I did not learn to ride a bike until I was eleven. This means, among many other things, that I do not fit the cliche of "It's just like riding a bike. You never forget how." I go so long between periods of bike experience that each time I get on, I need to re-learn how. It can take anywhere between five minutes or one full day, and there is no pattern to the level of difficulty I experience each time. It just doesn't come naturally to me.
I've always blamed this on the fact that I grew up on a busy road that I was allowed nowhere near. I am now raising my own children on the exact same street, but I vowed both to my husband and myself that my children would not suffer from the same bicycling tragedy I do. They would learn to ride at a young age, and be provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy it. There are plenty of parks and neighborhoods nearby where our kids can ride their bikes safely, not to mention that our driveway is pretty big and is sufficient for learning and practice.
However, now that I have seen Joey learn to ride a bike, I am forced to wonder if it was the street or even my parents that were really to blame for my inadequacies. Because Joey is somehow just...a biking disaster.
I'll start by saying he's a super smart boy. He has a straight-A report card, and can impress the pants off anyone with his great vocabulary in regular conversation. And yet...if a car is coming at him, or he is heading for a car, he doesn't get out of the way. He plunges ahead at a wild and out-of-control speed, like a magnetic force is yanking him toward danger. And when he falls (not if, when), it is always a great catastrophe. He just won't put his foot out to the side. He becomes dead weight and goes down with the bike in a clamorous heap, opening his mouth a tragic wail well before he hits the pavement. I'm dramatic and generally sympathetic to this similar quality we share, but even I find myself rolling my eyes as I head over to "see if he's all right."
Noah is still in training wheels and finds Joey's mishaps all very amusing. Noah is generally better coordinated than Joey (which I truly believe has something to do with him being left-handed--not everything, but something), and rides his bike at about 200 miles per hour. His steering is incredibly precise, and he almost never falls or crashes. Of course, he is using training wheels, but Joey just never had that sort of impeccable control. So what? Well, Noah thinks it's great fun to mess with Joey by riding his bike directly into Joey's path. Noah can get out of the way at the last second, playing chicken, but Joey surrenders immediately. He lets go of the handle bars (???) and flings himself overboard, wailing, "NOOOOOOOAAAAAAAH!" as he goes down.
It was pretty great the day they did actually crash. Everybody learned an important lesson.
Despite said learning experience, bike riding at our house has become a time of sure excitement. Yesterday, Joey had a fantastic fall where he bounced off the handle bar and was actually launched about three feet backward. Noah was so impressed by the attention this received that the next time it happened (because Joey usually makes the same mistake at least twice), he decided to give it a try. He carefully stepped off his bike, laid on the ground, and gently pulled the bike on top of himself. He called out in a completely level voice, "Help."
Today, Noah drew a "track" for himself in a massive curvy circle around our driveway. He followed the lines so precisely it was like a carnival ride where the cars can't actually leave the track. Then he had the great idea that I should race him on foot. I must tell you, running is sort of the "R" word for me, but he was so sweet about asking I decided to give in, flip-flops and all.
I didn't count on Noah being quite so competitive, however, and it wasn't long before he careened out of control as he was looking back to see how far behind I was. He blasted through an artfully arranged pair of lawn chairs and slid off his seat sideways, his helmet slightly askew. He stood shakily, waved an airy hand, and called, "I'm okay. What?" I suggested then that our little game be over, to which he responded in anger. He was probably just emotional over the embarrassment of falling at all (embarrassment is a HUGE deal with him), but whatever the reason, his face became stormy as he stomped his foot and raged, "YOU ARE A MEAN-O! DID YOU HEAR ME? I called you a BAD WORD."
Maybe my parents were on to something by eliminating bicycles from the many other complexities in life. Maybe they realized it was just...an unnecessary stress.
Or, more likely, maybe we're all just crazy.