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The Weekend Of The Bike

Dear Maddie:

This weekend, my baby, you looked one of your worst fears in the face. And you kicked its butt

Last week, reasonably out of the blue, you decided to dust off your bicycle – not ridden in almost four years because of a one-time fall – and give it another shot. You spent the weekend joyfully rediscovering what it feels like to put the pedal to the metal and truly enjoyed riding that bike – though it’s too small for you and your nearly-eight-year-old legs.

You rode the bike to school one day, having thought about what it would look like for a second-grader to ride a bike with training wheels but deciding to do it anyway. I don’t know if anyone teased you about it, but I know the training wheels have weighed heavy on your mind all week; by Wednesday you asked me if I could raise the wheels up a bit so you could start practicing riding on just two wheels.

And then came Friday.

After school you wanted to ride that bike again. We got it out, and you gave it a shot with the newly-raised training wheels. You noticed what it felt like to wobble from side to side, but said it was too hard to try to balance in between with the wheels still so close to the ground.

“Raise them up some more,” you said.

I got out the tool kit and went to work, but before I’d finished you stopped me. “Mommy,” you said, your voice trembling, “go ahead and take the training wheels off.”

I looked at you.

“Are you sure?” I asked evenly. You nodded, thought the fear was visible in your eyes.

So we took them off.

We must have gone around our circle a hundred times, me firmly grasping the back of your seat as you figured out what riding a two-wheel bike felt like. You’d start to falter in the turn and I’d let you fall to the side so you could feel what it felt like, and your foot would hit the ground. “Oh no, oh no!” you cried, tears streaming down your face, panic barely suppressed beneath the surface.

“Do you want to stop?” I’d offer.

We kept going.

Baby, I have never seen you face your fear head on like that. You’ve always been a live-with-it kind of gal, allowing yourself to slooooooooowly get acclimated to whatever scared you – often over a period of months or years – until you were ready to deal with it. Then you’d find the joy in this new thing – swinging from a trapeze, going under water in the pool, whatever – and say, “I can’t believe I was ever scared of this!”

But this? This was different. You pushed yourself through this – no hanging back and getting comfy. I think that, for the first time in your life, you were able to look at this thing and see the big picture: to put it in perspective, and conquer the fear before you conquered the action. Splitting hairs? Possibly. But oh, so important here. You didn’t wait for the fear to go away: you mastered it IN SPITE OF YOUR FEAR. And on your own terms.

For whatever reason, taking those wheels off was important to you. And you did it. You rode outside for nearly two hours, dazzling me, your grandmother, and your daddy as you went further and further at a time without putting your feet down. We had to force you to come inside for the night.

This weekend will forever be the Weekend of the Bike: We rode for over two miles on Saturday, when you learned the hard lesson that What Goes Down Must Come Back Up Again. At first on the mammoth uphill return you said over and over, crying, “This is too hard! This is too hard!” And I replied, “No, it’s not TOO hard. It’s just hard. That’s all. But you can do this."

And as we rode the next few blocks I could hear you whispering to yourself, “It’s just hard. That’s all. But I can do this.”

Sunday we went to the big bike shop and found you your new best friend: a beautiful light-blue bike with streamers and a basket and a bell and everything. We took that puppy out and broke it in with another bike ride- about three miles this time – and I can see that there’s simply no stopping you now.

And what will become of your old bike? Well, Cora’s ready for it, I know. Though we’ll have to put the training wheels back on for her.

Or not. She spent a lot of time watching you out the window Friday, and you’d be surprised what she learns from watching her big sister.

Way to go, kiddo.




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