“It’s as easy as riding a bike” or “It’s just like riding a bike”

These common phrases are used as a comparison to much in life.  Something that we never forget or when something that seems harder than it really is.  I don’t know who came up with these phrases, but they seem pretty universal.  And so as these ‘biking-elite’ we have a litmus through which to interpret and compare life.

About a month ago my wife reminded me that it is a dad’s job to teach his little girls to ride a bike without training wheels.  Now this hardly seems fair…I mean how did we end up with this task?  So the decision is made…the 7-year old is finally ready to unshackle herself from the hinderance from speed and turning radius that is the training wheel.  This bondage will no longer be tolerated, and so with wrench in hand we head down to the cement parking lot located 2 blocks from our house.  We begin with a few introductory laps, and then the adjusting begins.  The training wheels are heightened, so the bike moves from side to side more freely.  That is easy.  Then the 2nd adjustment, then the 3rd.  Finally, they are as ‘high’ as they can go without coming off.  The slanted bike, the awkward lean…and it is time to take them off.  You can feel the hesitation, the temporary anxiety and Ella is little nervous too.  And then we are off…I should have stretched first.  This is not easy.  I run, huffing and puffing, trying to shuffle, hold, push, encourage, direct and not pass out all at the same time.  My wife, directing me as I direct my daughter.  I see how this works.  First pass, goes pretty good… the words of my child: “Daddy, you’re not going to let go are you….daddy are you holding?”

It only takes a couple of passes.  She has got it.  Kinda cool to watch actually.  Doesn’t take long.  After the 2nd pass, she is doing it.  I am running next to her and she hasn’t yet figured out that I am not holding her.  She has got it.  Then her confidence booms, you can see she has relaxed. She has it.  It is a great moment.  We are proud parents and then the demanded documentation begins.  Videos.  There have to be videos.  Mom takes a few, including the 2 crashes…but these will be broadcast worldwide soon.  Like the first steps on the moon.  A giant leap for a 7 year old.

So the other child..the 4 year old who rides her bike like she stole it, has no concept of fear or consequence or learning something slowly.  She whizzes around the newly-minted, exclusive club, bike rider with no concept of what has been accomplished just moments before.  She is just happy that she is riding her bike.  They have a few close calls in colliding.  I am still directing them…”look out, watch each other, be careful…”  My wife tells me they will be fine and to stop directing.  Everyone falls she says.  We spend a moment comparing scars and stories as the kids continue to race by, seeing who can make the longest skid mark.

The training wheels are coming off for one.  But I find as a dad, I am more reluctant to remove the protective nature that I have.  My job, yes, is to teach my kids to ride, but my greater role is to protect my girls.  All of them.  I know that a few scrapes and scars will not fundamentally change them for the worse, but I still don’t want them to fall, to collide, to hurt, even though I know they will.  I like the laughter of learning, not the tears of falling.

What is the difference in being protective of your kids and controlling them?  The one helps them find their way with your watchful and instructional eye; to help them find there own way or version of how it works best for them.  The latter is an inflexible nature of rationale that says this is the  ‘only right way to do this.’  Training wheels are actually a hinderance – they are in place to help you learn to do it right – not a crutch for you to use to not learn or fall.  Training wheels are meant to come off.  The 7-year old was ready…the 4-year old was not.  And while Ella can now balance on 2 wheels instead of 4, she is not ready to ride on the main street or 5 miles from home.  The wheels are off, and I am no longer running next to her, but she is not yet ready for all the rest of it.  She will be…in time.  My job is to take the training wheels off slowly.  For her too.