Thursday, August 06, 2009

End of training season

A friend of ours gave David a bicycle a couple of years ago. For the first year we had it, he was too small and could not control it. But he has done ok with training wheels for the past year. Recently, I had noticed that, when he was riding in a straight line, he would todder back and forth from one training wheel to the other, indicating that he was not relying on them to keep him up. But I was not sure that he could start and stop--the points at which he would need strength and coordination to stay balanced. I feared the bike was still too heavy for him. On the other hand, he was clearly sick of training wheels. Many of the kids his size in the neighborhood had already removed theirs and David had reached maximum speeds, distance, maneuverability, and tricks possible with a four-wheel setup.

So, 2 1/2 weeks ago, on one of our lovely July Saturday afternoons, we pulled off the training wheels and headed to the parking lot across the street for a few hours of falling down. As I predicted, when dad held him up and gave him a push, he was fine to ride in a more-or-less straight line for about 80 yards and then fall over. I would walk to him, put him back on, point him in the other direction, and push. Gradually, he experimented with turns, and then with stopping. Then with starting on his own. One time out of ten he could get going by himself. After and hour he was confident enough to leave my sight. The lot where we were learning is a school campus so it has acres of black top and buildings and stuff to explore. I explained that the lot went all the way around the nearest building and challenged him to ride circuit. This gave me a couple of tense moments to question my wisdom until David came tearing around the corner at the bottom of the lot, up to me and right on by as I yelled "allez allez allez vite vite vite!" By the end of that first day, I dusted my own bike off, hitched up the trailer for Simon, and went riding in the parking lot with him. David fell down a lot, but I was in the clouds. I am sure there are few greater pleasures than riding bikes with one's sons. At one point he decided he wanted to go up a road from the lot that he had never been up. "I don't know what is up here, I just wanted to see." That, is the essence of a boy on a bike in July.

But here is what impressed me the most: his diligence. I could not have kept track of how many times he fell off that bike. And not just the little falls where the bike stops and tips over and he has to scramble to get out from under it (though that happened hundreds of times); he took some serious falls. There is a stretch of sidewalk in center of our own parking lot that forms a narrow, tall horseshoet. It is on a gradual slope. In the grass below the curve of this horseshoe are several utility pipes that stick up just a couple of inches and have metal or pvc caps. So, a boy on a bike will fly down this hill and try to take the very tight curve at the bottom and if he misses, he has iron and pvc mushrooms to deal with. And he dealt with them, spectacularly, in clouds of dust and pain. He got Tylenol at bedtime that evening. Another time we were in the school lot after a rain. I explained how wet tires don't turn well so he should avoid the puddles--the big puddles, the long, straight little streams of run-off like silver temptation down the middle of the lot. Sure enough, when you take a tight turn and then break with those wet tires--POW! And back up again. But mostly, it was stopping and starting. Oh the frustration. Over and over and over again he fell as he tried to get started. And I would refuse to help for long stretches of time. Once, the bike fell over and he made a couple of violent physical gestures towards it and then stomped over to me, fists raised and clenched, and pounded once on my hip. "Do you feel better?"


"Ready to get back on?"


It took me a week to realize that there was room to lower his seat an inch. That cinched the deal. Now. after a couple of weeks of constant riding, he is an old pro, having conversations with friends while turning slow, lazy little circles in the parking lot and then racing like a mad fiend a top speed around and around and around. He has switched from playing with the younger kids to playing with the older kids. He snaps his own helmet and parks the bike on the back porch (most of the time) when he is done. He comes in for the evening sweaty and exhausted and showers himself off.

I remember when he was barely eight pounds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful account Jason. It captures many of my own experiences both growing up and while raising my own.
Well done.