This crew decided that the last girl had to finally learn to ride a bike. Her grandma got her one last year for her birthday, but there really aren’t enough swears to tell you how badly that experiment went. It was so bad, she gave her bike to Bean and let him paint it teal green, while she swore she would get a “large tricycle” like her great-grandma, which I made the mistake of telling her existed.
We tried. We tried everything possible. We took turns. When I was exhausted and frustrated, Jon took over. Then when he was pulling his hair out and she was crying in the middle of the street, Jeffrey and Bean took over. Kelsey gave her pep talks, we spend time on the grass, with training wheels, with no pedals, with no pedals with training wheels. We went to the church parking lot, we went down hills, we went up hills, we tried dirt, sand, sidewalks, and the lawn. Nada.
So for a year, we gave up.
As spring sprung, Jon looked at me and said. “This is it.” He rummaged through the girls’ closet and came up with Kelsey’s roller-blading elbow and kneepads, and told Abby to meet him out front. The other kids gathered on the porch, in eager anticipation of the show sure to follow. Previously, Abby had stood in the street wailing. She had thrown herself to the ground. She had used all her significant powers of arguing to convince us that she simply was not made to ride a bicycle, and we should just give up. The problem was, she was believing her own PR. The other kids would take off on their bikes, and she would sit on the porch, chin on hands, staring morosely down the street.
It was time. This was the rock meeting the mountain.
We explained to her that this was it. We knew she could ride her bike, and we had to show her that she could. We were no longer taking no for an answer. She was going to get on her bike, and that was all there was to it. It was not a discussion, it was not an argument. No, we weren’t going to listen to all the reasons she couldn’t do it again. No. Get on the bike.
The first day, we spent the entire evening just getting on the bike in the front yard.
On day two, we drove to the track. The older kids swarmed the neighborhood and met us at the track, while Jon and I wheeled Abby and her bike to the nice, smooth, even, level oval. She hadn’t stopped arguing yet.
I’m not a push-it type mom. I seldom “make” my kids do things. I encourage. I make room for them. I let them express themselves. I don’t micromanage. But this time I had the very strong impression there was conquering that desperately needed to happen. She had let this build up so long she honestly believed she could not do this thing. But we knew she could. We could see her balancing before she would literally fling herself to the ground in our yard, wailing “See!” It was almost comical. She was self-sabotaging, and we would hide our muffled laughs in the crooks of our arms as she dramatically tried to illustrate how incompetent she was.
Time to slay some dragons.
At the track, we set her bike up, strapped on her pads, and told her to get on. She told us no. She couldn’t do it and she wouldn’t. For the first time in my parenting life, I stopped being persuasive. I stopped listening. I bent down, told her to get on the bike.
Get on the bike.
Get on the bike now.
I can’t. (wailing)
Get on the bike. (dispassionately)
Get on the bike. (quietly)
I can’t. I won’t!
We’re not leaving here until you get on that bike and ride it. It can take all day. It can take tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. We’re not leaving. You can do this, and we know it, and you need to know it.
And on and on and on it went. And then it went on some more.
We simply were not moving. We didn’t negotiate, we didn’t budge. She tried everything. The other kids rode round and round the track, shouting encouragement, cheering her on, while she stood there.
She finally got on the bike, and literally within moments, she was riding alone.
It took a year of back and forth, and about 60 seconds of actual riding. She had this little demon who had told her she couldn’t do something, and we had to excise that idea from her. We couldn’t give it an inch. I had tried “nice” for a year. It finally took us building a wall and saying “This far, and no further.”
Which, of course, isn’t really about learning to ride a bike at all. Since that day, we haven’t been able to keep her off her bike. She comes home from school and wants to go for a ride. She wants to ride all weekend. She goes out with siblings, and she goes out by herself. She rides up hills and down hills and over bumps and off-road. She is suddenly fearless. I see the resolve in her eyes- she needed to win that battle, and she won by losing the battle with us.
My finest mothering moment? No way to tell. I know how it looks, but I honestly believe this was what this child needed in this moment. Parenting is hard. We’ll know if I was right nor wrong when she someday writes her book if there is a chapter titled “The Childhood Trauma: Why My Parents Suck” Until then…