Over a year and a half ago I gave Daisy her first lesson on how to ride a two-wheeled bike. Then, because I am a totally lame father, we never had another lesson. Her bike sat by our front door, virtually shrinking with each passing day, a daily reminder to me of a job left unfinished.
Last week I turned to Hank and calmly said, "AAAAAAAAAH!!! Daisy is almost seven and a half and she still doesn't know how to ride a bike! Dammit! And now she's even too big for her old bike. I suck!!"
(Note, my new book, "Parenting by Panic", will be available soon!)
Hank told me that Daisy had been admiring some frilly pink bike at Target the other day, but Daisy had also told her, "Mom, I don't think I'm a bike person."
It was time for action. Even though it wasn't her birthday, or Winter Present Tree Day, I could no longer be a parent to a child who couldn't ride a bike. With Thanksgiving's four-day weekend, it was the perfect time to teach her. I left work early on Wednesday and drove straight to Target to buy their pinkest and frilliest bike. Thankfully, pink frilly bikes are cheap.
I showed it to her that evening and she was delighted. The next day, on Thanksgiving morning, we started anew.
Although I live on a narrow and hilly street, there's a short stretch in front of our house that's fairly flat. For our first lesson, I just focused on getting her comfortable with the brakes, and learning how to hop off the bike as it comes to a stop. I promised her that I wouldn't let her fall, so I ran behind her, holding on the seat. After about a dozen times we agreed that I could let go for one or two seconds if she seemed balanced. The whole thing went really well, and wisely I didn't push things too far.
Lesson #2 was on Friday morning and I wanted to focus on getting her a bit more balanced, and then teaching her how to turn. I figured that would be difficult since leaning into a turn might be a bit counter intuitive for someone desperately trying to stay upright. We broke into the poorly secured playground of our neighborhood school for the lesson.
We did a few laps around the blacktop, with me running alongside, doing my best to hang onto the bike without getting in her way. Much to my delight, there was absolutely nothing I had to teach Daisy about turning. She instinctively leaned into the turn, and didn't oversteer with the handlebars. After a few more exhausting laps, it was clear to both of us that I wasn't adding much value on these laps, so I just let go....
Click! The little camera in my brain took a snapshot of her pedaling away from me for the first time. I beamed. This one was one of those moments.
She cruised around the yard a little shakily, but staying upright. I winced every time she got near an obstacle, but she managed to narrowly avoid both the benches and the basketball hoop pole. Apparently my propensity to launch myself into stationary objects isn't hereditary.
"Daisy, I knew you'd be good at this, but you're even better than I thought you'd be. I'm really proud of you." I declared, leaving out the part where I also complimented myself for somehow not screwing this up.
"Thanks, dad. I'm proud too."
The next thing to teach her was how to get going by herself. I had been balancing the bike and pushing her forward each time. So, I taught her how to position the pedals, and then stand, straddling the bike, with one foot on the ground, and one foot on a raised pedal, and then push off while beginning to pedal. We practiced this a few times, but it wasn't easy.
"I think this is the hardest part of riding a bike," I offered.
"Can we skip this part for now?" she asked. "Maybe you could teach me something else instead?"
"Daisy, there is nothing else to teach you. This is the very last thing. You already know how to do everything else. You can balance, you can turn, and you can stop. If you learn this, then you're done learning how to ride a bike."
Her jaw dropped.
"Really?" she asked incredulously. "This is it?"
We practiced a few more times with increasing skill. She got it right once or twice, but it was definitely the hardest part for her.
I called Hank on the phone and suggested that she take a break from her chores and come down to see Daisy's progress on the bike. I was deliberately vague about how well Daisy was doing.
While Hank was on the way, I had Daisy practice some figure 8's and some tight turns. She was doing laps around the yard when Hank arrived. Hank peered around for a second, seemingly wondering why I wasn't alongside Daisy. Then she spotted her.
"Oh my gosh! Daisy! You're RIDING YOUR BIKE!"
"I know, momma!" Daisy yelled from across the yard.
For the next 20 minutes or so, Hank and I sat on a bench in the sun, watching Daisy ride her bike around. Daisy has always been a careful child, and she approached the bike riding the same way. We watched her incrementally trying slightly tigher turns, and going slightly faster. Throughout the entire session she wore a serene and proud smile.
All in all, I had a pretty good Thanksgiving weekend, but this was the very best part. That night in bed, Hank said to me, "Today was a good day. You should write about it."
I looked at the clock.
"It's 11:41, babe. The day ain't over yet. Bad stuff could still happen."
She was right though. It had been a good day. Dolface knew I'd have one eventually.