My father’s 10 -speed is purple which always struck me as odd. In the 70s, long before men wore pink or ate quiche, their color choices were red, blue or green, maybe yellow. But my Dad’s purple bike was really fast and super cool. The skinny tires looked too narrow for balancing and the bike seat had no padding. The leather looked more like a stretched, dried-out, shoe than a place to rest a backside. The handle bars had brakes on the bottom and I never really understood why a machine would be designed to aim your glance at the road below instead of the road in front. My Dad knew the terms for the bike too like brake caliper and rear derrailleur which meant nothing more to me than the front thingy for stopping or the back thingy for easier pedaling. As the wheels gracefully spin round, he glided on the road, cutting through the air with a smile. His dismounts terrified me as he would bring both legs to one side while the bike was moving and balance one foot on one pedal until he squeezed the handle bars and jumped off without breaking stride. That bike was the first time I realized my father used to be less practical -less of a navy guy- who left each morning in uniform and returned later, unable to disclose anything from the office because it was top secret.
On this veterans day my youngest learned to ride a two-wheeler. I believe her launch was delayed because she had semi-freedom on her scooter and thus did not need to brave skinned knees or elbows in order to travel around the neighborhood. But sometimes waiting proves to be more efficient. Cheyney set out today on a bike with no training wheels and was fluent by the third try. Learning to ride is a bit counter intuitive; in order to balance, the bike must go faster than a new rider is comfortable with. And that is why the milestone is so huge. My favorite part is always watching their faces, the confidence overriding the terror and the sheer joy of doing something they once found impossible.
Anna, Cheyney, and I set out on the greenway today to master our new found skill. Anna coached and waited patiently while I kept Roy from herding his girls closer together. The advice we gave Cheyney to get her riding down the path sums up every life lesson I hold important. As the second, third, and fourth profound statement came out of my mouth I thought, I have to write this down. So with forgiveness to Robert Fulghum and his amazing poem about Kindergarten, Everything I need to teach my kids, I told them while riding a bike. Here they are:
1. Get Your Wheel Straight. You will never get started, if you don’t begin by aiming where you want to go. Cheyney’s pink Barbie bike with fat white tires, never got going when the front tire was crooked. She would swerve left and right like a drunk sailor, plant her feet on the ground, and stop in frustration before every getting the pedals moving. If you don’t start in the right direction, there are too many things going haywire to ever set right. Figure out which is your best foot to start forward. Survey the path ahead of you. Check for traffic. Begin when you are ready.
2. Pedal Fast in the Beginning. Most times it is more comfortable to start things slow, like walk before you run. But a bike needs enough momentum to carry the rider over weight shifts or twigs rudely interrupting the path and over correcting mistakes. Going faster in the face of fear is the only way a bike works. Work hard, go fast, trust your strength. Then coast once momentum is on your side.
3. Don’t Look Back. Nothing makes you fall faster than looking behind you.
4. Enjoy the ride. The scenery. The wind in your face. The burning in your thighs. The speed. The independence. The freedom. Everything. Enjoy it.
5. Don’t forget to tell your Mother where you are going. Beacuse now you are free and we worry. About wipeouts, about cars, about how one day you really will be gone and won’t come back. And I know this is inevitable and what we are preparing you for but damn it hurts to watch you go.