Santa brought bikes for the girls last Christmas. In October, we had to sell all our stuff to move from Hawaii back to San Diego, so this was a Very Big Deal around here.
Our 5-year-old, Kaiya, had never owned one before, and had admired the pink one adorned with Princesses every time we went to Costco. It’s a pretty bike, with a zippered pouch on the front, streamers, and a bell.
She got on for about two seconds, helmet and all, and hopped off.
“I don’t want to ride it,” she said.
“I’ll hold you the whole time,” my husband promised.
“No!” She began crying.
Cadillac was not happy. “I can give your bike away to a kid that wants it.”
“Go ahead,” our kindergartener said.
“Keep the bike. Maybe she’ll ride it later,” I said.
“I rode a bike when I was 4,” he told me. “Getting a bike was a big deal in our house.”
“Don’t force her,” I said. I immediately got worried. My mother was Japanese, and also not tolerant of people not being “ready” to do things. I remembered how useless I felt as a kid, when my mother would cajole me, in a not-so-nice kind of way, to not be such a baby, to try harder to ride a bike, tie my shoes, be smarter than the next kid in math. I don’t want to parent the same way. I try to be mindful of different developmental rates.
My husband was unmoved. “She can do it. It bothers me that she won’t even try.”
It’s true. Our kids harbor an absolute fear of the physical. They’re more cerebral. It took years of cajoling to get them to try the monkey bars, to understand that tree climbing does not equal broken bones, to not be afraid to catch a ball. My husband, who played many sports as a kid, broke all kinds of bones and his skull, and still grew up wanting to jump out of planes as an Army Ranger, does not understand this.
I never understood it, either. I never played a team sport, but I did everything a kid does. But I also grew up in a neighborhood where all the kids went out to play, and I wanted to keep up. No adult stopped you if you had contests to bike ride with your eyes closed, down the steepest hill; or climb up to those itty bitty branches at the top of the big tree.
These days, kids have prearranged playdates, and usually there’s an adult hovering around, scared of a lawsuit in the event someone falls out of a tree. Sports are micromanaged by adults.
Now, we’ve moved to a house near a park, with kids of all ages riding bikes there around a path. Every time we went to the park over the next four months after Christmas, Cadillac asked Kaiya if she’d like to ride her bike.
“No, thanks,” she always said.
We remarked on the kids, especially the small kids, riding the bikes. “That kid is only two and he’s riding a two-wheeler!”
She went on the swings.
Then one day last week, Cadillac took out her bike once again. He’d had enough. “Kaiya,” he said, “it’s time for you to ride your bike.” My husband has an authoritative voice. He sounds like he’s stern all the time, even if he’s not trying to be.
“I don’t want to,” she said automatically.
“You must, or you can’t play. You will only ride on the flat part. I will hold you the whole time.”
She considered. “How long?”
“Seven hundred seconds. Then you may go play.”
“Seven hundred seconds?” she said. “That’s not too long.” So she got on the bike.
He took her to the basketball court area, where it’s perfectly flat, and she rode.
A little girl with an almost identical bike saw her and rode over. “We both have Princess bikes!” she said. Turns out the other girl was only three. They talked princesses. You could tell Kaiya began thinking, Hmmm, if a 3 year old can do this, I should be able to. I’m a KINDERGARTNER, dang it.
When we got home, she took off her helmet and said, “I can’t wait to ride my bike again!”
Every evening, she’s gone to the park and ridden her bike. Last night, she tugged at the training wheels. “Help me take these training wheels off!” she said to her father.
“You’re not quite ready,” he said. “I want you to balance better first.”
I watched all this transpire. So this is what it took. Four months of suggestion, followed by one concrete directive. Do this, or you don’t get to play.
I was gratified, too, that he’d done it in a way that we were both comfortable with. Maybe sometimes I’m so afraid of being overly controlling that I don’t push hard enough to make the kids see they can do more than they thought possible.
Sometimes, a suggestion isn’t enough. Sometimes, we need to be not nudged out of our comfort zones, but shoved.