Thursday, April 01, 2010

COLUMN: Watching Your Child Wheel Away

Watching your child wheel away

We give our children roots and wings; often those wings come in the form of either two or four wheels of freedom.

The bicycle is our child's first taste of the thrill of the wheel. We start them on tricycles and/or "Big Wheels," sort of two-wheeled bikes-in-training. It's easy for them. Fun. They can go as fast as their chubby little legs will allow. When their legs grow a bit longer and leaner, we graduate the child to a big kid's bike with training wheels. Again, it's a relatively comfortable feat to master.

The expression, "it's as easy as riding a bike," is really kind of absurd, as any five-, six-, or seven year-old learning to ride a bike without training wheels can attest. Don't you remember your own first time those handy-dandy metal security blankets came off? Do you recall your child's first attempt to go training wheel-less? Definitely not easy. Hard falls. Nasty scrapes. Head in helmet bonking down on pavement. It's probably the first time your little cherub may mutter, "This sucks!"

But once it is mastered, when that moment of realization hits you that mom or dad is so not holding onto the the back of your seat, the joyous sensation is intoxicating: You're free! Look at you go! The breeze hits your face, you balance like a pro and you don't require no stinkin' trainers or parental palm to get you going.

With a bicycle, you don't necessarily need your mom to drive you up the road to your friend's house. Maybe you live near your town's center and there is a relatively safe route to the candy store. Or, as you progress through elementary and middle school, your parents allow you to bike to the land of academia.

And eventually, you turn 16, and you succumb to the siren song of the shiny, four-wheeled mode of transportation parked in the driveway. The automobile! So much cooler and faster than your bike, not to mention it's a better way to travel when it's raining.

And you - the parent - quickly discover that helping your child learn to ride a bike is a piece of cake compared to teaching him how to drive a car.

I have maneuvered through this process twice before and am in the midst of Driving 101 with the third child. It is frightening, thrilling, other wordly and ultimately, joyful. Such a shared milestone, not unlike that first pedal without the training wheels. When you finally get them to the DMV, they pass the test, and are standing up against the blue (or is it a pinkish hue now?) backdrop for their license photo, it's a teary-eyed moment: pride, fear and unbridled love.

At 16 or 17, your kid is on the move without you, heading down the highway that will eventually lead to college or another chapter that doesn't necessarily involve them living with you full-time anymore. They will still need you, of course, but they will not need-need you. You aren't the sole wind beneath their wings, as they learn to roll with whatever comes their way in the fresh land of freedom.

"Look ma! No hands!" cries the new bike rider with astonishment and bliss.

The new driver lowers his or her car window down, waves and gives you the thumbs up sign as they make their way down the driveway, no longer required or requiring you as co-pilot.

Or so it appears. Don't be fooled or saddened for long. For those wheels which seem made to roll away actually do the reverse as well, returning to the eager palms (and arms) of their parents.

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