Michelle Martin

Like riding a bike

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

We’ve been remiss in teaching Teresa to ride a bike.

She had a tricycle, which she liked to pedal down the sidewalk and even a block over and across the street to the playground. She had a tiny two-wheeler with training wheels, too.

But somehow last year, she never got much time to ride it. At least, not enough time to make taking the training wheels off ever seem like a good idea.

She’s sprouted a few inches since last summer, and now she’s big enough for Caroline’s old bike, one that’s too big for training wheels anyway. So if she’s going to ride it, she’s going to have to learn how to balance on two wheels.

She’ll be fine, I know. In her first 15 or 20 minutes, she’s managed to glide a few seconds at a time without me holding on to the bike. Physically, she’s pretty much got it. Now all she needs is the confidence — belief in herself and in the laws of physics — that if she keeps pedaling she’ll stay upright.

Instead, as soon as she realizes that no one is holding on to her, she hits the brakes — and, of course, ends up leaning to the side, where one of three things will happen: she’ll fall, she’ll remember to put her foot down or I’ll reach out and grab the bike, at which point she’ll start pedaling again, this time leaning toward me.

I try to discourage that because you can’t ride a bike that’s consistently leaning to the side, at least not independently, and it makes for a tired and sore arm on my part.

I tell Teresa to try again, and she says, “Don’t let go of me this time, Mom,” and I don’t answer, because if I say what I want to — “This whole riding a bike thing won’t happen if I never let go” —will only lead to an argument, and agreeing while fully intending to let go anyway would be lying. It doesn’t matter; she knows I’m going to let go when she seems steady, and she’s not surprised when I do. She just hits the brakes, and we start again.

I’m not sure how many repetitions it will take until I let go and she keeps riding. As I recall from Caroline and Frank, it was at least several days of practice and encouragement and advice (“Start by pushing down on the pedal that’s in front,” “look where you want the bike to go,” “keep moving”). We’ve only just started the process, and I’m sure we’ll get through it soon.

In the meantime, I’ll reflect on how what she really needs to do to move forward is get past her fear of falling, keep her focus on the path ahead and just go. God the creator — author of the laws of inertia and everything else — will take care of the rest.


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