Dropping my six year old son off for a bike day, it never crossed my mind that he was behind when it came to bike riding. He had his cool little bright yellow Tony Hawk bike and his lightning helmet. Even after seeing the sea of bikes the brick didn’t hit me. I told him to have fun and shooed my little lamb and his training wheels straight to slaughter.
That day, at pickup, a little girl asked me, “Is it true Emmett broke his arm when he took his training wheels off?” I looked over at my son, saw his panic-stricken face, and felt every ounce of him willing me to have his back on this one. “I just forgot to take the training wheels off. Sorry!” I quickly ushered him to the car to avoid any further interrogation. Tossing the elephant into the back of the car, we sped off, neither of us saying a word.
Finally, to break the silence, I broached the topic. “How was bike day, buddy?” “Fine” came his terse reply. My mind was reeling with guilt. I flashed back to my first bike, at age 5, and remembered my Dad teaching me in the cul-de-sac in front of our home. That’s it! My guilt was assuaged. We had pavement! Of course he didn’t know how to ride a bike yet. How do you learn on a gravel driveway? I was instantly relieved.
Flash forward to a nice evening with friends, watching the kids play. Suddenly this little girl, the interrogator from bike day, is 40-feet up a tree. Unbelievable! My son could never do that, I thought in amazement. Watching her, she shimmied down the tree and stopped to tie her shoelace before running off to ride her training wheel free bike. “She’s so capable!” I said to her Dad, not realizing my six year old son was standing next to me, watching the exact same performance. “I know,” he scowled, and stormed away. There was no denying that he blamed me. I felt horrible.
The biking deficiency gnawed at me slightly over the next week, but I was able to shelve it again in my mind as I watched my sons out on the beach, happily digging for crabs, finding eels and building their ecosystems. They weren’t deprived, I convinced myself; they just had other interests. My bubble of denial was working well. That is, until it was popped by the “intervention.”
My friend brought her sons over for an impromptu afternoon play date that turned into a leisurely dinner, chatting at length while the boys played. When she told me a story of her kids bike riding, it reminded me of the story of the little girl interrogator. I shared it with her, nervously laughing about my son’s elaborate lie to cover the fact that he was still using training wheels. Awkward silence. “Well,” she began, “my son looked at me that day when he saw Emmett’s bike. I asked him what he was thinking.” There was a revelation coming. I hung on every word. “He said to me, I wasn’t going to say anything!” She said she asked him why, and his reply was, “Because he’s my friend.” Of course this cryptic conversation between the two of them was in regards to my son’s training wheels. It was a classic intervention moment when the one in denial has a harsh realization that changes everything. I burst into tears.
Though I felt like a failure as a parent for not getting my kids up to speed physically, I also questioned my susceptibility to peer pressure as I compared myself to other parents, and judged my kids according to others’ abilities. I heard that little girl’s voice in my head, “Haven’t you taken them skiing yet?” No, but we will, I promised without much conviction. I remembered a skating party where the kids all roller-skated confidently while mine clung to the wall. Must get them skating lessons, I thought immediately. Thinking back to a recent pool party where my two were the only kids in life jackets, we quickly signed them up for swimming lessons. Or when my son was nervous at school playing soccer, saying, “My friends said that wasn’t a goal!” We immediately signed him up for soccer. But, I reminded myself he was reluctant to play tennis at first but after practicing he developed a masterful backhand for his age. It was time to practice bike riding.
The other day was my moment. I announced it without a drum roll, not wanting to make a big deal about the event. Knowing my son, the bigger the commotion, the bigger his complaining would be. And it started right away. “I’m busy right now. I’ll do it later. I don’t want to ride my bike without training wheels!” My four year old, on the other hand, seemed all for it. “Come on! We’re riding without training wheels today!”
I marched them outside, purposefully ignoring the droning commentary from my eldest son, who was busy trying to convince me I had lost my mind. He was making it clear he had no interest in biking. Knowing this was an important precipice, I forged on. Turn, turn, turn, clunk. One training wheel off. His voice got louder. Turn, turn, turn, clunk. The second training wheel was off. His voice reached a fevered pitch. “I don’t want to ride my bike! You’ll let go and I’ll fall!” My voice was remarkably calm. “I won’t let go. I’ll hold on the whole time. You’ll be fine.”
My four year old jumped on his bike for moral support and cheered his brother on as we approached the gravel starting line. Running alongside my son, we were halfway down the driveway when I first let go. My arms were in the air, victorious, relieved, and proud. He was doing it! Then, a close call as he screeched to a halt. “You let go!” He yelled, accusingly. “My back was itchy from the sun,” I said. “Let’s try again. I won’t let go.” Again and again we repeated the sequence and litany of complaints until my son was doing it on his own. No training wheels. No fear. It took all of about fifteen minutes.
Enjoying a popsicle reward after the accomplishment, my son reminded me that his brother, who was happily enjoying his treat as well, hadn’t tried to ride without his training wheels. “I like my training wheels,” he announced without an ounce of shame. “He’s only four,” I said protectively. It was one of those moments of clarity, where I could see the fine line between enabling and disabling our kids; a precarious tightrope we walk as parents. But, in that moment I was also reminded that every child is different and reaches milestones at their individual pace. What was the hurry anyway? I asked myself as I stared at the son I had just pushed out of the nest, eating his popsicle and enjoying the confidence he had gained through mastering this new skill. “His time will come,” I reassured my eldest. Just like yours did.
For tips on helping your child become bike ready, visit Livestrong.com.