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The Mistake I Made While Teaching My Daughter to Ride a Bike

girl on bike

The training wheels have come off my oldest daughter’s bike, and I’ve determined that the afternoon we spent practicing last Saturday was harder on me than it was on her.

I ran alongside as she peddled down the street, holding on to the bike lest she lose her balance and fall. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t so much holding on to the bicycle as I was holding on to her. And it didn’t take long after that to realize I wasn’t so much holding on to her as I was, inadvertently, holding her back.

As soon as I decided to let go, she found her center and took off like a flash.

I have to say, I should have known better. We had a similar experience not too long ago at a local roller skating haunt. She cleaved to me so she wouldn’t take a header to the rink, but that very attachment, the one that helped us both feel secure, kept her in a persistent state of disequilibrium. My husband admonished me to get out of the way, insisting we separate in spite of my misgivings, and wouldn’t you know it? I withdrew and she sped ahead. She rocked and she rolled and she didn’t look back.

It’s one of the tensions of being a mother—always has been, always will be—though I hope to manage it more skillfully by the time my second daughter is ready to ride. The only way for my children to figure their own shit out is to just let them go. I have to contract, and I’m already familiar with that kind of pain. I will watch my girls fall and trust that they will find a way to right themselves. I can do that because I know that they know that I’ll be running right alongside them. I’ll be there to give them a push when they need a proper send off. I’ll be there to help them make turns if they find themselves heading in unanticipated, or unwanted, directions. I’ll be there to remind them to keep their eyes on the road and to keep moving forward regardless of teeters. I’ll be there to remind them to use their brakes as needed, but to enjoy the thrill and the risks of the ride.

And then they will Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah away.

There’s an idiom that they don’t yet know, but believe you me, they’ll hear it: Blah, Blah, Blah Is Like Riding A Bike. It’s a trite meme, but an apropos metaphor; true learning isn’t easy, but it sticks because the human heart has muscle memory. What we learn as we love each other through life can send the wind through our hair.

So, a few words of wisdom for my beautiful girls from their newly enlightened, and yes, scared-shitless Mum:

1. Buckle your helmet.

2. Mount your vulnerability.

3. Fall down and get back up.

4. Don’t swallow bugs.

I know they’ll be good to go!


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