These are lessons I’ve been trying to teach Kalista in recent days – lessons as painful to learn as they are to teach.
Recently I discovered having Kalista ride her bicycle alongside me as I jog is a good way to kill two birds with one stone: I get my exercise without having to find a 30-minute babysitter and we get quality time together. (I’ve also imagined this is a good way to introduce a physical activity regimen that will stay with her throughout life.)
We chat the entire way, for the most part, and she gets better at riding her bicycle. She’s pretty bad at it now. Lately, though, I’ve picked up on something else she’s learning: life can be a big pain in the ass sometimes.
The first night we did this, she seemed great. I circled around her when she’d get too far behind and sprint past her when she went ahead. Sure, I had to stop a few times to walk her bike off a curb or over some rocky terrain, but it was never a nuisance because she was doing all she could to keep up.
She was trying.
Three days later, I’m ready to trade my running shoes for a secondhand Rascal Scooter. The child lost her devotion to persistence. She falls over with her training wheels, can’t stay on the trail and stops for water every 100 meters. Worst of all, she carries our water bottle in the basket on the front of her bike – and it’s empty by the time I need a drink. If I’m lucky, there will still be an ounce or two of lukewarm hydration held by a bottle surrounded by pine needles and dirt from falling out of the basket during a slow-motion bike wreck.
That’s only been the case one time, though. Usually it’s just empty.
I have consequently taken the “deal with it” approach. Daddy running too fast? Deal with it. Fire ants marching up your ankle after your third fall of the ride? Deal with it. Out of water? Deal with it. Crater half-full of jagged pavement pieces? Deal with it. I have been turning up the .mp3 and tuning it out when these problems come her way.
(Don’t worry, folks – she never gets more than 50 yards behind me.)
I turn and yell to her as she’s struggling to keep pace. “Come on, now. Let’s go. Jim Kelly once threw for 200 yards and two touchdown passes in the second half with a concussion.” I don’t go back to her unless it looks like she might be injured.
This mentality came from my dad, who pretty much did the same thing with me. I loved doing things with him but hated the amenities: if I got thirsty, I had to find a garden hose; if I had to pee, I did in somewhere that wasn’t private; and eating dinner was out of the question – there were sandwiches at home waiting to be made on heels of crappy bread.
I was younger than 6 when this began. Actually, this never “began” at all – my entire childhood was marred by my soybean farmer dad’s unspoken desire to prove children could work through dehydration by not being pansies.
You know those kids whose dads were doctors? Yeah – I wasn’t one of them.
Still, though, it’s as tough a lesson to teach my child – the lesson that life isn’t always fuzzy socks and scented candles – as it is for her to learn. She seems to me nothing more than an infant – a middle-age zygote, perhaps. I don‘t know how she’s already 6. Do I have to start teaching her life will go on whether she’s ready or not? Do I have to reveal life will leave her in its despicable dust if she’s prepared to wait for water?
Of course. Yes, I do. For if I never take my hand off her seat, she’ll never learn to ride a bike – even if that means watching her fall. Come on, Dad – she has a helmet and we’re not practicing on a freeway – what life-threatening injury could she possibly incur?
Same with keeping up with me on her bike, feeling cold air after a bath or needing a drink when it’s hot … life can be a really big pain when it doesn’t give you special treatment. Life has this annoying, ho-hum way of going about its business with or without you.
Life can be such a jerk sometimes and you can resent it – if you choose to spend your time that way.
But tonight – after our run/ride, once the sun had gone down and following the drying of Kalista’s tears – my daughter and I sat on the tailgate of my father’s truck to discuss some things. I told her it wouldn’t always be this way. I said these lessons will make sense someday and she’ll eventually live them without even knowing it. I reminded her I loved her as our feet dangled from the bed of the truck.
“When I’m 16, I want to still live with you and do this every night, Daddy,” Kalista said, resting her head on my shoulder. “I always want to be your girl.”
I knew then I was doing the right thing. My daughter cried tonight as she waited for me to come to her rescue on a trail meant for adults. I never came, certain it taught the lesson she needed but hating my decision – unbeknownst to her, of course – all the while. She cried due to a position I’d put her in; I did nothing to help her. My god, it was difficult.
But she knew at the end of the night I still loved her. She knew she’d survived; she knew she could endure more than she’d been giving herself credit for.
She knew life is a beautiful ride.
And her father loves her.