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Training Wheels and Training Dad – How Our Four-Year-Old Taught Me to Let Go
I expected our son to fail, at least at first. It’s in the script right? Like a sparrow spreading its wings for the first time, there is a protocol for these things and I knew my role. So on May Day this year, as the pink cherry blossoms fell on the path in front of our Vancouver condominium, I invited four-year-old Jonah to the stage and prepared for the seven-step process, how I read it anyway –
1) Expect fear. Riding a bike without training wheels is a leap in a child’s development. It may create some goose bumps, so be kind, patient, remember your own first time. Give the “If-I-can-do-it-you-too-too” pep talk while removing the extra wheels from the bike.
2) Take the bike, bandages and child outside to a flat path, park or schoolyard. All the while, continue with the parental sound bites and pats on the back. More than anything else, your child needs encouragement and reassurance.
3) Place your child on the bike saddle. While holding the back of the seat, invite him/her to place his feet on the pedals and balance. Breathe deeply, focus, use positive visualization (you do these things. it’s a big step for you too).
4) Start your engines! Hold the saddle and run alongside your child as he pedals until –
a) Your child is ready to fly alone.
b) Run out of gas from your desire for a whipped latte.
5) Save your child. Assuming you don’t fall into profile 4b), race your probably grunting daredevil through a jumble of wheels, edges and tears.
6) Console, nurse, tell your child about the first flight attempts of the Wright brothers. Whatever it takes, get him/her back on the bike. Take the words “I can do it” away from their trembling lips.
7) Repeat steps 3-6 as necessary until confidence can overcome your child’s wobbly world and their newfound freedom takes them off into the horizon, never to return (actually, that’s on the way when you give him the car keys for the first time).
8) Ignore steps 1-7 if your child says they don’t need your help.
Wow. Where did the number 8 come from? I wish I had read it, because when Jonah said – write dad, I can handle it (in so many words), I felt like I was the one pushing out of the nest.
Jonah would have none of that Seven habits of highly successful two-wheelers. In fact, from the beginning, he was determined to fly into this new stage of life on his own terms.
“Fear not,” I said, tapping the ladybug’s helmet. “You’ll be fine. You might fall, but…”
“I’m not “scared dad. I’m ready,” he said, as the wrench slipped from the nut and punctured the pad of my thumb. I stuck the bloody mess in my mouth and laughed at Jonah’s arrogance. We’ll see, I thought, picturing myself, aged five no less, sprawled on the pavement, entangled in my bike, picking gravel from the palm of my hands.
Well, the Wright brothers’ speech was filled for another day, because it was straight A’s for Jonah. After a year and a half of spinning his training wheels along the seawall surrounding False Creek, he was ready.
I wish I could say the same for his dad. Before I could even focus on my deep breaths and positive visualizations, Jonah climbed into the saddle, silent as the wind blew off English Bay.
“Sit down Champ” I said grabbing the seat. “Things are going to be a little shaky. Let’s balance—”
“Jonah, it’s not as easy as…”
Well, I let go. But I kept my hopes up. I fully expected step 5. I grabbed the bandages when I should have grabbed the video camera.
Jonah hit the top pedal like James Dean hits the gas inside Rebel without a cause. Left. Here there was no chip from the inappropriate block. Sure, he was out, he wobbled, but, unlike his old man, he didn’t fall down. He had no fear, no sweat, but plenty of pride. He orchestrated a smooth turn through a bank of blossoms and turned back to me with a smile as wide as his handlebars. It was then that I realized I still had a role to play.
I raised my hands and pumped my fists.
“Great job Jonah!” I said: “You did it – and by yourself.”
Jonah beamed. He couldn’t stop laughing. He bounced in his saddle like a jockey riding Sea Biscuit into the home range. After the required victory rolls down the trail (I lag behind, announcing to all passers-by, “That’s my son – first try”), I invite Jonah inside to celebrate.
“Cake!” he said.
“Sounds great,” I said.
“With whipped cream.”
“Sure, why not,” I laughed, as I put the training wheels into a Safeway bag. It will be a while, if ever, before the next little cyclist in training needs my help. But this time I’ll be ready – ready for anything.
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