My five-year-old is a mysterious boy. Forget the fact that he truly is an old soul or that his imagination is miles apart from most little kids I know. He has this trigger that will engage when he feels it's the absolute right time to pull it. Essentially he's that kid who likely knows how to do something but clearly wants to do it on his terms, at his pace, on his schedule. It has worked this way for everything, from letting go of his thumb sucking, wiping his own butt, riding his scooter, swimming, and now bicycling.
The journey begin with the wooden bike, the one with no pedals, made in Germany... The one I could sell the shit out of to local hipsters and Calabasas MILF's. Anyway, Luke never used the bike for a year. He looked at it, touched it, walked by it to get to his tricycle. The "cool" wooden bike that all the parents dig, was simply a wooden bike he didn't feel like riding. It went this way until finally the stubborn little man got on, coasted off and begin understanding the feel of the bike with no pedals. He did it for a short time, and now that I think back, I realize it was his intention. He likely thought the bike was cool all along, and probably wanted to jump right on that thing and take off, feet in the air, howling at the blue sky. But his "Cool Hand Luke" persona kicked in and he showed just enough to make me grin and kept the rest in the vault of his tiny little head until the day he was 100 percent fired-up to ride the wooden bike again. So he propped the bike back up where it belonged, pulled out the tricycle and screamed down the sidewalk.
This played out in the same manner for some time, little-by-little he would ride a bit longer, put it back, get in his big plastic car and zip down the street. I always wondered how the circuits were firing in his head. I was beginning to wonder if he would just never get it, not give in, be too fearful of crashing, whatever. Was he just thinking that he would just toy with me for a bit longer until I promised some plastic reward like a Playmobil character, Matchbox car or banana split at Fosselman's. Was this "hold-back" a calculated move on his part that will last his whole life. Will he be that kid who had his hands on his hips on the soccer field, but had talent in the end? Or that teenager who never studied for anything but somehow pulled it off? Perhaps he's that same guy in college who had the same study high school habits, but by sheer last minute will and a few Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Ales somehow wrote decent things. I don't think he will be that guy because I think he's smarter than that. He's witty and imaginative, compassionate and loving, outspoken and shy at the same time. He just does it on his own terms... everything.
So ultimately Luke got on the wooden bike, took off with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar. He stopped at the corner, waited for me. We crossed together. He scooted over, made room for people walking by, imagined he was a motorcycle rider or policeman or security guard chasing down a bad guy. It was instant, in the moment, it was his method. I shook my head likely saying 'that little fucker!' and basked in the moment he made the little wooden bike look like a play toy. He went from unsure to certain in a glimpse, as with everything else. He went on to master the wooden bike and soon began to grow out of it. The seat was raised to its limit and it was clear it was time to move on.
My mom bought a 16-inch bike at a yard sale and my dad delivered it. Luke's eyes lit up when he saw the selfless grandma's purchase perched against the wall. It's a blue Trek with fenders, and padding and a coaster brake. It's the first real step to a traditional 20-inch bike. He wanted to ride it right off. So we pulled it down to the sidewalk, buckled his helmet to his head and perched him on top of the saddle. It was about the right height for his skinny-tall body and I grabbed on to the back of his shirt and away we went. I ran and he pedaled for about 10 feet all-the-while letting go to see where he stood. He was firm, assured with a slight wobble but nothing to fear. Back and forth we went several times, each pass with a longer "let-go" on my part. He understand the braking and steering and seemed comfortable with the feeling. Ten minutes went by and he stopped, dragged it up to where it was originally perched, took off his helmet and went inside. We exchanged "high-fives" and hugs and that was it.
Later in the day we revisited the little blue bike for a short trip/ride to the park up the street. We followed the same procedure, which consisted of me running next to him, letting go, grabbing back, letting go, braking, pushing, starting, riding. Within five minutes it was just him, the little blue bike, the sidewalk, the air. He braked, stopped at the corner, waited for me, then we crossed and he took off again. On the way back it was less of me helping and more of him riding, on his own, in his own head, imagination running wild as a police officer catching bad guys. He's now a true bike rider, skipping the training wheels, and doing it on his own terms.
For me I waffle between being proud of his quickness, and it not being enough of a struggle for him. Part of me wanted him to pick it up and take baby steps until he got it. I wanted him to have a tough time with it so he knows how great it is to accomplish something as complex as balancing on two wheels, while being aware of your surroundings, and steering at the same time. I vaguely remember learning to ride a two-wheeler but it couldn't have been this easy for me! At the same time, deep inside, I am doing back-flips, saying "fuck yeahs!" over and over, because of this grand achievement from a little boy who does things on his own terms with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar.