Childhood transitions: Letting go of the training wheels
Fourth of July has come and gone, which means only one thing: back-to-school sales.
Please no. I am not ready.
But as our 10 weeks of summer (by the school calendar) is officially half over, it’s time to do a midterm assessment.
What have I accomplished?
— Desk still cluttered (0 points).
— Photos not organized (0 points).
— Breezeway redecorating project under way — sort of (1 point; I straightened it up, at least).
— Grass not dead yet (5 points; let’s check back in August).
— Some flowers planted (5 points; weeds still hold roughly 2-to-1 advantage).
— Daughter learned to ride her bike (10 points, yes!).
A friend and I were commiserating the other night about how we’d just taught our youngest children — our babies — how to ditch the training wheels for good.
My daughter is 7 (almost 8), a bit of a late bloomer in this regard. I read somewhere that the average age for learning to ride is between 5 and 6. One of my nieces was zipping around on her tiny two-wheeler at age 3 (that whole third-child-keeping-up-with-the-older-sisters thing).
And at a Fourth of July parade, I saw a toddler running and coasting, Fred Flintstone-style, on one of those bikes without pedals. The idea, I am told, is to teach them balance without having to mess with pedals.
It’s not that my daughter had trouble. We just kept procrastinating, mostly because of our usual ineptitude with anything mechanical.
She had one of those cute pink bikes handed down from a friend, but it didn’t have training wheels. We bought a set for $2 at a neighbor’s garage sale, which the dad kindly installed for us. But they were never quite right. So we bought a new set, but they wouldn’t stay on either.
We finally took the bicycle to a bike shop, where they informed us that no one made training wheels to fit that type of bike anymore, unless we wanted to buy the $65 version blah blah blah ... No thank you. (Why does this always happen to us?)
We hated to buy a new bike just to use training wheels for a few months. So we borrowed yet another friend’s bike, with the training wheels still attached.
My daughter didn’t make much progress last summer. She is a lot of things — smart, obedient, willing to try new things — but she is not a big risk taker. She has a bit of my “guys, we’re gonna get in trouble for this” gene that always drove my friends crazy. And if she can’t master something immediately, she gets frustrated.
So while she made mild gains, she wasn’t terribly confident on the bike. And frankly, we didn’t try very hard. My husband and I didn’t have bikes at the time, and it just kind of fell by the wayside.
So, this summer, it became a priority.
The first week school was out, we got out the helmets, knee pads and elbow pads and hauled the bikes out of the garage. Of course, all the tires were flat. Undaunted, we pumped them up and set off for our nearby school.
On our first outing, she was still a bit nervous, insisting that I hold on to the bike while she pedaled. She had a wobbly half-hour or so, but by the end of the session she was pretty sturdy. And a lot more confident.
The next day, my husband took her out and — voila! — she rode by herself. I missed it, of course, because I was at work.
I wasn’t terribly surprised. She is nothing if not determined. And I had been through this before.
When my son was learning, also at age 7, I remember running alongside him, struggling to hold on while he rolled down the street.
Finally, when we got to the school, he said, “Mom, can I just try it by myself?”
And he took off across the blacktop. No looking back.
As I stood there, watching him zoom around the parking lot, I thought: what a metaphor for parenthood.
As an older mom, I’m more conscious of time passing, of the kids growing up and out of all the stages I’ve learned to love. Have I deliberately held them back, failed to teach them something important at the right time? No, although I may be a tiny bit guilty of not “letting go” fast enough. I don’t know.
I do know the whole bicycle thing went a lot more smoothly because they were ready — more than ready, probably. And they had plenty of happy hours riding their bikes with training wheels or their scooters (which also help with balance, I am told).
That same friend and I were talking about our tween-age sons and how we’re happy that they still like Legos and Star Wars and chasing each other around the yard. There’s plenty of time for the heavy stuff to come, for all those things they’ll do “by myself,” without us. Maybe waiting to make some of those transitions will help them in the long run.
In the meantime, there are no more training wheels at our house.
Anybody want to buy a used set?
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below, contact Julie at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.