Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I should be unpacking something, but...

"He is close" we said as fledgling parents when thirteen month old Junior would lurch unsteadily and fall uncomplainingly. It seemed like we held our breath for several weeks waiting for our first born to take that major milestone of a first step. It happened on a day when J's brother was over getting laundry done and hanging out. J had a sandwich in his hand and Junior spied it from his spot at his uncle's knee a few feet away. Step, step, step, step, step. Not one shaky first step, but five steady determined ones (and yes, he got to share the sandwich :-) That was that from then on. He was a walker with a vengeance and there was no going back.

Junior is such a quiet, gentle, artistic soul that I often find myself underestimating him a little. For some reason, I forget how deep still waters can run and that my calm child has his own brand of determination that is just as strong as, say, Bubba's louder, more hands-on variety. But Junior is very tenacious when he wants something and today he wanted the training wheels to come off of his bike.

It was high time. I had been meaning to do it all summer but just didn't get to it. I made Junior a deal that I would get him a new bike (so his old one would go to Bubba) if he could ride it with no training wheels. I meant to be tough about it. I figured that it would help motivate him to learn if he had no other option. This was a concept I recalled from my first meal in Japan years ago when my brother-in-law withheld the forks, reasoning that we would learn how to use chopsticks quickly enough if we were hungry and didn't have a way to 'cheat.' Honestly, the immersion method worked like a charm and we learned very fast. It turns out that Junior didn't need any extra motivation. He had already decided that he would be ending the day on two wheels.

I reminded Junior that learning something new could be hard and that he might get frustrated. Being frustrated was ok, however tantrums were not. "We can do hard things" I said. He thought about that for a minute and said "OK. Can I have a gold bike so I look rich while I am riding it?"

"Sure" (Ironically, the only bike in Junior's size and within my budget was red with metallic gold splashes on it. Whew!)

After an hour of riding back and forth on the road in front of our house with me holding his shoulders for balance, it was looking like he might take a few days to get the hang of a two wheeler. He tipped over, banged his shins, scraped his hand and did not complain once ("I'm not frustrated, mom"). I left him in the shade with some cold water and went into the house to pay some attention to Sis. The next time I looked out the window, he was back on the bike, patiently riding up and down the side road using the fence for balance when he needed it. I watched from the window and let him learn.

"Mom, can you come look at this?" He shouted through the front door a half hour later. He asked me to hold his shoulders while he rode down the sidewalk. I jogged alongside him, not expecting to let go.

"OK Mom, let go!" he shouted. And I did. And he was off...

Half a block later he lost his balance, but for that few moments it was like seeing him walk for the first time again. I was so proud and a little torn at this next step of independence for my baby boy. In true Junior fashion, he has jumped in with both feet. By the time I hauled him in the house for bed tonight, he was circling the entire cul-de-sac as fast as he could go. Over bumps and cracks in the sidewalk, turning, maneuvering and steering (pretty much everything but stopping. He still leaps off rather than use the brake at the moment).

My father-in-law said one of his favorite things was teaching his 8 kids to ride bikes. That moment when everything clicks and they take off is an amazing thing. I think I get that now. Learning to ride a bike is a pretty basic notch in the measuring stick of childhood and until Junior is running along next to his own six year old who is telling him to "let go" he won't understand what a tug that is on the old parental heart strings. Someday, he may get just how overwhelmingly proud I felt at something as simple as him sailing down the sidewalk on two wheels, unassisted, for the first time. Someday, he will get to live this day again with even more meaning. More important than anything else, he is so visibly proud of himself. He can't stop smiling. I could bask in a day like today forever.

Well done Buddy!

Sis has been picking up a few new skills as well. Everyone pitches in in this family :-)


  1. Banner day for the family! Do you remember how/when you learned to ride a bike? Did we have bikes? Learning to ride a bike is a memory most remember. I remember mine...We only had a boys bike and I was to short/small to reach the pedals. So...I put my leg under the bar and rode like a trick rider. Pushing on breaks was almost impossible. I remember running into a parked car?

  2. It cracks me up that you actually found a gold bike! Now he definately looks like the "richest" kid on the block! Good job super mom and way to go Sam!! Can't wait to see Sam in action this weekend!