You’re not supposed to root against your kids. As a parent, you want your children to succeed, to meet challenges, hurdle obstacles, and vanquish adversity. You’re not supposed to want them to fail.
But here I am, my hand on the saddle of my 6-year-old girl’s bicycle, holding her sparkly purple bike steady while she pedals down the driveway and I’m hoping and hoping and hoping that today is not the day.
A few feet away from us, a set of training wheels rests on the back porch next to the crescent wrench I used minutes ago to remove them from her bicycle.
I’m holding her saddle, walking alongside and coaching her to keep her feet moving. She’s pedaling, albeit meekly. She’s unsteady as a drunken sailor and keenly aware of the pavement a few feet below. She keeps telling me how “tippy” the bike feels.
She’s apprehensive. I can feel her fear. Or maybe it’s just my own reluctance.
Her big sister took several tries before she was able to leave the training wheels behind. It was a long, drawn-out process, actually.
At first, I was too hand’s off. I’m not sure what made me think that if you just let go, the child will innately know what to do and pedal off into the sunset with some kind of uplifting orchestra flourish followed by a shot of parental hugging and a sense of bittersweet pride, but that was not at all the case.
She crashed. There was injury. And crying.
The child was hurt too.
It was all pretty awful and there was an extended break before we got back to it. Weeks went by. But we did try again, this time with me running alongside a little more. We rode in the grass at first, because that’s not as hard when you fall.
But it was hard to pedal in. So when she was able to pedal a few cranks around without falling, we tried the driveway again. But this time we’d start in the driveway and head toward the front yard, where the cushy grass would break the inevitable falls.
That worked well for a couple of tries. We were both pleased with the minor success. But it was clear she needed more room, more than our driveway could provide.
We packed up her bike one weekend day and went to a secluded, and long, parking lot. Plenty of room. No worry about any wayward drivers. Just me, my budding cyclist and some fresh blacktop.
I took off the training wheels, laid them beside me, gave my eldest some last-minute instructions to keep those feet moving and look ahead and she would be fine. She could do this, I said.
With my hand on her saddle, I steadied her for the first couple of turns of the crank, let go and she was off. Like magic, she crossed the parking lot like a champ, feet moving, looking straight ahead, and riding, away from me, all on her own.
That’s when I realized it was me holding her back. She didn’t need my silly lawn trick that I thought was so clever. She didn’t need all the handholding or advice or really need me at all. What she needed is for me to recognize she needed a little room to do her thing. She needed me to get out of the way.
My son, the next in line, was different. I asked him if he wanted to try to ride without training wheels. He said yes. It was all very matter-of-fact. I had one under my belt and I thought I had learned from my mistakes with his sister.
The whole family went out to the road in front of the house with us, to help watch for cars. I took the trainers off, and as I did with his sister before him, I gave the same advice, helped him get started and he was just plain gone.
One tiny little crash, right back on and that was that. He was a bicycle rider, shooting off down the road like he’d been doing it for years. Two more passes and he was stopping with a nice skid, even.
It was so quick that I didn’t really have a chance to be really upset about it.
I still know exactly where his training wheels are. I might not ever get rid of them.
But today, today I am not at all prepared for this. If it works, if the little one rides off without training wheels, that’s it. There are no more training wheels. Ever. And who among us is ready to deal with the enormity of that prospect? Not me, pal. Not me.
Here we are in the driveway, trying anyway. And I’m giving her the same advice I gave her older siblings: Keep your feet moving. Keep pedaling. Look straight ahead and keep moving. Don’t stop. You can do this. Just keep moving. You can do this.
Listening to myself tell a scared little girl how to ride a bike, I realized that what keeps us going atop a bicycle just might be the best advice for life generally: Keep pedaling. Don’t stop. Keep your feet moving. You can do this.
I can’t think of a single instance where that wouldn’t apply.
But I don’t let go of the saddle. Not today.
I am right there next to her, doing my job, holding on and keeping her steady and safe, never more than an arm’s length away. She needed me to, that was pretty clear. And, frankly, I am real comfortable with that.
Today is not the day.
“Can we just try this again when I’m 7?” the small one asks.
“We sure can, honey,” I said.
We sure can. When you’re 7.
Daddy’s in no hurry.
This story also appeared on the Huffington Post.