The Rockwood Files: Born to ride

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

You never forget your first time. (No, not that kind of first time.) I’m talking about your first time on two wheels – those first moments when you pedal your bike across the driveway without wobbling and crashing like so many previous attempts. I saw it happen today for my son Adam. And it was glorious for both of us.

We’d been practicing for a couple days, and I was just about to give up and hire a professional bicycle coach, if such a person exists. I was frustrated because I was terrible at explaining how to get the bike going and keep yourself balanced while you gain momentum by pedaling. Ironically, explaining how to ride a bike is not “just like riding a bike.” You do forget exactly how you learned as a kid and what tricks and tips worked best. Tom and I have been riding bikes for so long that it’s automatic now, and it’s hard to break down the process and teach something we do without really thinking.

What I didn’t forget, however, was how frustrating it can be for the person who’s learning to ride. When I was about Adam’s age, I got my first bike as a birthday gift. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on – a pink and white Pink Panther bicycle with streamers on the handlebars. I could sort of ride it, as long as there were no hills, no bumps and no need for turning a corner. In other words, I couldn’t really ride much at all, mostly because I was terrified of falling and bruising my body and, more importantly, my ego. I was scared of finding out I wasn’t good at something, even though it was new. It took me weeks to finally conquer the fear and race that Pink Panther bike the way God intended.

I could tell Adam felt the same way. A perfectionist at heart, falling felt like losing and he never wants to lose. I worried his fear would keep him from trying at all.

After a day of running along beside him and assuring him he could do it, Tom came up with a new strategy. He told Adam we’d go on a family bike-a-thon that’s scheduled to happen in our town in two months but only if he learned to ride his bike. Adam is crazy about anything that sounds like a race, so the lure of the bike-a-thon was strong. Plus, his younger brother Jack had already practiced riding a bike and would definitely be ready to go to the bike-a-thon with Dad sans training wheels. The only question was “Would Adam be ready to go with them?”

Today Adam hesitantly pushed his bike out into the cul-de-sac for practice. I ran along beside him holding him steady for the first two tries, but he put his feet down to stop as soon as I let go. I tried not to let it show, but I was going nuts! Why wouldn’t he just do it? Why couldn’t I convince him to go for it?

And then, out of nowhere, that mysterious switch got flipped. Adam’s emotional balance tipped and the side with determination began to outweigh the side with fear. He glanced back at me and said “Let go. I want to do it.”

So I let go. He pushed off, wobbled a little and nearly put his feet down to stop. But instead he pushed the pedals harder and picked up momentum. And just like that, he was riding a bike. And I was running behind him cheering and whooping it up like an idiot because I was just as excited as he was.

As I watched him ride away, I suddenly wondered if this whole “learn to ride a bike” thing was such a good idea after all. We’d just spent three days teaching him something that will take him a little farther out from under his mother’s wing. Is he ready for that? Am I?

But it’s too late for those questions because both my boys have now achieved bicycle mobility. So I’ve got to accept that this is as it should be and remember that my job is not just to safeguard the nest but also to let the baby birds fly out of it once in a while. This is just one more in a series of “firsts” that we’ll witness as they grow up. But it reminds me, more and more, of just how fast it’s all happening.

I found this quote online today, and it made me feel better about the kids and their constant march toward independence. They say the guy who said it was pretty smart, so it must be true: “Life is like riding a bicycle. Trockwoodheadshot2010compressed.jpgo keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~ Albert Einstein

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.