Learning to ride a bike

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Every spring a miracle occurs. The snows melt, the temperature rises and parents teach kids to ride bicycles.

By all rights, we ought to be too petrified to risk it. What could be more dangerous than sending a 6-year-old out onto the mean streets on a wobbly, two-wheeled vehicle? The concrete is hard, the traffic is scary and the novice driver is in constant danger of skinned knees or worse.

Yet we persist out of some unspoken recognition that the ability to travel independently is so important, we must set aside apprehension. It's the wheeled version of learning to walk.

Is there a more touching scene in parenthood than a mom or dad trotting beside a child as she fights for control of a machine that seems way too big for her? And then comes that moment when the parent lets go and the child pedals solo for those first few unsteady feet. All the adult can do is hope that when she falls, it doesn't hurt too much and that she learns something from it. It's actually quite a metaphor for how parenthood will be from that moment forward.

I wasn't exactly an adrenaline junkie as a kid. I was afraid of heights, afraid of water, afraid of dogs. But it never occurred to me or my parents that learning to ride a bike was even a choice. It was going to happen.

Learning to ride admitted me into a kid fraternity. Now other kids could zoom up and say, "wanna go?" and I could say "yes." Where did we go? Nowhere really. I don't think I was even allowed to leave the street where I lived for two years, but that scarcely mattered. I had wheels. I was somebody.

This despite the fact that I was riding a girl's bike, by the way. I don't remember any awkwardness about that. Six-year-olds are a tad young to feel secure in their manhood, so that can't be the explanation. Perhaps the thrill of self-propulsion just overrode concerns about mixed gender messages.

Before long, I was doing all the stupid things kids do on bikes: riding with no hands or transporting a passenger on the handlebars or jerking the front wheel off the ground and traveling on the back tire alone. If my parents knew, they didn't say anything. Maybe they didn't want to know.

When it came time to teach my own kids, the scenes were much the same, except I was the parent and the wobbly children had on helmets (something I never wore). Once again, it never occurred to me not to help them learn to ride, and they never seriously considered passing on the activity.

I did the standard trot-beside, hanging onto the seat while they struggled for stability. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have realized that once they were traveling confidently under their own power, I would

never fully get them back as they once were.

But I let go anyway - in some ways forever.

Joe Blundo's column, So to Speak, appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. It's a mix of humor, human interest and information. A collection of his columns has been published in the book Dancing Dads, Defective Peeps and Buckeye Misadventures. He lives in Worthington with his wife and two children.