When I was 6 I got my first bike. It took me oh, about, 15 seconds to realize that the training wheels were more in the way than they were helpful, so my dad took them off. It was my first real taste of freedom.
I remember riding through my secure suburban Atlanta neighborhood with my friends, feeling like I owned the world. With my bike, I could go anywhere. We rode to the park, to the pool, to each other’s houses, explored new parts of our community we only knew existed by car. It was heaven.
When Alli turned 5, I wanted her to feel the same type of exhilaration I did when I was her about her age. Living in the city, she can’t go off and roam around on her own, but we do have a backyard that she can play in and there’s certainly enough room for her to have a bike. We got her a Gecko Balance Bike and I was SO EXCITED about it. (These bikes are NOT cheap. For $250, we were putting our faith in this system)
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like we’d hoped. She couldn’t get the hang of it. We practiced and practiced, and though she was interested, got bored with it if she had to practice by herself. We would help her in the beginning and then step aside to our patio and “watch”. After a few minutes, she wanted to play with something else. She just couldn’t do it.
Was this our fault? Were we not teaching her the right way? We scoured the internet for tutorials about these types of bikes and kids her age. Nothing could have made us more disappointed in ourselves. There were kids half her age riding around on these things like they were trained mountain bikers. What. The. Fuck?!
After several more attempts, we were praying for the winter to come so we could forget about this fiasco. She also kept asking about getting “another” bike. She would say things like, “At my other mom’s house, I have a bike with training wheels. I never get to ride it, but I love it so much.” This was a conundrum. We didn’t want to teach her that she could give up on something and just get something new. But we also didn’t want her to feel like she can’t have certain things just because “her other mom” had them.
Since I still enjoy biking, I didn’t want to give up on it all together. For the holidays, we relented and got a “traditional” bike with training wheels. Frozen themed and all. She was VERY excited Christmas morning. At $100, this bike was already a better investment.
The first attempt to ride this new bike was also not deemed a success.
She couldn’t figure out how to push the pedals. Even though we were showing her physically the difference between pushing the pedals DOWN verses FORWARD, it was as if her body was rejecting the feeling of being on the bike. She would spontaneously fall off—and she wasn’t even riding into a curve. She would just fall off. She also had no concept of “steering” and would look behind her to see us, or would get distracted and look off to the side instead of straight ahead. Then of course, would crash into something.
Were her legs not strong enough? Was she doing this to get attention? Did she have balance issues? Was her internal system off because her mother drank too much while she was pregnant? A shitstorm of questions began swirling around in our heads. We started to feel nervous about it. Why couldn’t she ride her bike? A bike with training wheels?? Didn’t all kids just “get it”?????
As you can imagine, we hyped ourselves up. After a few weeks of feeling like I was failing her, I decided one day that we were going to practice again. We walked to the middle school up the street where there’s a big, flat open space with lots of drawings and lines on the ground. She was pedaling on her bike, but there was no power behind it so I pretty much pushed her the whole way there. I was already exhausted. I was also feeling a little sick. Okay. Bad idea already.
I stayed chipper, however, and told her that she was going to start at one line and follow it on her bike to the end. She had to steer and pedal and do it all on her own. This intrigued her. I have to hand it to her, this girl always enjoys a challenge.
I stood back, told her that she could do it, and let it go. I watched as she struggled to make the bike move. I resisted all urge to go and push her. My heart began to ache watching her and I was seconds away from telling her it was okay and that I would help, but then…she did it. The light in her face started to shine and she was moving! She was going slower than a snail, but speed wasn’t the objective here. She started turning and following the path all by herself. I was so proud. And so was she.
We practiced this path over and over. She was doing it!!!!
As a reward, we walked (she rode) over to the playground. Then, she rode all the way home, with only minimal pushing by me.
Slow start? Yes. Lots to do? Yes. But is she starting to “get it”? We think so. This was a good lesson for us to let her try, even if she’s ready to give up. We also learned that just because we didn’t have any trouble with learning to ride, doesn’t mean our kids won’t have issues with things like this. And in case anyone is local and would like a brand new Gecko Balance Bike, let me know. It’s pink and pretty and ready to be loved. It’s all yours if you’re a NYC local and want to pick it up.