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Training Wheels and Training Dad – How Our Four-Year-Old Taught Me to Let Go
I think our son will fail, at least at first. It’s in the letter right? Like a sparrow spreading its wings for the first time, there is a law for these things and I for one know my part. So, in May of this year as the pink roses were falling on the street in front of our house in Vancouver, I invited our four-year-old Jonah on the site and prepared myself for the seven-step process, how I read it –
1) Expect fear. Riding a bike without training wheels is a leap in a child’s development. It can raise a few goose bumps, so be gentle, be patient, remember yourself first. Give a “If-I-can-do-it-you-can” pep talk when removing extra wheels from the bike.
2) Take bikes, diapers and children outside to the street, park, or school. All the while, keep the parents sound bites and pats on the back. More than anything, your child needs support and reassurance.
3) Put your child on the bike. While holding the back of the chair, invite him to put their feet on the pedals and balance. Take deep, moderate breaths, using good visualization (you do these things; it’s a big step for you too).
4) Start your engine! Let’s hold the saddle and run with your child as they pedal to where –
a) Your child is ready to fly solo.
b) You run out of oil through your proclivity for whipped-cream lattes.
5) Save your child. Assuming that you do not fall into the 4b) profile, race out to your unsuspecting person who seems to scream in the wheel, neck, and tears.
6) Console, the nurse, tell your child about the Wright brothers’ first attempt to fly. Whatever it takes, bring it back to the bike. Coax the words “I can do it” from their lips.
7) Repeat steps 3-6 as necessary, until can-do confidence overtakes your child’s wobbly world, and their newfound freedom sails them over the edge edge, don’t come back again (in fact, that’s the way when you give them the car keys. the first time).
8) Ignore steps 1-7, if your child says they don’t need your help.
Whoa. Where does the number 8 come from? I wish I had read it, because when Jonah said – scramble Dad, I can handle it (in many words), I felt like I was the one who was kicked out of the nest.
Jonah will not have these Seven Habits of Two-Wheeled Success. In fact, from the beginning, he decided to pedal to a new level of life on his own terms.
“Don’t be afraid,” I said, patting his bug helmet. “You’ll be fine. You’ll lose, but-“
“I’m not afraid Papa. I’m ready,” he said, as the wrench slipped out of the nut and pulled the pad from my thumb. I stuck the blood out of my mouth, and smiled at Jonah’s thought. We’ll see, I think, picture myself, at that age five no less, splayed out on the sidewalk, entangled in my bike, picking gravel out of the palm of my hand.
Well, the Wright brothers talk is packed for the other day, because it’s A for Jonah. After a year and a half of spinning his training wheels along the seawall skirting False Creek, he was ready.
I want to say something about his father. Before I could even take a deep breath and see the good, Jonah got into the saddle, like a wind blowing from English Bay.
“Hold on a minute Champ,” I said, holding the table. “Everything will be a little shaky. Let’s balance -“
“Come on Dad,”
“Jonah, it’s not that easy -.”
So, I gave up. But I hold my hope. I hope that step 5. I reach for the bandage when I have to hold the video camera.
Jonah hammered down on the top pedal like James Dean hitting the gas Rebel without reason. Out he went. Here is no chip out of the inept block. Sure, he weebled, he wobbled, but, unlike his old age, he didn’t fall. He has no fear, no sweat, but a lot of pride. He orchestrated a smooth turn through a bank of flowers and pedaled back to me with a smile as wide as his handlebars. It was then that I realized that I still had a role to play.
I raised my hand and clenched my fist.
“Great Jonah!” I said, “You did it – and all by yourself.”
Jonah beamed. He couldn’t stop giggling. He bounced his saddle like a jockey riding Sea Biscuit down the home stretch. After what should have been victory laps down the road (I followed, announcing to all the passerby, “It’s my son – first try”), I invited Jonah inside to celebrate.
“Shut up!” he said.
“Great,” I said.
“With whipping cream.”
“Yes, why not,” I laughed, as I packed the tires in a Safeway bag. It will be a while, if ever, until a young cyclist in training needs my help. But I’ll be ready this time – ready for anything.
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