance. Maybe I’ll stretch out my calves and ease the cramping, feeling a long-awaited sense of relief. Or maybe I’ll forget all about the pain in that moment and just yearn to be able to keep up with her.
This Sunday I’m taking her out biking again. I’m not sure what the process is supposed to look like. I question whether I have the energy or the stamina for it. Heck, I don’t even really know what I’m doing—I’m just making it up as I go along. And I expect it to involve a lot of pain.
It might well be the greatest thing I’ll ever do.