Learning to ride

Kalista learned to ride her bicycle today.

We’ve been discussing the bike thing for a while now, Kalista and I. She turned 7 this summer. She starts second grade Monday. I am a regular cyclist.

There hasn’t been a good reason for her not knowing how to ride a bike without training wheels for several years.

Ironically, one sensation I wanted my daughter to experience was the freedom that comes from being on a bicycle, particularly as a child. It’s similar to driving a car as a 16-year-old. That freedom, of course, terrifies me as a father.

What it took to get Kalista to ride a bike:

  • A bigger bike. While her hot pink Raleigh with whitewall tires and retro fenders was attractive and high-quality, the 16-inch wheels just aren’t tall enough anymore. At least it will still bring a good penny on a trade-in.
  • Motivation. Judge my tactics if you must, but Kalista’s reluctance to ride a bike like a non-baby was so steadfast that I had to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse: ride the bike; get a kitten.
  • Letting her fall. This was an effective way to teach the importance of balance on a bicycle. Until this happened, Kalista had no idea she couldn’t move around on a bicycle as she does in a car.

LETTING HER FALL was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. After taking a graceless nose dive into the sod and feeling her bike pinch her legs, Kalista looked back at me, a couple of yards behind her, completely stunned and nearly disappointed.

“Why did you do that?” her look seemed to ask.

“Why did you do that?” my mom actually asked.

“You don’t want her to fall!” my dad shouted, upset.

Crap, I thought. That must have been a bad idea.

“Well, it’s the only thing I could think of that would make her understand what happens when you shift your weight around like a maniac,” I said, turning to Kalista. “Get up, girl. You’re all right.”

We did another lap around the yard, except a little bit faster. I remembered it’s easier to stay upright when you’re moving quickly instead of old-lady-like.

On the next lap, I let go again, about 15 yards short of the chainlink fence. For five yards – five glorious yards – my daughter rode her bike without training wheels or help from someone else.

“I did it! I did it, Daddy!”

(Coincidentally, Kalista declared a week ago she’s going to call me “Dad” from now on instead of “Daddy,” a change I secretly despised but publicly supported. It was good to hear “Daddy” during one of the happiest moments of her life.)

I didn’t spend a lot of time congratulating her. I told her she did well, but quickly turned her rig around and said to do it again.

And she did. This time, she rode nearly the entire length of the yard – laughing, smiling and commenting how fun it was for the duration of the voyage.

A minute later, we were at the church across the street to take advantage of its huge yard of freshly-cut grass. Dad got her pedaling; I got her pedaling. We went through turning drills; we tried – very hard, I should say – starting on her own. She even reached a point where she was ready to ride on the pavement.

So Kalista learned how to ride her bike today and I learned how to let her. I learned falling – literally and metaphorically – can be the best instructor. Looking back on the day, I guess I already knew that but had never consciously applied it.

As for another stage of my daughter’s life passing this afternoon, I’m getting over that much better than I used to. I at least acknowledge it as a necessary, unavoidable reality every parent must endure.

Letting her fall could be a tough one for me. I can and will do it, but I doubt it will ever be easy.

Something tells me there will be many opportunities to practice in the days ahead.

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4 Responses to Learning to ride

  1. Meg says:

    These pictures are priceless.

  2. Sandy Fluent says:

    Love the pictures! Letting our kids and grandkids fall is sometimes the toughest thing we can do. But, that’s how we learned most of what we know today! Great article, Justin!

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