My daughter is learning to ride a bike. As the last child in our family to learn how to ride a bike with no training wheels you’d think I’d be a pro at this teaching skill by now. And while I’ve picked up a few tricks from teaching her two brothers, teaching her has proved to be a completely different challenge.
Teaching my older son how to ride a bike was like training for a marathon. It took a lot of time. I’d say a year if I had to guess. Every so often the mood would strike and he’d ask me to take off his training wheels and teach him how to ride. So I would, and for the next few weeks we would try to make a go of it. Inevitably, he would give up and convince me to put the training wheels back on so that he could ride by himself again. This went on for several months until I went away for a weekend. It was on that weekend that he finally got the hang of it and the training wheels never went back on. To this day, if you ask him who taught him how to ride his bike he will tell you he taught himself, while I was out of town. All the hours of hard work I put in, and I had to watch his first solo bike ride via an iPhone video that my husband sent me. Not that I’m bitter.
My younger son really did practically teach himself. I took him out a few times to show him the ropes, but it didn’t take nearly as long, maybe two or three weekends. This was mostly due to a new family rule: once the training wheels come off, they don’t go back on. If he wanted to keep up with his older brother, he had to learn quickly. And so he did. Before I knew it, he was off on his own.
Teaching my daughter how to ride is exactly how I imagine it must have been to teach me to ride a bike. She is a perfectionist. She would like to get on the bike and be able to ride right away. She does not want to fall. She does not want to mess up. She just wants to do it right the first time. She has very little patience for all the trial and error that goes into learning. She does not appreciate the experimentation that one must do to learn how far to lean left when you feel yourself falling right.
It’s been more than a year since her twin brother learned how to ride a bike. The boy next door is eight months younger and he learned a few months ago. She’s the last kid on the street to learn to ride. For some kids, this would be just the motivation needed to kick it into gear and learn. For her, it’s reason to give up all together.
This weekend, after a fall from the bike, she sat on my lap and cried, “I’m never going to learn this. I’m horrible at it!” My heart hurt for her. I knew it was killing her that she was working so hard and seeing no results. Meanwhile, all the kids in the neighborhood were joyfully playing on the swing set in the backyard. She wanted to be playing with them; she didn’t want to be doing this. As her frustration with the process began to grow, I had little energy to continue the training. I tried to remind myself that as frustrating as it was for me trying to teach her with no success, it was even more frustrating for her trying to learn with no success.
In the coming days and weeks (or dare I say it, months) my daughter and I will have some valuable life lessons to learn together. Two perfectionists will be learning that some things in life cannot be learned solely by calculated well thought-out strategies. Some things require failure. Some techniques can only be mastered by doing them wrong a few times. At times, we are both going to feel exhausted. In those moments I hope that I remember that she will be looking to me for clues on how to act. When we are both feeling like failures, her as a bike rider, me as a teacher, she is going to be watching me. If I get upset and quit, she’ll learn that failure is not merely a stumbling block but a dead end. If I lose my patience, she’ll likely lose hers and instead of enduring she’ll give up.
I have no idea what the winning strategy is going to be for teaching her to ride a bike. I’m willing to try a bunch of different things. One thing I can promise her is that I won’t give up on her. She’s my last child to teach to ride a bike. I won’t get another shot at this. We are going to do this and we are going to do this together. And you better believe I won’t be going out of town until she can ride solo.