This is bike week during gym at Nina’s school, which brought a reckoning. Nina had yet to attempt riding without training wheels — she said she just wasn’t ready. But when we parked in front of the bike drop-off field Monday morning, I looked at her in the rear view mirror and saw her face blanch. None of the other bikes had training wheels.
“Mama! Take off my training wheels! Please, you have to!” she pleaded.
“But you’ve never ridden without them,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out. You’ve just got to take them off!”
As the bell rang and she ran to her classroom, I sat in the car staring at the bikes, wondering what to do. Would I be allowing her to cave in to peer pressure, at the risk of getting hurt? Or would I be honoring her decision, trusting that she’d handle the challenge. Which would be more painful — embarrassment or skinned knees?
When Nina was ten-months old, her dad enrolled her in daycare two afternoons a week. He thought I needed the time, and that she needed the separation from my protective grip. I worried that she would be scared, that she was too young. But he said, “What if she thrives? What if she really loves it, and it’s good for you both?”
He was right. Her gummy grin widened when she saw the other children in a room full of books and toys. Instead of dissolving into shrieks and tears each time I dropped her off, she’d raise her drool-drenched chubby hand and clench it open and closed to say goodbye.
I decided to take the training wheels off. As I was finishing, the gym teacher, “Miss Cookie,” walked over to survey the field of bikes. I explained Nina’s situation to her and she said, “I doubt she’ll be the only one. I’ll work with her in the grass so the falls are softer.” I told her I felt a little guilty that she’d need to give my child more attention because of something I hadn’t yet taught her to do, and she invited me to come back later that day to help.
Anxiety gnawed on me during the five hours until it was time for her class to ride. When the kids finally did run out to the field, I watched Nina struggle to keep her bike steady while walking it towards me. Her bottom lip was trembling and she quickly wiped away tears. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered, her voice shaking. I knelt down and told her that I’d talked with Miss Cookie and that we would help her learn in a safe way. And she wasn’t alone. Several other second-graders wobbled on their bikes down the gentle slope of the learner’s lawn.
Nina fell many times, but she learned how to fall away from the bike in the process, and her first small successes with balance and pedaling quashed her fear. “Let go,” she’d say when she was ready for me to stopping running alongside her, steadying the bike. Let go.
When she saw the more experienced kids riding laps on the pavement, she declared, “I want to do that.” Within a half hour, she was. I watched her ride past me, singing out loud, while I worked with the kids who were still in the learning area. On the last lap, she saw me and yelled, “Mama! Look!” as she dared to lift one hand — long since grown from being the chubby, drool covered hand of a child who could not yet walk. She waved and gave a thumb’s-up, then rode around the bend, out of sight.