Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I feel that there are certain basic, life skills that all people should acquire during childhood. For example, tying shoelaces would be one of them. So would cutting food with a knife and fork. Also, the theme of my post today, learning to ride a bike. Oh, Lord.
My daughter taught herself to ride a two-wheeler at her preschool, when she was four. Her best friend could do it, and therefore, in her typical, competitive, self-sufficient manner, she wanted to be able to do it, too. And so she hopped on a bike and figured it out.
The only effort required by me and my husband was buying her a bike of her own and taking her to the park a few times to practice. By the time she was six, she was dodging tourists on the bike path in Santa Monica, and keeping up with the grownups on our annual five mile ride during our summer vacation.
Thinking that our son would be similar, when he turned five, we got him a tricked out, bright yellow bike with black letters scrawled across the axle and a chain ring that was painted to look like a spinning razor blade. If you hadn’t seen the training wheels squeaking along in the back, you would have thought he was sponsored.
Let me tell you, the kid kicked ass on those training wheels. And he did not want to take them off. Ever. If it were up to him, he’d be fifteen and riding a ten-speed with those training wheels dragging along behind him.
When he turned six, we convinced him to let us try just lifting the training wheels up off the ground a teensy tiny bit. He made it for about three revolutions before he panicked and started to cry. “It was wobbly,” he said, and he didn’t like it. Not at all. Back down went the training wheels.
On our annual summer vacation bike ride – where you couldn’t rent bikes with training wheels – we instead rented one of those baby trailers with a mesh tent, and my husband pulled him in it, even though he weighed sixty pounds and looked like Gulliver riding in a Lilliputian carriage.
At seven, however, we insisted that it was time to take off the training wheels. He cried and sobbed and complained and said he was too scared. So we got him this special, gyroscopic front wheel that creates extra stability and prevents you from falling down, and we replaced his regular front wheel with it.
But it didn’t work. He was still too scared, and he pedaled so slow that even the gyroscope was like, dude, I can stabilize a lot of things, but if you’re going to ride like a ninety year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis, then there’s not much I can do for you.
So, that summer, it was back in the mesh tent. On some of the uphill climbs, my husband made him get out and walk next to his bike because he was just too damn heavy to pull.
At eight, we tried again. This time there were bribes. Pokemon cards, extra video game time, Lego sets. But he could not be swayed. He didn’t understand, he cried, why he had to learn to ride a bike if he hated it so much.
I explained to him that riding a bike is something kids do, and that when he was older and his friends wanted to go bike riding around the neighborhood together, it would be really embarrassing if he still needed training wheels in order to go with them.
He was all, “I would never want to go with them. I would always tell them no.” And I was like, that’s fine, you can tell them no all you want, but it’s going to be because you don’t want to go, not because you don’t know how.
I gave him a little z-formation snap thing, and I was all, uh-uh, you are not gonna’ be one of those people who grows up and doesn’t know how to ride a bike and then blames it on your parents for not teaching you. I don’t think so.
So we persisted. Despite his crying and his whining and his complaining, we made him go out and try, again and again and again. I felt bad – I mean, nobody wants to be that parent who forces their kid to do something they hate – but in this case, I knew that I was right to force him.
I mean, what would happen when he has his own kids? What kind of dad doesn’t know how to ride a bike? And my son is so sensitive; he falls apart if I just look at him the wrong way. Could you imagine if his own kids teased him for needing training wheels when he’s forty? Oh, my God, he would be such a mess. And then, finally, he got it. He could ride a bike! But only on grass. Cement, he declared, was way too scary.
We just got back from our annual vacation, and the guy at the bike rental place said that he was too big for the mesh tent this year. (Finally. Nice to know the bike rental place has some standards).
But since he won’t ride on cement by himself, we had to rent a tandem bike instead. He sat on the back seat and pedaled behind my husband, and he said, see, mom, I can ride. This is fine. Why can’t we just get one of these at home? And I was like, yeah, that’s awesome. When your friends want to go bike riding, be sure to ask them if anyone wants to double up with you on your tandem bike.
So now he’s about to turn nine in a few weeks, and really, enough is enough. Last night, we made him practice on cement. He was scared, and crying, and complaining the entire time, but he did it. He rode back and forth on the cement path at the park for twenty minutes. He fell once, but we made him get back on and keep going, and he did it.
I wish I could say that at the end of it he smiled and said he loved it and that he wanted to do it again and again. But he didn’t. Not even close. Instead, he sniffled and sobbed and asked me, once again, why we forced him to do this awful thing that he hates and that he never wants to do ever again for the rest of his life.
And I told him: There are just some things you have to learn to do when you’re a kid. And one day, you’ll thank me for it.