An Embarrassment on Two Wheels

My children don’t know how to ride a bike.  If it comes up in conversation with other parents, I just stay quiet and nod like I’m part of bike society.  I feel guilty about this; I harbor a secret shame.  But… I don’t feel guilty enough to change it.  My oldest son was born in Washington, D.C.  We lived there until he was 14 months old.  Then we moved to Chicago, where my husband at the time had been admitted to medical school.  A year and a half later, my second son was born almost three years to the day from big brother.  They celebrate their birthdays exactly two weeks apart (Amazon and Target love me and my wallet each spring). 

I tell you all this because, for four years, we lived in a 3rd story walk-up. A third story walk-up with insultingly small stairs which twisted and turned like you were trying to reach a princess in a tower.  Except there was no princess at the top, just a stressed-out mom whose hair was too short to be of use to anyone attempting to climb up because, in a fit of insanity, she decided a pixie cut would be a great idea, then spent the next several years attempting to grow it out and not look like she had a mullet.  To help you get an even better mental picture here’s more.  It was a third-floor walk-up that I had to climb up with a toddler, a frequently moody toddler.  Then it became a third-floor walk-up while I was pregnant and with a two-year-old and then lastly a third floor walk-up with a threenanger and a newborn to become moody toddler by the time we moved out.  To top it off, this was a tiny, but nice two-bedroom condo with no storage.  There was nowhere to store a bike if even if I had the motivation to teach them, which I repeat, I did not.  We did, however, purchase a middle of the line Lightening McQueen scooter for my older son’s third birthday.  Being the perfectionist that he is, he tried it once, it wouldn’t go, so he got off and kicked it.  He began to stomp away, arms crossed and all, realized it didn’t fall over, walked back, and kicked it again.  To this day, it is one of the most hysterical things I’ve seen him do.  Every year when the video pops up on my memory feed, I watch it several times, it truly never gets old.  Eventually, he does try it again and makes progress. 

But back to bike riding.  With absolutely nowhere to store a bike, we never bought one.  Did I mention that roughly 6 months out of the year, the sidewalks and streets in Chicago are covered with ice, sleet, snow, or slush?  Sometimes it’s all four at once.  Once my husband graduated, he secured a job in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. We could no longer afford to live in an even halfway decent D.C. neighborhood, so we settled in Annapolis.  We found a townhouse to rent; an entire 3 floors and 4 bedrooms.  It felt like the Taj Mahal.  Now, finally, we could buy him a bike, and we did, the first Christmas we lived there.  He was ecstatic when he saw it under the tree. Yet, again, upon the initial attempt, he wasn’t perfect, and he quickly lost interest.  By this point, at age 5, he had been diagnosed with anxiety, and we often chose not to push him on things for fear of triggering a meltdown. 

Looking back, there are times I wish we pushed him more and weren’t so scared of upsetting him, but as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.  He never asked again to learn to ride, and eventually, the bike rusted up and was thrown away.  A few years later, he received a skateboard from his Aunt and Uncle for Christmas. It fills me with joy to report that he has become more than proficient on the skateboard.  Since he never learned to ride a bike, little brother never learned, and the years have just kept slipping by.  They’re both young, they could learn, but if I’m being honest, I continue to lack the desire to teach them.  I often see the neighborhood kids out and riding, and I feel that guilt rush over me. 

Have I deprived my children of an essential rite of passage?  I have vivid memories of my dad running behind me, wearing his aviator sunglasses, and I decked out in an 80’s glory romper and tassels on my handlebars.  Shouldn’t’ my kids have that too?  But I’ve given them other experiences.  I’ve taken them to dance class, Broadway and community theater productions, nature hikes, trips to the zoo (so many trips to the zoo), museums, roller skating, ice skating (ok this one ended in stitches one time), playgrounds, botanical gardens, Disney World (more times than most people consider acceptable) and the list could go on.  Maybe every kid doesn’t need to ride a bike.  Maybe not teaching them to ride doesn’t rank me among America’s Worst Moms.  Even so, I’m not telling anyone my kids can’t ride a bike, it’ll be our little secret.

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