Sunday, August 05, 2012

Dragging our feet

“You need to put your foot down!”

No matter how much I think it, say it or feel it, the words never seem to morph into action.

Every time we stop, the kids just sit on their bikes as if they were lawn chairs. The training wheels keep them balanced.

Why would they pay any attention to me, their mother? I'm just trailing along behind on our commute one-half-mile to day camp as they buzz along the sidewalk – the tiny third and fourth wheels branching off their bikes' rear tires scraping against the ground like nails against a chalkboard.

The sound reminds me of yet another failure as a parent: My kids – ages 8 going on 9, and 5 going on 25 – don't know how to ride their bikes.

Not that I haven't tried to rationalize my inaction in this area:

Maybe they're just not ready.”

Or “They're just not interested.”

Or “We live on a high-traffic road.”

There is also my favorite: “The dog ate their helmets.”

That one was good for a least three weeks of blissful inaction until I got around to visiting the sporting goods store.

Once I run out of Perfectly Legitimate ExcusesTM, I just shift the blame.

Isn't it the father's job to teach the kids how to ride bikes?”

Oh ye of shirking feminism.

The truth is, I am scared.

I don't remember when the training wheels came off my bike. I don't know if I was five or seven or nine. Memory has a way a minimizing some stuff and magnifying others.

I do remember falling a lot until I managed to muster enough courage and speed to balance. I remember scraped knees and ankles. I remember pants getting caught in chains.

I also remember the summer a kid got hit by a car and died. At least I remember my mom telling me about it, and reminding me to be careful out there. I thought helmets were weird; my kids think people not wearing helmets is weird. At least that's an improvement.

But I wasn't scared back then. I barely even thought about how my blue Schwinn alloy 10-speed changed my life.

That bike meant freedom. It expanded the diameter of my world by 10s of miles each year as I got taller, stronger and more reliable in traffic.

It wasn't until I was a parent, driving along the narrow, winding back roads of my childhood bike commutes, that I wondered how, exactly, had my parents let me ride alone there with all the hidden driveways, blind curves and joy-riding, newly-licensed teen drivers?

Things weren't really different back then.

Sure, there are more cars and more distractions in those cars, but accidents have always happened and we have more safety features built into our lives than ever before to protect ourselves against them.

Getting over all the what-ifs is hard.

It's not as if I'd be letting The Champ drive his tiny Spider-Man two-wheeler down the center of a freeway once the training wheels come off. It's just that I know, eventually, I won't be trailing behind to give them pointers.

Eventually I will have to stop dragging my feet, and allow them to pick up theirs.

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