I rode a bike yesterday.
Many of you probably read that and thought, “Uh…ok?” Maybe you went for a bike ride with your kids yesterday. Maybe you’re a triathlete. Maybe you commute to work, or at least you did when we all went to our offices. But me? I hadn’t been on a bike in over 20 years.
As in, I have not ridden a bicycle since I was 14- and even then, it was a rented bike I rode for two hours on vacation with my family. Biking as a hobby was never really my thing- I lived at the top of a steep driveway, on a hill, at the bottom of a much larger hill, with not a sidewalk in sight. But it really broke down for me when I graduated to bikes that required hand brakes vs. coaster brakes.
For those who don’t know me, it would help to know that I was born with a congenital hand deformity that left me (gratefully) with “normal” thumbs, with fingers significantly shorter than average. Frankly, it’s not something I talk about or think about much these days-all in all, it hasn’t really kept me from doing anything. I have a great life- family, friends and children who love me, and a husband who loves holding my hand and put a pretty ring on my short little finger. Which, BTW, I look forward to wearing again when I shake off a little more pregnancy weight. As far as limitations go, I don’t have many- I can’t bowl for shit, but I’m at peace with that. And then, bikes. That one day on vacation, on the rented bike, I found my fingers struggled to reach the brakes. I never crashed or failed to stop when I needed to, nor did I fully trust that when it came down to it, I could grab on and hold tight enough. What if I couldn’t maintain control?
And if there is ANYTHING I hate, it’s not having control. I’m sure no one else relates.
So really, at the tender age of 14, I closed the book on bikes. I wrote it off. “That’s just not a thing I do”, I’d tell myself. And then I had a daughter.
My daughter Sadie is the most delightful human. She’s wicked smart, funny, and has bright blue eyes and lashes that are just plain unfair. She has attitude for days (for better or worse) and the kindest, sweetest soul. Like me, she loves making music and jokes, even when they aren’t funny. Like me, she loves to sing. Like me, she’s pretty good at it. And just like me, she hates feeling out of control. When Sadie was a baby, she’d have major sleep regressions every time she was learning a new skill. My research taught me that she was “practicing” in her sleep. My initial response to this was “what sleep?”, but I would eventually see her just take off with that new skill. I’ll never know what was happening in her little brain when she learned to crawl- I just know that one day she just started doing it. My girl showed little interest in walking at first–walking is hard, after all. But then one day she just…walked. Like she’d been doing it for months. And so it’s always been for my big girl- she doesn’t want to do anything if she’s not 99.9% she can do it well.
I have NO idea where she gets that.
Anyway, such a mindset doesn’t bode particularly well for a newly-minted 5-year-old. Girlfriend has a lot to learn, and deciding that she’s not up for making mistakes along the way isn’t going to benefit her. Nothing has made this more apparent than the saga of trying to get Sadie to ride a bike. We’ve tried a balance bike, and training wheels, and holding the handle bars and helping her steer. No dice. As quarantine dragged on, our desperation to get her to enjoy riding a bike only increased – as did her insistence that she just not. It was honestly a little exhausting.
We decided to try another angle: we bought her a scooter for her birthday. Maybe something a little closer to the ground would feel more accessible? Maybe mastering the scooter would inspire the confidence needed to master the bike?
Sadie and the scooter took their maiden voyage together yesterday afternoon. She pushed off and started rolling, immediately got scared and dragged herself to a stop, and then–wait for it– KICKED the scooter before marching herself back into the garage. That’s my kid, all right. Somehow we got her to try again. And again. And soon, she was getting it. And then she was loving it. At one point, I asked my husband to get out the bike I’d borrowed from my mom. “How hard can it be?”, I thought, hoping that seeing me on the bike combined with her newfound scooter love would propel Sadie right onto her bike.
As Ryan wheeled the beast out to me, I wondered if the bike had always been that huge. I took the handle bars and thought, “my, this is heavy!” Then I wiggled my way onto the seat. I pushed off with my right foot and was utterly shocked at how quickly I lurched to the left. I made my first attempt to balance and pedal and nearly faceplanted onto my driveway, in front of my daughter, in front of my HUSBAND. It was mortifying. I questioned out loud (very loud) why this wasn’t just coming back to me.
“It’s like riding a bike!”, they say! Pardon my French, but that is plain bullshit. Fight me.
I don’t recall a time where I’ve felt so out of my element. It took me roughly 11 tries to make an attempt at pedaling- and I’d go in a straight line for a few feet and then panic/flail until one of my feet made contact with the ground. I barely attempted to use the hand brakes, convinced I couldn’t reach them. If I’m being really honest, I wanted to dismount the damn thing and give it a solid kick before marching back into the house.
Well, crap. Like mother, like daughter, yes? And she was watching me. Turns out, she’s always watching me.
So today, we loaded the bike and the scooter into the back of the truck and drove to an empty parking lot a mile or so away. She zipped off on her scooter, confident in forward motion, but only able to stop herself by jumping off, and turn by literally lifting the scooter and repositioning it. Meanwhile, I zipped off on my bike, screeching to a stop instead of turning. So I yelled out to my daughter:
“Sadie! I’m feeling nervous about turning! What should I do?”
“Just be brave, Mom! Do it a little bit at a time!”
So I did. I eased the handlebars to the right. This lasted for 20 minutes, because I had apparently developed some kind of goddamn Derek Zoolander complex and couldn’t turn left. But then I did. And when I glanced over at my daughter, I saw that she too was cautiously leaning into turns. “You inspired her”, my husband called out.
“I think she inspired me”, I called back.
Spoiler alert: I am still relearning to ride a bike at 34 years of age (and my daughter still won’t get on hers, but we’re optimistic). I skidded to a stop with my feet flailing more than once today. I reached for the brakes more times than I can count. But you know what? I DID reach them. Truth be told, I probably always could. It was never about the bike. It was never about the brakes. I was the only one telling me I “don’t ride bikes”, and the only one standing in my way.
I could always reach- I just needed to believe that I could, and trust that even if I fell, I’d be okay. And as I made my 3rd consecutive left turn on that bike today like a freakin’ BOSS, it occurred to me that I can apply the same reasoning to every other thing in my life I’ve told myself I can’t or “just don’t do.” It occurred to me that I can keep showing my daughters how to do the same. Doubt and fear creep in so easily, and hold on so tight. You’re bound to falter and sway a bit as you shake them off, but if you can withstand the fleeting unsteady moments, you’ll find your rhythm. It’s a lesson worth learning once, and a thousand times more. Even if you think you’ve forgotten, it always comes back.
Kind of like riding a bike.