Like Riding a Bike

The one in which I (try to) teach my 5 year old to ride a bike.

They say ‘it’s like riding a bike’ meaning it’s the kind of thing that you won’t forget how to do. 

They do not say ‘it’s like teaching your 5-year-old how to ride a bike’, unless the ‘it’ in that statement is something superlatively frustrating. 

How is building that to-scale model of the Great Wall of China out of dry ice going? 

Oh, so nice of you to ask, it’s like teaching a 5 year old how to ride a bike.


As soon as the weather got nice 5 begged us to ‘just take off the training wheels and point me down the hill, I’m sure I can do it!’

They’re so cute when they’re delusional. 

5 is sure about a lot of things.  He is sure that an exclusive diet of toast and cheese crackers will not hinder his attempt to grow into a full size adult.  And last week when he found pieces of colored glass on the sidewalk he called out ‘We’re rich!  I’m sure these are rubies!’

Hopefully there are universities that give out scholarships based on pure pluckiness…

Plan A (the ‘just point me down the hill’ plan) failed miserably.  But the ancient Rubin-Kislowicz families did not brave the wild forests of Lithuania and the tundra of Canada just to give up after a couple of scraped knees in suburban Cleveland.  So we devised Plan B, aka ‘Plan Mommy Takes Charge’. 

Plan B is a bit of a blur to me.  It started out very upbeat with me holding the bike and running alongside as 5 pedaled.  And somehow it quickly progressed to me saying less than encouraging things about him not trying hard enough and how it was amazing that he could walk, given that an inner ear problem is the only plausible explanation for how he could have such poor balance.  I do think I said most of these things to myself, but it all happened so fast.  And in my defense, he was really, really bad at staying upright. 

My husband intuited my frustration and suggested that we resume remedial bike riding the following weekend.  It’s amazing how quickly he can read my mind when I dig my nails into his arm and flash my crazy eyes at him.  He just gets me.

Onto Plan C – or ‘Plan who’s your Daddy?’

Teaching a kid to ride a bike is hard, but you know what’s even worse?  Watching your husband teach your kid how to ride a bike.  Because suddenly you are twice removed from being in control.  Not only are you not doing the balancing, you are not even doing the instructing, the encouraging, or the diagnosing of inner-ear deficiencies.  All that’s left for you to do is sit on the front lawn and try to convince yourself that bike riding success is not directly correlated with long term life happiness and fulfillment.  And when that fails, you can always flash your crazy eyes at random passers-by.  That never gets old.

So you watch and cheer from the sidelines.  You clap, you comfort him when he falls, and you start to think how this is all a metaphor for life.  We can teach our kids as much as they are willing to learn from us, but ultimately their lives will be their own.  They will have to find their own inner-balance and momentum, and our job will be to reassure them when they fall and hope that once they ride away they will return often to share their experiences and triumphs.

Oh, who am I kidding – this kid is never going to ride anywhere.

So despite 5’s unwavering sureness that he is getting the hang of it, I have secretly resigned myself to plan D, aka ‘Plan Get That Kid a Scooter’.

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joe ponikarovsky June 12, 2012 at 07:16 PM
nice story. i'll never forget the day i took off from that final mom-push and pedaled down the driveway on my own, after trying all day long. did 5 use a "like a bike" to learn balance before, or did you go the straight training wheel route (sounds like it)? i did the latter (almost 30 years ago) but i hear the former works remarkably well these days, with some kids hopping right on and pedaling off!
Debbie S. June 12, 2012 at 08:27 PM
We have one tween and one teen on Plan D and it's been a non-issue for them AND us. Our driveway is pretty steep for novice biker riders and during those formative learn-to-bike years, the sidewalks in our neighborhood were too uneven and their training wheels would get stuck! But you should see them on their scooters now - they love them and they FLY.
tom m June 12, 2012 at 08:35 PM
actually the best way to teach a kid to ride a bike.... is to teach them how to fall off the bike without getting hurt ( drop and step off) once the fear of falling goes away riding is a breeze
JanNiekamp June 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM
You know what is sad, my 8 year old still has training wheels, he is still trying to ride, scared of falling.


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