We rode our bikes to the library that spring morning and a dad with his son took notice.
“Wow! How long have you been riding, little lady?” he asked.
The question was directed to my first-grader and I bit my lip waiting for her response. I had seen this father’s M.O. before. He was using my daughter’s prowess as a two-wheeler to encourage his own son, who was at least a head-and-a-half taller, maybe a few years older, and definitely what Dad considered behind the curve. Perhaps needle is a better word than encourage.
When Lindsey shrugged and looked to me for back-up, I offered my two cents, explaining how younger siblings usually do things ahead of schedule, how it was all about keeping up with the bigger kids, and how she was small for her age anyway. This was truth-bending, but there was no need to embarrass this kid any further. He was fidgeting with his bike helmet and staring sheepishly at his training wheels.
The thing is, all three of my daughters were confident two-wheelers before their fifth birthdays. It was just part of the grand parenting plan, if you will. You see, I was a kid in a small town where children went everywhere on their skateboards or their bikes and parents let them.
Riding a bike embodied freedom. As the youngest in the family, I watched my sisters and brother take off for school, the park, the pool, and even the movie theater on their bikes. Today, I can’t name a single family whose kids ride their bikes to school, but I wanted my girls to know the sense of independence and freedom that came from waving good-bye to Mommy in the driveway and patrolling the neighborhood looking for adventure.
I remember having a share in this pride at the annual pre-kindergarten “bike day” as each of my little girls (and I mean tenth percentile little) zipped around the parking lot sans training wheels. I remember those iridescent handlebar streamers flying in the breeze and the smiles that spread across the girls’ faces as teachers and classmates commended them on their achievement. And I remember the day the training wheels came off…
“What’s that, Mommy?” My 4-year-old is pointing to two gift bags on the kitchen counter. I hand one of them over and she squeals with delight at the possibilities.
“Let’s open it outside,” I say.
Immediately she sees her bike in the middle of the driveway and figures out something is different. The back tire looks naked minus the bulky training wheels on either side of it. And is that a kick-stand?
When I remind her about the gift bag, she reaches in and pulls out the new safety gear: knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, small fingerless gloves with textured grips. She considers it all as she adjusts pads, fastens straps, and pulls on her helmet.
Today’s the day.
It’s quiet determination with a bit of apprehension I see on her face as she plants herself on the seat and touches each toe to the ground. First, we head to a grassy incline where she learns to balance and coast with her legs straight out, just to experience that two-wheeling feeling. Next I promise not to let go as I run by her side, barely touching the back of the bike seat. “You’re doing it!” I shout, breaking my word and releasing her now. “Just keep pedaling!”
Then we move to a big, empty parking lot where there’s nothing to lose and everything to learn about the basics, like steering and braking. She practices following along the yellow lines and hits her first speed bump with a bottom-jarring jolt. There’s even more squealing, but this time it’s from both of us.
Back home, the second gift bag comes off the kitchen counter. And she just loves the bike bell, or light-up spoke clips, or whatever I bought to help celebrate this milestone. But the real reward is much more significant. In the end, the gift my daughter has received this day is the confidence that comes with being able to ride a bike – something every kid deserves. And something she’ll carry with her forever.
Just keep pedaling, little lady!