Like Riding a Bicycle
You know that expression “It’s like riding a bicycle.”?
Well it wasn’t.
When a friend surprised us by teaching our son to ride a bike, we thought the hard part was over. Our trip to Shelby Park was meant to be a follow-up ride, a chance for Gus to show off his amazing new skills.
He straddled his bike with his helmet perched atop his head like a giant mushroom.
“I can’t do it,” he said.
“Just take a deep breath,” we told him, “and push off with your foot.”
“Or better yet,” I said, staring at my child, who in a split second had gone from upright to lying on the ground in a teary heap of knees and elbows, “You could topple off your bike for no apparent reason!”
“You were supposed to hold me up!” he barked. “I can’t DO it by myself.”
“But you did it at your friend’s house!” I said. “Remember? IT’S LIKE RIDING A BICYCLE!”
He ordered me to hold onto his bike and not let go, “No matter how well I’m doing.”
I wasn’t expecting Lance Armstrong, but as I ran along gripping the back of his seat, it seemed a force far greater than gravity was working on my child. He was wobbling along at a 45-degree angle, as if Satan himself were pulling Gus toward the earth’s core.
“Sit up straight,” I said, irritated. “You have to balance!”
“I am balancing,” he yelled, as his right ear scraped along the pavement.
I took a deep, cleansing breath and instructed myself to be patient. We are making memories, I told myself. Precious, precious memories that will last the rest of his … oh for @#%$’s sake!
He’d fallen again and was lying in the path of a young couple who were walking their dog.
“Sorry,” I said. “We’re still learning.”
The guy smiled. “Brings back memories of my dad teaching me to ride a bike.”
“And would those be precious, precious memories?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed. “I remember lots of screaming. And threats.”
As Gus continued to stop and start and veer wildly along the path, onlookers smiled empathetically.
“ARE THEY LAUGHING AT ME?” Gus asked.
“Not at all!” I told him. “It’s just that everyone remembers their first time on a bicycle.”
Everyone except the hardcore cycling enthusiasts who whizzed past us, furiously flicking their bicycle bells. One woman, who obviously owns more shares of the public park than we do, barreled toward us at approximately 150 miles per hour, screaming “GET THAT KID OUT OF THE WAY!”
Clearly she never had to learn how to ride a bike; she just pedaled out of her mother’s vagina on a 10-speed.
For the next hour, we cheered and encouraged (and occasionally bribed and threatened and made unfair comparisons to friends who have been riding two-wheelers since they were 3) while our son pedaled and swayed and lurched.
“Do you think there’s something wrong with him?” I asked my husband. “When my dad taught me to ride a bike, I got it in one try.”
“That’s how I remember it too,” he said. “It seemed so easy.”
“USE YOUR BRAKES, PAL,” my husband yelled.
“I AM!” Gus cried as he crashed into a tree.
“Can we just forget about this?” Gus sniffed. “It’s too hard. Can we please just go home?”
I pictured him at 18, riding around his college campus, backpack slung over his broad shoulders, tasting freedom for the first time, on a bike with training wheels.
“The only way you’re leaving this park,” I said, “is on that bicycle.”
Finally something clicked. It was as if all the spokes in the bicycle hemisphere of his brain suddenly lit up. He rode a full one-mile loop and brought himself to a complete stop, unscathed.
The other day, I took him to the bike shop to repair his first flat tire, and we reminisced.
“What do your remember about the day you learned to ride?” I asked.
“You kept saying, ‘Go, Gussy, go!’”
“Yeah,” he said. “And I just … got it!”
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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