Yesterday I took Felix to school on what he calls his training-wheel bike. Those wheels are funny, because they don’t really teach you how to ride a bicycle on your own. They don’t assist you in building that fundamental thing you need to ride a bike: balance.
I remember when my dad took the training wheels off my bike as a kid. I spent hours practicing on the grassy slope of our backyard, mounting and coasting without worrying about scraping my knees on concrete or macadam. It took a while before I gained the skills and confidence to bike on the sidewalk, just like it took me weeks to master operating the clutch in a manual car even though I could drive an automatic with no problem.
The weather was bitter yesterday, and the wind whipping. Felix’s eyes teared up after a block, and he began moaning and then weeping about how he couldn’t make it to school. I ended up pulling him most of the way, my back hunched so I could reach his handlebar, my muscles tense from the cold. Whether the trip took longer than usual I don’t know, but it seemed to go on forever.
This morning, I wanted nothing to do with that damn bike. Over breakfast I told him, “You can walk to school if you’re not going to ride yourself there.”
He made mewing noises like an agitated cat, his dander up, and my wife sighed, her frustration apparent. I was coming on too strong, making the kid anxious, creating a conflict, priming the pump for a melt-down or fight. But that’s how it is some mornings. I’m annoyed that I have to take a cold long walk to his school when my phone is already alerting me that messages await my attention. I only have enough mental calm to get myself up and out the door without throwing a tantrum, let alone a little kid.
Sometimes I face the same struggle when we’re waiting on line at the grocery store. The aisles will have been crowded with other shoppers, not all of them understanding when an over-eager 4-year-old weaves in and around the maze of carts or appears suddenly under foot. While trying not to forget anything on the list, I’ll keep up a steady stream of reminders to Felix, “No, we don’t need another mozzarella ball” or “I know it feels good but don’t put your hand in the brown rice container.” Once on line, my parenting stamina wearing thin, my patience with humanity almost at a breaking point, Felix wants to play the hand-slapping game, or pretend to check out our groceries, and it can take all my energy to dredge up enthusiasm for these pastimes.
The other day I went to the store by myself and I realized, while waiting to check out my groceries with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy me, that this was the way it was before Felix and this will be the way it is when he’s older. I will just be me again — still a dad, sure, but with more time and space on my own.
Part of me felt relief, but I’ll admit there was a pang of sorrow as well. Sadness at how fast it’s moving, that there are only so many mornings to spend with an almost-five-year-old. We’re always going to be parents, and yet, this intense time with our young children is finite. I want more opportunities to try and get it right, to perfect my reactions, to avoid threatening, cajoling, or whining; to just enjoy the moment with this glorious little creature.
So, after my moment at the breakfast table this morning, I took a deep breath and got it together. “Come on, kid,” I told him. “You can ride most of the way to school yourself. Push down with one leg while the other one coasts up, and then do it again, pistons pumping, moving forward, on your own.”
He did it, and when we arrived at his school Felix jumped off his bike and opened his arms for a hug. “That was a good ride, right?” I asked him.
“Yeah daddy, it was,” he said.
And it was, and it will be until it’s not anymore, and the training wheels come off and he’s pedaling away alone. I’ll have to re-train myself to be a person on my own at that point, to regain my balance. For now, I’ll try and enjoy the sensation of wobbling about unsteady and unsure, and revel in this uncontrollable momentum.