(c) Somebody’s Always Hungry, 2011
He Rides Off from Somebodyís Always Hungry, by Juliet Johnson Home The Book & Reviews Buy It Now Stories Who is Juliet Earth Mother Video Blogs & Writing Networking Day in the Life Contact
Excerpt from Juliet’s new book, Somebody’s Always Hungry
Return to: You Canít Take it With You
People are so busy they’re hiring other people to teach their kids fundamental things, like learning to ride a bike. ‘Bike coaches’ they’re called. People are too busy for this? I admit, I don’t want to do it myself. It seems too hard, and there’s running involved. The training wheels are getting loud and loose on Nathan’s bike; he’s almost done with preschool; he’s four and a half; I know it’s time. But how can anyone teach the balancing, the pedaling? It’s intricate. I don’t know how I do it. Still, we take the training wheels off. It requires pliers, which thrills Nathan. I try running with him in our back driveway, holding the back of the bike about ten times as he pedals. It’s hard to run all bent over, holding someone up, especially someone you’d rather not see all scraped up when he crashes into the wall. He pedals a few times before almost falling and I realize I should probably teach him braking before anything else. Good to go, but can’t go forever. Better to know how to stop once going.
Nathan is then in the netherworld where his training wheels are off, but he doesn’t know how to ride the bike. The bike leans against the plastic pirate ship in the backyard for weeks. Nathan is graduating from preschool. It is hot. We don’t have time for another lesson. Neither of us really LIKE the lessons. He starts riding the tricycle again, the now only-functioning-bike. I have succeeded in regressing him. We try again. Out front, with a helmet on. I run alongside, holding the seat, telling him to look where he’s going. Telling him to practice braking. Slowly letting go for seconds at a time. He’s improving. He can go a little while before I catch him or he crashes into the curb. He gets half a block one time. It’s happening. I call Barry out with the video camera. This is before I spilled milk into the video camera, and it still worked. As Barry holds the camera, I help Nathan get going (he still needs help balancing and gaining speed), and then he rides off slowly. Then he slows enough to put his feet down to drag himself to a stop. He needs help at the beginning and the end, but he can do the middle, the balancing, by himself. The next night we’re out practicing. This time I want to see him go. I keep saying, “Let me help you get started, so you can go really fast,” but he isn’t interested; he has other ideas. He wants to keep practicing the boring part, the starting part, standing with the bike under him, getting the precision of lifting his feet, one at a time, balancing enough to start his bike, pedaling, before it falls over. He isn’t getting anywhere. I stand helplessly in the middle of the street.
I’m so frustrated. I want him to see how fast he can go; the fun of going fast will give him more desire to learn to ride. Barry stands over near Emma, who is riding around on her Princess bike, still with training wheels, way too big for her. She is on a ten minute monologue to convince us that she can have her training wheels off, too. I retreat back to Barry and sit down on the curb. As we are eaten alive by ants, I complain that Nathan won’t do it my way. This isn’t the way I pictured it. WHERE IS THE PROGRESS? Emma makes large lazy circles in front of us with her purple bike, making the double rolling sound of hard training wheels on a silent street. I look over at Nathan. I look at him on his bike. The sun is going down. He is stopped. He’s walking awkwardly with the bike between his legs, rolling until one pedal sticks up. He balances on one foot, putting the other foot on the high pedal. He’s wobbling, but trying to get his bottom foot on. He gets them both on and then the bike starts to fall, so he puts both feet down. Then he starts over. And over. And over. Again. My frenzy starts to melt away. My brain somehow begins to shrink down to this one moment. I suddenly realize that this is the only day he’s going to be struggling with the bike. The time spent learning something is a millisecond compared to the time spent doing it once you learn it. How could this be? Nathan is right. He doesn’t need to ride fast today. He’s going to be riding fast the rest of his life. He’s never going to be at this wobbly stage again. This is it. I don’t do anything. I watch him. I watch Emma, and I watch Barry, slapping ants, out with us in the sun. Hardly any cars come by. The street is ours. The world is ours. He practices awhile, and then we go in to get ready for bed. He doesn’t ride fast that day, in fact he never even gets anywhere. He just practices, on his own, learning to start off. The next day, like I knew, he rides off.
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