Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The cycle of life

I got my first bicycle in May 1978 when I was 7 years old. It was a black and silver not-quite-a-BMX bike with a giant shock absorber across the middle bar, and it was a present for my first Communion. I was a small second-grader, and I don't think my parents realized how big this bike was. But this was before you saw many of the little bikes you see today that are aimed at smaller kids. My dad installed training wheels, but training wheels were different then, too, usually with only one on the ground at any given time instead of two. Being so high up on this bike and not feeling balanced freaked me out too much. My parents must have wondered what was wrong with me (because I also was too frightened of water); I hope they didn't get mad that they bought me a bike I refused to ride.

I did learn how to ride a bike the next summer: My sister's Prairie Flower. It was smaller and easier to balance. I think what drove me finally figure it out was finding out a 6-year-old neighbor (as well as my sister) had figured out a two-wheeler, and here was I at 8 and I couldn't. I didn't figure out my bike until March 1980 -- fourth grade. Once I did, I rode it everyplace -- even when it started falling apart, even after I wiped out on it, even after I got my pants stuck in it and an elderly woman across the alley had to come out with a pair of scissors and cut a small part of my pant leg out -- until I got a 10-speed for Christmas in 1983.

I'm telling this story to contrast to Eldest's bike-riding history. I bought him one of those little bikes (though this one wasn't as little as the one I'd buy Littlest) with training wheels when he was 3. The training wheels fell off a year later, and rather than try fanagling them back on, we tackled two wheels, which he eventually mastered at age 4 1/2. He outgrew this bike, so late last summer at age 6, he switched to a bigger Trek mountain bike Wife found a garage sale. He was shaky at first but has figured out the handbrakes and gears. Yesterday, at age 7 -- the same age I was when I got my first bike -- he tackled his first big downhill, smiling the entire way and stopping right where I wanted him to stop (I was waiting for him in case he didn't). He also rode uphill, downshifting for some extra pedal power.

Oh, he also has ripped a pant leg in the pedals. At least he didn't need a old lady to free him.

I sometimes must remind myself when Eldest is frustrating me on things he won't try or isn't getting that there are plenty of things that I am amazed he can do at his age. The big bike was helped along by the fact he's so tall (almost 4-foot-6; I didn't get there until I was almost 10), but sheer will and determination helped. And there are things I could do when I was 7 that he can't yet. Each kid is different; each adult is different; each person is different.

Littlest's training wheels fell off his bike, and we are going to move him up to Eldest's old bike and see if he can learn a two-wheeler. If he doesn't right away, we will keep trying and not get discouraged. After all, at age 4, Littlest jumped off a diving board and swam back to the side on his own. I didn't do that until I was 36.

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