Mother, I’m flying!

Mother, I’m flying
Come catch me, Dad
The most wonderful feeling
That I’ve ever had
I’m riding, I’m falling
I’m falling, I’m riding
I’m falling, I’m riding my bike

In the fall of her 16th year, my daughter learned to ride a bicycle. Inspired by stories of my rides over the previous several months, Caitlín decided she wanted to experience bike riding, too. She had learned before, when she was very young, but had not ridden in a long time, so felt a lack of confidence.

The two of us walked one of my three “freebie” bikes a few blocks to a big parking lot that is often empty during the day. There, Caitlín had her first cycling practice in years. She was nervous, but willing to apply herself, and she gained some confidence during that hour. When we returned home, I played John McCutcheon’s song, “Riding my Bike,” for her, and she smiled.

My daughter’s progress was clear at the next practice session a few days later; she displayed increased confidence and competence, and I could see her relaxing into it, enjoying how it felt to ride.

Caitlín somehow convinced her younger sister to try cycling, too. Laurel’s experience was minimal; she has some memory of riding a 12” bicycle with training wheels, but had not ridden at all since. She was anxious about falling, and self-conscious about having reached the age of 13 without knowing how to ride a bicycle.

The three of us went to the parking lot, girls each walking one of my bikes, and me slowly riding the 12-speed road bicycle. It was my first ride since seriously injuring my shoulder four weeks prior, and my goal was to have a short, easy ride, to work the injured muscles just a little, without setting myself back again. This plan also allowed me to step back from being the cycling instructor, as my instincts told me that my 13-year-old would be much more receptive to her older sister than to her mother.

Once at the parking lot, I rolled around on my cycle, drawing lazy circles and figure 8’s with my wheels, casually loping past the two teenagers, who were absorbed in their project. Surreptitiously, I caught wisps of their conversation and passing glances at their activity. I saw Caitlín putting a compassionate arm around Laurel’s shoulder, and heard her say words like, “You’re being too hard on yourself. Give yourself a break.” My 16-year-old told my 13-year-old, “You’re getting frustrated. Take some deep breaths and calm down,” and “You can do it. Just tell yourself that you can.”

Caitlín was also able to reach Laurel in a way that I could not, and my mother-pride swelled to see my daughter treating her sister with the kind of behavior I had modeled throughout her life. Watching this happen, I felt I could see a momentary glimpse into a kinder future, one in which people are more whole, and better at connecting with each other.  Laurel also made me proud by exhibiting behavior that I had modeled: the ability to keep working toward a goal despite discomfort and uncertainty, the fortitude to move forward when it would be easier to quit.

When we arrived home, Cait turned to me and said, “I think we need some music,” as she gave me a pointed look that I understood. I cued up “Riding My Bike,” and as we listened, Laurel smiled.

The three of us went back to the parking lot for more cycling practice a couple of days later. Caitlín resumed her role as mentor, and I worked my shoulder muscles lightly, to the point of sensing that they were ready for their first real—but gentle—workout in a month. I could no longer resist the call of the ride, and told my girls that “I must, just for 30 minutes.” As I left the parking lot for the open road, I saw Laurel riding, really riding. Her demeanor practically shouted, “I’m flying!” and I knew that she was hooked, that she had an inkling of the exuberant pleasure and joy that cycling can bring, that she would be back for more.

Reflecting on this process, I was reminded of the value of setting the example, and by the importance of having let my children wait until they were ready to learn. Also, I was struck by the invaluable effect of discomfort upon motivation. I recognized that pain and embarrassment are not necessarily to be avoided. My daughters’ discomfort at not knowing something they wanted to know was a very big motivator. It sparked them learn things that I could not teach them, no matter how I insisted, cajoled or lectured. My daughters come honestly by their independent streak, must often learn by their own hardheaded means, and discomfort is not necessarily something to be avoided; it can be one of the best tools for learning.

Lyrics from John McCutcheon’s song “Riding My Bike,” © 1994 John McCutcheon/Appalsongs (ASCAP) & Si Kahn/Joe Hill Music (ASCAP) Used with permission.

© 2006, 2011 by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved. Originally published at the Life Without School Community Blog.
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