Most adults will remember a few standout things from their childhood.
One of my least favourite memories is crashing into a very prickly bush near my school and falling off my bike age 4 – straight over the handlebars. I didn’t get on a bike after that without stabilisers for a number of years and still as an adult, I’m not that confident on two wheels.
When I told my own mother a few years ago that I’d got a new bike with a fancy wicker basket on it she laughed and jokingly asked me not to cycle on the road. That’s how bad I was. That over 35 years later, the memory of me and cycling (or more so crashing) had remained etched in her memories and not in a good way.
Taking away the stabilisers
When my daughter turned five we decided it was time to finally take the stabilisers off her bike. She had been watching her older brother race around the park for the last two years carefree on his own two wheels. He took to cycling quickly, with little fuss. We just took him out at the front of the house a few times and it was done. It seemed very easy and he grasped it with no difficulty.
My daughter often complained that she couldn’t go as fast as her brother. Even though one of the plastic stabiliser wheels wasn’t always touching the ground, the bike didn’t glide the same way her siblings did and when she turned, it sometimes looked like it would topple over from the uneven stabilisers. Taking them off seemed to be a natural progression, but I still feared for this moment.
Subconsciously, I think it was because she was my little girl. I didn’t want to see her hurt like I was learning to ride the bike. I wanted to wait until she was older. She had other ideas though. She was full of chat and told me she was ready so I listened to her. She told me of the girls in her class at school that could already ride a bike and I felt foolish that we hadn’t tried her on the ‘big girls’ bike’ before now.
Ready to cycle
Armed with tyres pumped up, a helmet and knee pads for extra protection we wheeled the bike to the park across the road. She wore long tracksuit bottoms to prevent any leg grazes. My husband and son came too and we spoke about how it was a great day to go for a bike ride. We moved the pedals so she could start in the two o’clock position and push down from there to move the bike forward herself.
All the bravado left her face the minute she realised how fast she could go. I jogged alongside her and as she picked up more speed, my husband took my place holding the back of the saddle. “Keep peddling” I called out and she did. The pure focus etched on her face was a joy to see. The complete confidence she had in her own abilities and the unwavering trust that she placed in us, her parents to hold onto the bike and support her was there. She was sure of herself. Sure that she could do what her older brother could or even go faster. Sure that she could do the same as the other girls in her class.
Learning from defeat
The first time she fell, she cried. Not only tears from the stinging graze from the concrete that she had managed to get, despite the layers of clothes and safety gear but mainly tears of pure frustration. She wanted to go home. Give up. Not try again. Her older brother was cycling rings around her in the park. Half taunting, half showing off, typical big brother stuff. “Don’t give up” I said, “You can do it.” She tried again and again. Each defeat she had prepared her better for the next go. Every tear was wiped away and replaced with positive words of encouragement.
After countless attempts, we suggested going home and trying again the next day. We’d been there much longer than we planned and everyone was getting tired and hungry. What we all thought would be very straightforward was proving to be an ordeal. The park was getting busier and our patience wearing thinner.
One last go
“Maybe one last go,” my husband said. We tried again and something clicked. The wobbling became less obvious, the wheels moved faster and we let go of the bike earlier. We stayed still and she speed off in front of us. Oblivious to the fact that she was cycling on her own two wheels herself, unaided. Her long brown hair caught the wind and swished under the helmet around her head. We ran and caught up to her just as she was about to turn a corner and guided her through the turn. She then went again. Cycling the long strip of concrete faster and faster as her confidence grew. Slowing and waiting for us to help her at the turns.
After that, she began to stop and start the bike herself, her small feet just reaching the ground. The basics mastered her face began to glow with pride. “I can do it” she said. She learned to ride a bike the good old-fashioned way. No fancy balance bikes or YouTube videos teaching her what to do. Just practice, words of encouragement and some steely determination on her part.
Watching my daughter learn to ride a bike taught me many things that day. That something can change in a heartbeat from being impossible to possible. That sometimes, you just need to keep persevering even when the odds are against you and that ultimately you have to have belief in your own abilities, as well as that of others.