They were almost 5 years old. All three of them. My triplet sons and It Was Time … time to learn to ride a bicycle.
Twenty years before, when I was in my twenties, I lived where the neighbors were of all colors, from all economic conditions, and of various educational levels. I was not married, but most of my neighbors were married with children. All of these kids rode bicycles, and I had observed them going through the process of learning that skill.
My observation was this: The children of the most attentive, most helpful parents required a much greater amount of time to learn, in comparison to the more casual, reckless, neglectful parents. There were no exceptions. While my study of this phenomenon was unscientific, it was valid … without question. The careful parents equipped their precious children with a helmet, knee pads, heavy gloves, a face mask, helper wheels, and a small parachute. The doting parent might then walk closely alongside as the protected child pedaled fearfully and leaned heavily, either on the helper wheels or on the parent. There might also be an ambulance waiting, just in case. In contrast, the careless parent would merely say “You want to ride a bicycle? Good. Stay away from the traffic if you can.”
Some years later, we were living in the remote desert of Southern Arizona, with the coyotes, and the rattlesnakes, and the cactus. There was a mild slope in our driveway. The four males in the family went to the top of the slope (the females had gone shopping for the day). This was elevated from the surroundings by 18 inches (45cm). To each of the boys, the instructions were: “I want you to sit on the bicycle and I will hold you steady. Then I will push a very short distance and you will start rolling down the hill. As soon as that happens you should pedal like the devil and try to do two things: (1) go as fast and as far as you can and (2) make the most spectacular crash possible with as much noise and drama as possible.” That was the total instruction. One boy, and another, and then the third. All their crashes received considerable praise and hearty applause. The bruises and scrapes were dusted off and ignored. Perhaps on the fourth attempt, Marco … didn’t crash … he continued pedaling for a much longer distance. He was maintaining his balance. Certainly it was an event heavy with meaning … he could now use the bigger bicycle! Fantastic! This was a Graduation! Dante and Tony began working a little more diligently. In a few more minutes, they too, were riding the smaller bike unassisted and without crashes. And they too, were anxious to try the larger bicycle. Many people don’t know that a large wheeled bike is actually easier to use.
Now is the time for one of those cute stories that makes everyone a little sick. Marco, now on the larger bike, began going around the large imperfect circle, pedaling faster and faster. I could see his hair blowing in the breeze he himself had created. Three or four turns around the circle, faster and faster. At the farthest point, which we couldn’t see through the trees and bushes, and where the curve was the sharpest, Marco … … … disappeared into the desert. Now, understand … our desert is rough, and cruel with genuinely painful cactus. Instead of rushing over to help, we all waited patiently. After several long, suspenseful minutes, Marco appeared, pushing the larger bicycle out of the desert. Acting as if in a casual manner, I asked him why he was riding his bicycle in the desert. His answer: “I wasn’t ‘riding’ the bicycle in the desert … I was ‘stopping’ the bicycle in the desert.” Very precise and very cool. Tony and Dante were soon riding the larger bicycle, but only after I informed them about the brakes and how to stop. Marco hadn’t been told that part.
Less than an hour and three young men had learned the basic technique of the bicycle. It’s thrilling to see kids learn. They learn quickly if allowed.
Aureleo Rosano – www.rosano.org
Tucson, Arizona 11/17/2015