Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Lessons in Bicycles-Part 1

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.

16 comments:

~Tim said...

Those are great lessons.

One of my older sisters bought bikes for my brother and me. I didn't find out till much later that our mother was less-than-thrilled with the purchase.

I don't remember being teased for using training wheels, but it was neighborhood kids who taught me to ride without them.

Craig said...

You had me wondering where your friend is now; wouldn't it be cool if she were a teacher somewhere?

I have vague memories of my dad teaching me, holding me steady by my seat for a few steps and then letting go. I do recall multiple skinned knees, but once I finally got it going, I rode all the way around the block, and then I had it down.

I also remember how cool it was, when I was 9-10 years old, being able to just go anywhere, from one end of my hometown Up North, to the other; probably 2-3 miles from one end to the other. A 9yo would never be allowed to do that nowadays. . .

Jocelyn said...

Complete lump in my throat here, swallowing as I read, lest the lump exit through water in my eyes.

Bijoux said...

AWESOME story, Lime! Have you ever tried looking that girl up on facebook?

The ability is always greater than the disability, for sure!

Daryl Edelstein said...

wonderful post .. what a great friend and teacher she was .. do you ever wonder if she grew up to be a teacher?

Beach Bum said...

Great story!

I easily taught my son had to ride a bike but for some reason my daughter, who is now nine, has never cared much for bike riding and because of that still has trouble with her balance.

haphazardlife said...

Lovely story. Jocelyn was not the only one "lumping".

lime said...

tim, what a generous sister!

craig, i always wonder what became of her when i think if her.

jocelyn, darn those lumps!

bijoux, unfortunately i don't think i ever knew her last name. she lived there such a short time.

daryl, i do wonder

beach bum, it's funny. all three of my kids had different reactions to learning.

haphazard, here's a tissue in case you need it.

Hilary said...

Beautiful story of an unstoppable spirit. So many lessons can be learned in unexpected places.

G-Man said...

You've stopped whining?

ladyfi said...

A wonderful story!

TexWisGirl said...

oh my. what an inspiring story. brought chills... thanks for sharing it. and congrats on your POTW!

Out on the prairie said...

I remember a neighbor taking mine off and holding a bit of a grudge against him over the falls.

Shrinky said...

Alright, now you have me blubbing (happily), 'cos, my very own Sweet (very developmently impaired) Sam also knows how to ride a bike, and how to do it very well - and that's a skill even to this very day, I have never achieved. I know, I know - embarrassing, or what?? I grew up too dirt poor to ever own one! Hubby did try to teach me, but at nearly 30, it was faaaar too late!

I am so glad you were able to see beyond your friend's disabillity, and to offer her your trust - and am delighted at how well placed it turned out to be. I am so glad I stopped by for this, it's wrapped a big, warm smile around my heart.

Secret Agent Woman said...

What a lovely story about not judging a book by its cover - what a cool lesson!

Mother Theresa said...

Lots of lumping over here too...shaking my hands, like people always do on tv, trying to make the lumps go down.