As a mom, there are some things that come naturally, and there are some things that definitely do NOT. Teaching my kids to ride a bike is one of those things. I wasn’t even aware I was supposed to be teaching my kids to ride a bike yet. For whatever reason, my parents didn’t teach me to ride a bike at the “normal” age — I didn’t learn until 5th grade. Now, this may have something to do with the fact that my mother is a bit legendary in her klutziness (which I inherited) and I have a searing childhood memory (prior to my sister’s birth, so I had to have been a toddler) of me sitting in a seat on the back of her bicycleand her running us along a chain link fence and me having a very painful, very bloody knee and screaming and crying inconsolably on a sidewalk somewhere. That could have something to do with it. A little.
No, I stuck to my tricycle and my Big Wheel and I think I was quite happy in my non-bicycle-riding status until two things happened. 1) There was going to be a bicycle rodeo in the fifth grade. 2) All my girlfriends were starting to ride their bikes to Woolworth’s to buy lip gloss. Neither of these activities were things I wanted to be left out of. At this point my parents were separated but I believe my mother decided my father had the responsibility of teaching me to ride my bike. This was probably wise on her part because my memories of it are awful. It seemed to be a series of collisions and bruises and scabby knees and moments where I was certain I would die. The only positive part was my pink Barbie bike with a banana seat, pink and white streamers, and a basket. Which I am sure would mortify any self-respecting fifth grader these days. I don’t think they even make banana seats any more, do they?
The point of this bit of self-revelation is to show you just how ill-prepared and how emotionally scarred I was in this area when it came to the chapter of parenting called Teaching Your Children to Ride a Bike. JavaDadwas no help. According to him, he just woke up learning how to ride a bike at some age. Big help there, buddy. So a couple of years ago when my son’s preschool teacher’s end-of-the-year scrapbook included pictures of four-year-olds riding bikes, I came home and said, “Oh my goodness honey, we’re supposed to be teaching him to ride a bike!!” And JavaDad rolled his eyes at me as if I said, “Oh my goodness honey, we need to do the chicken dance!”
Because I somehow became Her Royal Highness, Purchaser of All Things, I had to select the bike, though my husband was probably much more qualified. Since it was consignment season, I thought how easy, I’d just pick a bike that looked high enough at the next sale, and get it at a good price. I had no idea there were different wheel sizes for goodness’ sakes! I was looking for a blue, green, or red bike about yay high. Yay high being a technical term, of course. Some wheels were gigantic, some were itty bitty. Some bikes had training wheels, some did not. I finally settled on a blue bike that had little wheels but I hoped not too little, and training wheels.
JavaBoy was ecstatic. He couldn’t ditch the trike fast enough. Pedaling down the cul-de-sac was great, pedaling back up (hill) not so much. But he was determined. Sadly, it was tough for me to keep up with him (I was so worried about the multiple driveways) and also entertain his sister, two years younger, who didn’t want to be pushed along in the Kettler tricycle, didn’t want to pedal a tricycle, and didn’t want to just run back and forth behind him (neither did I, really, but that’s beside the point). So his bicycle lessons were few and far between. The logistics were too tough and weekends always seemed so busy or the weather wouldn’t cooperate.
Flash forward to today. On a post-birthday visit to Toys R Us, we took JavaGirl to redeem a gift card, when we wandered by the bike section. “Let me just try something out,” I said to JavaDad. ‘I just wonder, maybe she’d do better on a bike instead of a tricycle…” And so we tried her on a few bicycles and once we found one the right size, although she struggled, indeed, she pedaled it with more enthusiasm than she did the tricycle at home. JavaBoy, meanwhile, whipped around us in loops on a larger bike. We finished what we came to the store for, but at home, we reassessed the bike situation.
A neighbor had given us his son’s bike — a larger two-wheeler, which we had been hanging onto for when JavaBoy was ready. JavaBoy is not yet ready to have the training wheels off, but was definitely ready for a larger bike. Would our daughter go for his smaller, blue bike?
At first she was a little afraid, but she actually pedaled it better than in the store. Better than JavaBoy did when he first got the bike, even though he had been the champion trike pedaler. She could do it, but she almost seemed reluctant to. I knew just what would make her heart sing — a bell. Since I had to go get training wheels for the other bike, I had already made up my mind to get her one when she sidled up to me and asked, “Mommy, can I have a ding-ding bell?” I leaned down and kissed her and told her I would go to the store right now to get her one.
JavaBoy accompanied me to the store. We picked out his training wheels, a bell for his sister, two cup holders (as I have grand visions of all of us biking to the library and the pool), and then a bell that he could earn as a treat for “when (I) learn to ride without training wheels.” He proudly carried his bell to the register.
Once everything was assembled at home, JavaGirl announced they were having a bike race and took off, not even waiting for her brother. Ding-ding-ding. You could hear it going up and down the cul-de-sac as her brown hair flew under her pink helmet. Sure, she still gets stuck, but she’s got her brother to help her out. Two kids, learning to ride their bikes together. No bloody knees, no terrifying memories. Maybe it’s not quite “on time” but they’ll get there and they’ll have fun doing it. Once they have the hang of it, I’m going to get myself a bike again. Probably not pink. And I guess it won’t have a banana seat. I suppose I’m too old for streamers now. But I’m definitely getting a bell!