There is a classic “Adulting” Some E card that states, “Being an adult is like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. And you’re on fire. And everything is on fire. And you’re in hell.” Which I thought was completely hilarious, until my husband and me, both arguably adults, attempted to teach our daughters to ride actual bikes this morning.
My own childhood memories of learning to ride a bike are a recollection that shares only one thing in common with what I experienced today. I have an older sister, who is smart and funny, charismatic and beautiful; she has long limbs and blonde hair with blue eyes, she knows plenty of jokes both clean and dirty and when she does whatever it is she is trying to do, it comes off as effortless and looks super easy and fun. That last part is crucial to what I tell you next. So that darling girl swings her leg over her bike, a pedal and a push, hair flying and eyes twinkling as she eases down the street. Rounder and awkward, meaty hands sweaty and prayerful, I gripped the new foam of my snazzy white Hampton beach cruiser, willing my pudgy thighs to comply in propelling me forward. Then there was blood, there was so much blood. I fell and I fell again and again and again. My mom was gentle as she dabbed hydrogen peroxide on my palms, and the trails of tears off my dirty cheeks with a good dish towel, its diamond pattern soothing more than my temporary injuries.
There is my husband’s story, which is the stuff of legend. A neighborhood kid, Daniel, was giving away his bike, once treasured, now in a rusted state of decay and my husband was all too ready to learn how to ride. He fell and he fell and he fell, on sidewalks and grassy havens beside them. Thirsty and face planting, he soldiered on, breaking his falls with his elbows, with his knees, with his hands. Against his mother’s pleas, he crashed. He righted himself and fueled by the four seconds of gliding (broken by yet another crash), he continued, winded and bloody until he soared. Later he would sand that bike down, and his father would repaint it, later he would find the cadence in cycling, earned by coming up through the ranks one hard landing at a time.
Big sister’s bike is shiny and full of promise; its glittery purple paint inhabits a vibe both regal and free-spirited. There are tokens already threaded into the spokes, offering the same chime that as kids my husband and I achieved with baseball cards, traded with chalky sticks of flavorless gum, so that you could hear us approach, a trumpeter of the 99 cent variety. On hers, there is an attached soft case for sunglasses, or a water bottle, or an I-Phone should the rider of the sub-5 foot set require Pandora or Siri to assist her. There are iridescent streamers to echo the nostalgia of untethered hair, because now we all know we should have hair firmly secured out of the way of the chin strap of today’s non-negotiable helmets.
With each of her incessant appeals to please be taught how to ride this bike, my stomach recoiled. There would be blood. She would fall. She would suck at it, at least in the beginning. It was too hot, too early, there wasn’t a great place to ride in our neighborhood (cue my Husband’s smiling proffer that in the desired county there were endless sidewalks installed in neighborhoods, with a view of the beach, no less). And so her bike sat in the shed, an interloper amongst the lawnmower, the weed eater, the shovels and the other consequential neighbors.
Until this morning found us in a state of restless expanse, without any urgent obligation or predetermined location already committed to. I tried too hard and maybe smiled too phony at my husband’s suggestion that we work on bike riding today. “Great idea”, I brightened, “she would love that”!
I should fill you in on the backstory that Little Sister had a bike graciously given to her which she had outgrown and no longer had, leaving one bike for two children. Also, though training wheels would certainly aide both children; they flatly refused to be seen (by who? Their Mommy and Daddy?!) using them. At the time this idea floated through our living room, about 10:00 a.m., it was already ninety-three degrees, and 75% humidity (Florida forever!). Our dog, a German Shepard not only in breed, but characteristically ( I shall protect, I shall serve, I shall work until I can no longer) had been subtly reminding me I hadn’t held up my end of the agreement we brokered . One where he sits majestically surveying the compound, ready to spring into action, yet not being destructive or needy and I feed him upon waking and make sure to exercise his demons by way of a daily run so that he can accomplish his goal. His point had been recently reinforced by the gifting of mutilated Barbies, of shredded napkins snatched from the kitchen, and the guttural sigh of indignation as he relinquished himself to another day gone by without so much as a neighborhood walk.
Undeterred in this mission, I added air to Big Sister’s bike tires, grabbed Little Sister’s Ziggle, two bike helmets, ice waters, the dog’s vest and plastic bags should the need for them arise. My husband put gas in his truck, as he intuitively knew driving to an alternate location would up the ante and simultaneously provide a good out should we all fall apart. The dog paced the back seats, over the tops of the girls feet, reckless and whining as we crept along behind a recently detailed cross over.
As soon as we pulled into the church parking lot (bustling with landscaping trucks, there to trim trees), I could sense fear in Big Sister and frustration in my husband. “Our own street has more space than this”, he said to no one in particular. “Are you sure this will be okay?” Big sister questioned, intimidated by the fact she was about to get what she had asked for. Relentless, I tried to win over my audience, placating my daughter with tales of how fun this would be, how Daddy and I would be right there, how she had nothing to worry about.
She started. She wobbled. Her knees were apart; her focus remained at her feet. My husband went into instructor mode, explaining balance, velocity, and her role in transportation. Her lip quivered, her ego bristling at the mere lesson. There were moments of elation (her gentle urging that I “Let go, Momma, Let me go now”). There were water breaks and shade brakes, and near breakdowns because there wasn’t equal ride time, it was so hot, the dog was breathing too heavily…). When I pulled the plug (32 minutes, in case you wondered), I felt like a capital F Failure.
What was missing? What had I done wrong? Why weren’t we having SO. MUCH. FUN.? The fun is in the falling. Its picking yourself up, bruised and beaten and having those battle scars not deter you. It’s springing back up when you quickly contemplate laying down to die (I was always melodramatic, even as a young bike rider). There is little gained when your handlebars are held for you while an ice cold drink sits at the ready. Tomorrow, we might try again, but she will have to ask. She will have to want to ride, she will have to be willing to fall and barring that, she will have to be able to take some advice and put it in to action. She has nearly outgrown this bike and she’s only sat on it a handful of times. But there is a scrappy set of eyes on her, with a rueful smile on her lips and familiar squeeze of determination in the way she grips handlebars. I have no doubt that when the time is right they both will soar.