Parenting: It’s Like Riding a Bike

This past Saturday was warm and sunny–one of the first days that truly felt like Spring. In our town, we’re fortunate to have the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a paved walking/biking trail that extends several miles beyond each side of our beautiful downtown area. The trail has done an amazing job promoting healthy activity in the community, and we walk several miles on it as a family at least a couple times every week. But on Saturday, we decided to take the bikes.

That sounds simple enough, but trust me–it was a challenge. My oldest daughter, now 7, finally ditched the training wheels this past Fall (a huge step for her), and we hadn’t practiced much over the winter. She’s a fantastic kid, and there are so many things at which she absolutely excels, but motor coordination isn’t among them. Neither is handling stressful situations without excessive anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, both of these traits quickly become important when you’re being passed by a pack of semi-pro cyclists on a 10-foot-wide trail.

She was scared. I was terrified. It was rough starting out, with a lot of swerving and a couple brief and unintended detours off the trail. Fortunately she didn’t sustain any serious injuries, didn’t take anyone else out along the way, and cried only a couple times. We ended up going 4 relatively uneventful miles before stopping for a snack. The trip back was even better. She learned how to ride a bike–for real.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Look forward, not down. If you stare at the ground, that may be where you end up.
  1. You can’t control other people. Sometimes all you can do is to stay on your side of the road and pray that everyone else does the same.
  1. It doesn’t help to think about falling. Wear your helmet, and don’t be stupid. But don’t focus on the possibility of failure.
  1. You can’t use training wheels forever. At some point, you just have to climb on and start pedaling…all by yourself.
  1. Sometimes you have to let your kid take chances. I know…riding a bike on a paved trail seems pretty safe. But for this kid, it was risky. She could have swerved across the trail in front of a cyclist going 20+ miles per hour. She could have veered off the trail at one of the many points with a steep drop-off. Lots of bad things could have happened. I was on edge the whole trip, and I was pretty confident that we’d be visiting my colleagues in the ER.

Honestly, this was one of my more stressful parenting experiences to date. Because, as terrified as she is about falling, I’m even more scared to watch her go down. Maybe I’m a little like her.