Last Autumn Isaac bought a new bike with his birthday money. He had gone a while without his own because he was growing so fast we didn't want to invest in one he might quickly outgrow. He and Mr. Lime shared Mr. Lime's bike. Mr. Lime has been an avid cyclist his entire adult life and for the six months he was without a driver's license last year he relied heavily upon his bike to get around. Since Isaac wants to be mobile but doesn't have a driver's license he is finding a bike gives him all sorts of independence. Watching them makes me think back to how my bicycle gave me freedom I needed as a kid...and more.
When I was six my parents split up and my mom moved us to town. Before that we lived rurally and I just rode around in the driveway with my training wheels. In town we had an alley behind the house and I quickly found out from neighborhood kids it was expected a six year old could go without training wheels. I asked to learn. Mom, however, was overwhelmed with just trying to put food on the table and then she got sick and spent considerable time on bed rest. Teaching me to learn to ride a two-wheeler was understandably not high on the list. A birthday passed and I was still pedaling around on training wheels, and being teased for it.
In my neighborhood there was an assortment of kids who were around my age. Twin boys and their toddler sister were next door. A boy a couple years older, who was the most merciless tormentor, lived on the corner. My best friend was directly across the back alley. Another girl lived at the other end of the street. In the middle of the street was a rental property which seemed to have a frequently revolving set of inhabitants. At the time I was wanting very much to ride, that house had a family with a few kids. Among them was a girl a year older than I was, who was obviously developmentally delayed.
One day I was pedaling up and down the alley with my best friend and the delayed girl. We were having a fine time until the tormentor showed up. Immediately he began picking on me for still using training wheels. I felt my face flush with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. For whatever reason he didn't stick around long. Nonetheless, my revelry of riding with friends had been broken and even after he had gone I was still feeling beaten down. My best friend told me to ignore what he had said but I was sick of not being able to ride a two-wheeler. After all, I was the only school-aged kid in the neighborhood still with training wheels.
I bemoaned not having my dad around to teach me and having a mom who was too busy or sick to teach me. At hearing this, the delayed girl perked up and said she could teach me how to ride. Colored by my own bias toward her ability to teach and my own doubts about my ability to learn, I continued to whine about my lot in life. She was undaunted and insisted she could teach me. I saw a real earnestness in her eyes and it engendered enough trust that I was willing to give it a try. What was the worst that would happen...I'd fall over and get a scraped knee? No big deal, my legs were constantly scraped and bruised from tree climbing, tag, and various other outdoor activities anyway.
The problem was getting the training wheels off so she could teach me. I didn't know how to do that. Again, she had the solution and knelt down to loosen the wing nuts holding them on. Voila! No more training wheels! I was a bit nervous now. There would be no turning back. Given that my teacher was a child herself I am not entirely sure how she managed helping me balance while she got me started again and again but she did. All along the way she gave words of encouragement. Eventually she said she was going to just give me a shove and I was to pedal myself. I wobbled a bit and regained my balance as I pedaled the length of the alley while listening to her cheers fade in the distance before she ran down to meet me and help me get started again. Before long I was getting myself started and stopped.
I was elated to finally be rid of my training wheels and overwhelmingly grateful to this girl for helping me. My "teacher" was called home for dinner but before she went I thanked her profusely for teaching me how to ride and told her I was sorry I didn't initially believe she could teach me. She just smiled and told me I did a good job like she knew I would.
She didn't know it and at the time I didn't have the words for it but she taught me much more than how to ride a bike, which was significant enough in my young mind. She taught me to stop whining and start learning. She taught me not to listen to people who want to tear you down but to the ones who want to build you up. She taught me that even the people you think have very little to offer can have exactly what you need as well as the grace to give it to you generously...if you have the grace to receive it humbly. Her family moved away not long after that but I still think of her when I see a little kid having training wheels removed. And I smile in gratitude.