Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teaching your kid to ride a bike

As many of my Facebook friends know (since I posted a picture of it), I'm currently teaching my son, Jack, how to ride a bike.

This is a time-honored dad tradition. There are many kid-related activities that can be handled by either parent. Then there are others that fall almost exclusively to one or the other. Bike training, while certainly often done very successfully by moms everywhere, is generally a dad thing.

I don't know why this is. Maybe it's because it can get exhausting running next to the bike while the little guy or girl is learning how to balance, and moms are too smart to subject themselves to that. They're sneaky that way, moms are.

Anyway, Jack is long overdue to learn how to ride a bike (he's 7), and this is entirely my fault. I dropped the ball last year when I should have taught him, and I promised him we would have him riding like a champ by the middle of this summer.

Actually, I think he'll get the hang of it long before then because he's relatively old to be learning this skill. His body is more than ready for it.

I was 5 when I mastered the art of two-wheeling, but it wasn't my dad who taught me. While he gave me my early lessons, it was my friend Billy Wuicik who really got me going.

Billy was (and I guess still is) two years older and obviously far wiser in these sorts of things. He was very mechanically inclined and was performing intricate bike repairs at the age of 6.

I think he saw me clumsily trying and failing to ride my bike without training wheels, and he just decided he was going to take matters into his own hands.

So Billy walked over to my house, picked up my bike, looked at me and said, "Get on." So I did. (I did a lot of things Billy told me to do back then.)

Then he started pushing me down the street, telling me to pedal. Then he let go. And rather than crashing as I had done the previous 147 times I had attempted this, I stayed upright and kept going.

And that was that. From then on, I had no trouble riding a bike. Billy's teaching technique, similar to throwing a kid into a pool and telling him to sink or swim, worked on me.

I'm not going to try that approach with Jack, however. Well, eventually I guess I'll have to. At some point you just have to let them go and hope they've picked up everything you've tried to teach them (including how to fall).

It's a pretty good metaphor for parenting in general, really.

The difference, of course, is that you don't want them to fall off the bike. But in parenting, and in life, you actually do want them to fall off a few times. You want them to learn what that feels like, and to figure out how to bounce back from it.

It hurts, of course. If we parents had our way, our children would live lives of perfect happiness and never experience anything approaching sadness or frustration.

But that's not how the world works, and we're certainly doing them a disservice if we try to shape their lives that way.

So I figure a couple of more lessons and Jack will be riding on his own, which will mark the last time I have to go through this little ritual, at least for my own kids.

If he falls a few times, I'll be standing by with Band-Aids and hugs, as is my job. But I'll be interested to see if the kid gets up, dusts himself off, and gets back on the bike.

I sure hope he does.

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