For years, the story of how I learned to ride my bike without training wheels would remain in my head as a wonderful, funny story about a great thing my sister, Cassie, did for me, as well as a sad and defining moment in our relationship.These days I see it a little differently.
I was motivated to learn because Cassie promised me that if I did, we could go bike riding together, maybe even as far as to the park which in my 8-year-old mind was pretty far.
This was no easy task since my parents had given my bike away to my friends’ family. (They had three kids, but two “tike” bikes; we had two kids and three tike bikes). At first I didn’t mind since the math seemed right, and I was actually left with the nicer bike, but I soon realized this also left me with a larger bike. Even with the seat on the lowest setting, I still couldn’t sit down and reach the pedals at the same time, so I struggled a bit with it and Dad eventually relented and put one training wheel on the bike.
Despite the teasing from the other kids on the street (including the same kids that had my bike), and encouragement from my parents and neighbors, I was still unable to let go of the training wheel. I just couldn’t understand the mechanics of how the bike worked and it didn’t seem logical to me that I could make this machine remain upright and in motion just by hopping on and pedaling.
“You just get on and go” my father would say, but I couldn’t make sense of it. So while I had never known my dad to ever be wrong, I still couldn’t trust it.
Cassie took the training wheel off and pedaled me over to the next street early one morning near the end of summer. She was smart enough to recognize that I was being distracted by an atmosphere of adults yelling, “You can do it!” and kids yelling, “No you can’t!”
She initially held on to one handle bar and the back of the bike. “You can’t fall over, I’m holding the bike, just pedal for now,” she said. And I did.
A couple trips back and forth and it became:
“I’m letting go of the handle bar, so you can practice steering and pedaling, but I’ve still got the back of the bike so you can’t fall down.”
“Okay, but please don’t let go.” I trusted her, but not the bike, or even myself.
“Okay, I won’t let go”
“I promise I will not let go.”
I would check in about every two minutes, “You’re still holding on, right?” and she would answer affirmatively and command me to go faster and I would.
The sound of my sister’s footsteps pounding on the pavement next to me was comforting as I pedaled and steered up and down the block, increasing my speed little by little.
And then for reasons unknown to me I happened to look down and catch a glimpse of her shadow on the ground where I noticed something wrong.
I could clearly see her arms pumping at her side while she ran behind the bike. I realized there was no way she could be holding the bike and I wasn’t sure when she had let go, but I was controlling and riding the bike all by myself!
“HEY!!! I yelled “You’re not holding the bike. I can see your arms swinging.”
She just laughed and said, “let’s go home” and I rode my bike to the end of the block, around the corner and half way down the street, up to my front porch. My parents were pleasantly surprised, and even the neighborhood kids cheered a little. Took me another couple of days to learn how to stop without falling off, but I was ready for my bike ride with the best coach ever, my sister and best friend.
Except Cassie always had something to do or somewhere to go. My mom reminded me that my sister was at the age where she might want to spend time with her own friends, but all I could think of was that she had made a promise and I didn’t learn how to ride for no reason!
So here the story turns “sad” and “defining” – or at least it used to.
Here is where I would tell you about how my sister set a date, broke the date to meet up with a boy instead, the half way funny story about how she got busted*, but still sad realization that my sister would likely always choose the company of a boy over keeping a promise to me.
Here is where I tell you Cassie would develop a record over the years of blowing me off and almost being mean to me for the sake of a “relationship” but would suddenly remember my value to her when that relationship ended. And I would tell you how this pattern would really screw with me psychologically, leaving me to feel a little emotionally abused by her, and also making me a bit cautious about relationships since they apparently take a wonderful girl and turn her into some kind of weird monster.
Then this would get really long because I’d tell you about how this has only become worse over the years and has been a major source of strain in my relationship with my sister, especially in the last ten years when her relationships have not even been very good ones. (It’s one thing to mistreat me for a prince, it’s quite another to mistreat me for a toad.)
But after sharing the story with a friend for editing purposes, he noticed something.
“The lesson isn’t in what you think you learned about your sister because she blew you off for a boy. The lesson is in what you learned about yourself when she let go of the bike. That’s where you grow.”
Wow! Talk about an A-ha! moment.
The whole memory came back to me because I was thinking of how far back this pattern has existed with my sister. The incident made cautious but I’m not sure it necessarily made me better. It was when Cassie let go of the bike that I became a better person. I developed a skill, and I became brave and was able to experience something pretty cool.
My sister, though very bold and spontaneous, has spent a lot her life riding around with one training wheel on, relying on a small resource (me, and a few others) to keep herself from completely falling over. And recently she’s been dealing with some things that have her on the verge of putting the second training wheel on. She doesn’t seem to want to learn to ride without them, she just seems to want me to run along side her and hold the bike.
And I would have no problem with that if I thought it would help. But I’ve done it so many times before, and she goes a little while, speeds off by herself leaving me in her dust, and then screams for help when she falls over miles down the road—even with the training wheels on.
I see now that training wheels are supposed to only be a temporary crutch; something that holds you up when something else is broken or otherwise not working properly. But if you use a crutch too long, it will almost always only serve to cripple you, and you will never get very far or go very fast as long as you depend on them.
Bike riding is fun, good exercise and almost a rite of passage. How differently things might have turned out if I Cassie had never let go and I had never learned to ride freely on my own. One of the best things my sister ever did for me was let go.
And in spite of some recent troubles, or maybe because of them, I think it’s time for me to return the favor.
*In case you’re interested in how Cassie got busted: My dad came home from work to find me upset on the porch about my sister leaving me to go to her friend, Chanel’s house. He cleaned up and prepped an old ten speed bike we had and we rode around together for awhile before he suggested we ride pass Chanel’s house and show Cassie what she was missing. Chanel was surprised to see us. “Uh, Cassie’s in the bathroom.” My dad was smarter than that. “Well, we’ll wait then.”
Chanel tried her best, “I think she was sick, she might be awhile. You want me to have her call you when she gets out?”
“No, Chanel,” my dad said still smiling. “You just tell her that I’m going home now, and she better beat me there, and for every minute she’s late, she’s going to get it. Okay?” Chanel’s little sisters giggled on the front porch. It took Cassie nearly half an hour to get home, and less than two minutes for my Dad to find out where she went.
Stuck in my head for some ungodly reason: Da Da Da by Trio