This is something we’ve been trying to teach her for years, but even a bike with training wheels proved to be an enormous challenge for her. Each summer we’d haul it out, plunk her on it, and she’d go rigid with fear. “Don’t let go!” she’d plead. “Whatever you do, don’t let go!” And this was with the training wheels. Every excursion ended the same way — N dissolving into whines, or maybe tears, the grown-ups growing increasingly frustrated, and finally all of us losing our temper and stomping home. Walking the bike, of course. The only fun times we could manage were with “the doubler,” which was fun indeed, but independence seemed a long way off.
At the bus stop a while back, AW, a friend of N’s asked if she’d like to go bike riding that Saturday morning. My ears perked for N’s answer. “Sure!” she said with enthusiasm. And when AW skipped away, N scooted over to me and whispered “I’ve got to learn to ride by Saturday, Mom!”
So out came the bike. Every day after school she practiced and whined and told us she couldn’t do it. She would never be able to do it. Everyone else could do it except her. I asked her how she learned to do cartwheels, to skate, to play piano, to speak French, to read? But she sat on her bike, looking dejected, as three boys tore by on their bicycles, practically soaring. They looped around the block and came whizzing past again and again as N inched forward with a crumpled expression, just like the one I wore at her age, when I rode leaning into the one training wheel I would not let my dad remove. Clinging to it like a drowning person clings to a lifebuoy.
But every day she got better. Every day she whined less.
By Friday, though, she had still not mastered it, and she was sick with the thought of her Saturday morning bike ride. But when we woke up, there was thunder and lightning, and it was teeming rain. N, of course, was delighted. The bike ride was moved to Sunday, and Saturday evening, when the rain ceased, we squeezed in a bit more practice — she was definitely improving, moving herself forward with her feet and ever so tentatively lifting them to the pedals for a second or so at a time. When she made her first complete revolution, she turned to me, beaming, and said, “Mom — I felt like I was flying!”
But she was still not really riding by Sunday morning. So (sorry to say) she was doubly delighted that poor AW had fallen ill overnight, and the excursion was cancelled.
That day, she did it. She put her feet on those pedals and wobbled forward, and we stood in the street behind her, hooting and hollering and clapping our hands. What a sight, to see her zooming away from us with not-exactly-confidence but courage and determination. I told her she reminded me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. When the wizard admits to being a good man but a bad wizard, Dorothy and friends are dismayed, realizing he can’t give them what they came for.
“How about my courage?” asked the Lion anxiously.
“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
So it is with my bell-ringing N. The more riding she does, the less she wobbles. On the weekend, we all got on our bikes, and went on a lovely ride — a family bike ride! — up the West Toronto Railpath, all of us smiling. At least I think N was smiling — she was so far out in front I couldn’t tell. I watched her cycling along with her head a little bit tilted, and I realized she must be humming, because a tilt always goes with her hum, and I thought my heart might burst with happiness. I glanced at my compass-bell and saw we were going north-ish, and I thought of Bree and Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. They couldn’t wait to get to Narnia, where all creatures were equals. So I shouted their rallying cry: “To Narnia, and the north!”
And we all cycled on, separately, but together.