Posts Tagged ‘teaching a child how to ride a bicycle’

This one falls under Stupid Things I have Done. It is a classic tale told around the world by different authors and, unfortunately, in this tale, I am the author.

We lived in a little trailer park with a gravel road. Seven trailers, all small children about the same age. I was the stay-at-home mom to several of the working mothers. This did not involve babysitting in so many words and I want to quantify this with my opinion on leaving young children at home alone.

I was a latch-key child in the 1960’s, before “latch-key child” was a buzz phrase. It was not cool for mothers to work outside the home and nearly all of my friends had stay-at-home mothers. My parents agreed that my mother could work outside the home. She was light years ahead of her time and probably one of Gloria Steinem’s most ardent supporters (sans burning bras) back in the day. My brother was usually “in charge” but he was not always home, so my sister and I were basically on our own from the time I was eleven. I mean, my brother had a life and he was entering his teen age years! Before that, however, he was the one in charge – he became our primary babysitter when he was 10, when our parents came home to find the paid babysitter snoring on the sofa and my brother sitting up with her, bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

We got into trouble but our parents rarely found out.

That said, I could not judge my neighbors for the similar situations they found themselves in. Older siblings “watched” younger siblings and the stay-at-home moms (there were two of us in the ‘hood) were sort of a back-up in case something really terrible happened, like Darrel was running through the house, fell on a table, and broke his front teeth out. (Older sibling, Sharon, put the teeth in a glass of milk and I made repeated phone calls to the place my friend was employed, trying to get someone to pick up the phone during the busy lunch hour rush. All’s well that ends well, I guess, but I think Darrel lost his teeth permanently because the fast food joint where my friend slaved would not allow employees to answer the phone during the lunch hour rush.)

But I digress (do you see a pattern here?). There were 13 kids in the little isolated trailer park. They ranged in age from teenager to toddler. Four had mothers who were at home. I tended to be the mom the kids came to if they had a question, a weird bug to look up, a snake to show off, a razor cut to bandage (and hide from their parents). I was often the mom who was outside because I hate being indoors and the other stay at home mom actually worked nights with her husband, so kept rather odd hours.

My best friend lived in the single-wide next to me with her youngest daughter, who is the same age as my oldest. The girls went to Kindergarten together. That was in a different part of town and a different time. Now we were neighbors and the girls were in 3rd grade.

All of the children over the age of 6 owned and rode bicycles. All of them except for my best friend’s daughter, who owned, but could not ride, her bicycle. She was 8.

To understand this story better, I need to tell you about a little boy and a little girl, generations apart. The little girl grew up in the 1960’s and she was deathly afraid of everything and anything, especially of something that might cause pain. She pushed her bike around, following the older kids in the neighborhood. Even her younger sister mastered the two-wheeler before she could. She had a beautiful blue girl’s Hawthorne bike. It was blue and she named it Blue Ribbon. But she could not bring herself to get onto it and attempt to master the needed balancing act to ride the thing. At least, not when there was an audience. She finally got on it and rode it when none of the other kids was there to laugh at her and poke fun at her wobbly style. She was 8 years old when she taught herself to ride, practicing where no other children could see her and egg her on, or laugh at her when she wrecked, or otherwise see what she was trying to accomplish.

The little boy was just 3 and was gifted his first tiny blue bike with training wheels. It was 1990, in the spring. The older children in the apartment complex ran around, pushing their bikes or ignoring them – a generation that could not understand the thrill of a two wheeler. But not that little boy. He tootled around the cul-de-sac, happily unaware that his training wheels were not touching the ground on either side. His mother observed, however (she being the girl who had only mastered bicycle riding on her own in 1964).

“Don’t you think we could take the training wheels off?” she asked her husband. He looked, observed, and agreed. So the training wheels came off. And the little boy was set free.

All of the older children in the apartment complex rushed to master a two-wheeler, eager to not be undone by this 3-year old apparent bicycle prodigy.

Now this woman was in her late 30’s, her prodigy was competing with the other children in daring down-hill rides, and she could see her best friend’s daughter bravely pushing her bike around to keep up with the children who had mastered that fine art of balance. I watched out my window as the other children were up and down the hil five times and this little girl bravely pushed her bike along the side, one time down, one time up, smiling as the others passed her and taunted her to get on and ride.


I offered my services. I promised to be gentle. to be kind, to remember how it felt to be the 8 year old afraid of riding a bike because falling off of it could be painful. I was entirely empathetic. And she grasped at the offer.

“Promise not to let go?”

“I PROMISE” Famous last words. You know where this story goes. Everyone knows where this story goes. It goes downhill.

We were aimed downhill. She was wobbling in her seat. I held her back as we went, and then she found her balance. She was pedaling. She was pulling away, perfectly balanced.

And . I. Let. Go.


For thirty beautiful feet, ten long yards, she was as graceful and even as an adult hawk, skimming the meadow in search of a mouse. The four or five neighborhood children who were gathered to watch cheered as she came even with them, her eyes wide. The front wheel began to wobble. She was going too fast. She couldn’t remember how to brake. The tire twisted, the momentum pushed her over the handlebars and she executed a somersault that wasn’t a somersault, but more of a face-splat. It was probably painful (she reminds me of this sometimes when we reminisce). It would, ultimately, cover her body with bruises. But I was in the moment and we had a neighbor hood of observers (many of them calculating the greatness of the wreck: how many times did her body collide with the earth? Was it a three-pointer or a six-pointer? Each collision with ground was a point.

She was crying, but not the heaving sobs of a truly injured child, only the sniffles of a bruised ego. I hugged her, brushed the gravel from her knees, promised her she would be all right. And then I did the Unforgivable. To this day, I cannot believe I did this. Not with my own memories of hiding and practicing and perfecting my own skill on a bicycle, ashamed if someone would have seen me wobble or wreck.

T told her to get back on.

Yes. I said that. Visions of my best friend’s wrath had not yet caught up with me. I was only hearing the voice of every cowboy who has been bucked off” “Get back on the horse or you’ll never ride again.” It’s true, by the way.

That little girl did what I told her to do. She got back on. And I let go, again. And the joy in her face as she balanced, pedaled, and braked was priceless. She spent the rest of the day riding with the other kids, keeping up with them and laughing with them.

Meanwhile, I ran back into the house and with shaking hands, called my best friend at work to confess what I had done and to assure her that no stitches were required or bones were broken. I hoped she still loved me.

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