Like a Sloth on a Turtle with Wheels, Updated

Update: Dorothy LOVES riding a tagalong bike!

After many tears and much heartbreak in our driveway this spring, I am beyond thrilled to update this post with this photo:

We bought the tagalong for her birthday after showing her many happy photos on the interwebs of children riding along merrily behind their parents. My hope was that if she were in a situation where speed was mandatory but she was completely safe, she would have a breakthrough of sorts. AND IT WORKED!

Granted, when we first hooked up the tagalong in the driveway she ran and hid and cried. But Lucy, our resident Danger Mouse, was eager to hop on. And as Lucy and T rode back and forth in front of the house, D gradually came out of hiding, and looked on with decreasing trepidation and increasing envy. “I want to ride,” she yelled in frustration. “It’s MY present!”

Et voila.

We put on her helmet, helped her up, T rode over a couple lawns to keep the pace slow, and then off they went. She actually shrieked with joy.

And just as we hoped, she has approached her scooter and a bike with training wheels with significantly more confidence and fewer tears. It’s not like she’s going to enter the 2013 X Games, but she has definitely increased her speed from sloth to, let’s say, capybara. I’ll keep you posted on her progress this summer.

Original post beyond the jump.

Spring came early in our neighborhood this year (and then disappeared, and then reappeared, and now they’re talking about snow next week, but it was lovely today. Anyway.) So although it’s hardly even April, and I remember spending many a spring break as a child staring forlornly out the window at Everest-sized snow drifts, this year we have had plenty of outside play time already. Which is awesome: in my house, it seems like we sleep better, eat better, bicker less, when we can play outside.

We live in a pretty typical suburb: a smallish front lawn, a driveway, sidewalks, a fenced backyard. Because we’ve been blessed with hand me downs from older cousins, we have an abundance of child-sized vehicles: a wagon, a tricycle, 2 small bikes with training wheels, a big wheel, a cozy coupe, a small plastic tractor with 3 wheels, 2 scooters with 3 wheels. The girls ride and scoot up and down the driveway and sidewalks and very occasionally around the block while T or I pushes Margeaux in the stroller.

So what is the problem with this lovely suburban scenario? Lucy rides like Evil Kneivel, and Dorothy rides like—well, like something very slow. Like a sloth on a turtle with wheels, maybe.

And when I say very slow, I mean, when she pushes with her foot on her scooter, she barely generates enough momentum to move forward. If the traditional motion of scootering is push—ride, push—ride, push—ride, Dorothy’s scootering is more like PUUUUUSSSSSSSHHHHHH-pause, PUUUUUSSSSSHHHHH-pause, PUUUUSSSSSHHHHHH-pause. She is painfully, achingly, slow. Which would not be a problem if she simply wanted to scoot slowly around the driveway. But what the girls want is to ride their scooters around the block. And Dorothy wants to be the leader. And Lucy careens wildly from side to side on the sidewalk until finally she loses control and crashes into D from behind and then MAMA TELL HER I’M THE LEADER! I’M THE LEADER! STOP BUMPING ME!

Google “5 year old afraid to ride a bike” and you will find a wealth of discussion forums in which parents share tips on teaching children how to make the transition to riding a bike without training wheels: push them down a gentle grassy slope!  Run behind them in a giant parking lot where they don’t have to steer! Buy this crazy device!

And in all of the forums, parents console each other that kids learn in their own time, and it’s okay if your kid doesn’t feel ready, you just have to support them as they develop at their own pace and lots of 5 and 6 year olds aren’t ready to give up training wheels.

But my kid isn’t afraid to ride without training wheels: she’s afraid to ride WITH training wheels. She’s afraid to even get on the bike. And the bike is cute and pink with a basket and streamers, we have given her every reason to want to get on this bike and she. will. not.

It’s speed-phobia. Or maybe fall-phobia. Or some paralyzing combination of the two.

And I know, I know, let her develop in her own time, be patient, nurture and encourage gently, just like the parents on the message boards say.  But this is increasingly difficult, especially because her own desires are so conflicted: she does not want to ride faster, but she wants to ride her scooter around the block and she wants to be the leader. What she wants to do requires riding with some measure of momentum if we’re not all going to be driven to tears or insanity in the first 100 yards. So how do I know how much to challenge, encourage, push? Do we say that this year she’s not allowed to ride the tricycle? Should I just push her down a gentle grassy slope whether she’s ready or not?

Last week she spent an afternoon riding the scooter sitting down. She had been riding perhaps slightly faster than usual, wobbled a little going over a crack on the sidewalk, and then sat down and refused to ride standing up. I was tired, I didn’t want to draw her into a disagreement, it didn’t matter if she rode standing up or sitting down or at all, we had already been (SLOWLY) around the block.  I decided to simply not acknowledge her unusual strategy for locomotion, and instead focused on Lucy: “Great job riding your scooter! I like how you’re trying to go a little faster this year! It’s okay if you fall, you can just get back on!” Lucy beamed. Dorothy erupted into tears. Sitting on her scooter in the middle of the driveway she wailed: “Lucy is WINNING AT EVERYTHING!”

And my heart just breaks for her. Because I know how it feels to be the kid who can’t throw or catch or hit a ball or make a basket or serve a volleyball overhand. I spent years perfecting a snarky defense, feigning total indifference to gym class and neighborhood basketball games. And it’s not just that I’m uncoordinated; it’s that I despise learning new things. I hate the process of stumbling through the first awkward tries at anything. I hate practicing in front of people. It feels terribly awfully embarrassing to me at a level that I recognize as ridiculous: was anybody really great at gym class volleyball? Did anybody care? It’s not as though I was being taunted by bullies; in fact, if I’d asked, the more athletic girls I knew might have been willing to help me out. But I cannot imagine what it would have felt like to have the confidence to ask. Now, as an adult, I can put together the words that might have been useful: “Hey, I’m really choking on this overhead serve. How did you learn to do it? What worked for you when you were first practicing?”

As a grad student, I realized at some point that when other students started talking about an author I hadn’t read or a theory I wasn’t familiar with, the best strategy was to admit ignorance and ask them to break it down for me. Because even though that moment is terrifying, it turns out that it takes the focus off of you completely, and redirects the attention and energy to the person answering the question. I taught myself to have the guts to say, “I have never heard of that person,” and “I have not read that book,” and “I do not know what you mean by the unexpected intersection of post-Fordism and postmodernism.”  If I could go back in time, I’d teach my 12 year old self to say, “I am not that great at volleyball, could you help me with my serve?”

I can’t go back in time. But here I am, looking at my amazingly smart, beautiful daughter back away from her bike and inch precariously slowly along the sidewalk on her scooter. And I have no idea how to communicate to her that she is absolutely right: if she goes faster, she is going to fall. And she is going to have to learn to pick herself up and keep going. And she is going to have to learn to practice, perhaps even occasionally in view of other people. And I know, I know, that she is brave enough to do these things. But what I know doesn’t matter: she needs to know. She needs to know she can do this. So how do I get her there? Is there anything I can do at all, besides either patiently, cheerfully waiting for her to get braver or pushing her down a grassy slope?  I’m not trying to raise the next Lance Armstrong here, but isn’t there some ‘raising a confident daughter so we can go on a family bike ride’ middle ground?

8 responses to “Like a Sloth on a Turtle with Wheels, Updated

  1. I could have written this post about Robin. I was a timid child, too, and I really want Robin to feel the fear and do it anyway. We are always talking up Brave Robin, Robin who tries things, Robin who recovers quickly from a tumble, Robin who works hard. I also talk up PRACTICE: you have to practice a lot to get good at a scooter, if you practice every day, it will get easier, if you try it will work out but it requires EFFORT. This is where Robin gets frustrated, because she wants it to work right now, just like the big kids at school, with no learning curve. I worry both about her letting fear dominate and quitting too fast because getting good requires practice. Most of the time, scooter sessions end with her throwing the scooter across the porch and getting angry. But every once in awhile, she will persist at something and it will end up working, and she looks at me with a beaming grin of satisfaction. And that’s when I plug trying, AGAIN, on things that are still beyond her reach (the fucking scooter).

    I remember buying new sneakers when I was about 7, and going immediately to my friend’s house so I could finally win a race. I was beaten badly and pretty much gave up on ever being athletic. No one pushed me to work harder, or practice regularly. I wish they had, because I actually quite liked team sports, but as long as you had to be GOOD at them, I felt disadvantaged. Maybe I wasn’t naturally talented, but I am a hard worker, and I’m trying to pass that on to Robin. We’ll see if it works. She still rides a too-small tricycle for her bike.

  2. Oh this broke my heart too! My daughter will soon be “winning at everything” and I envision those same tears coming to my son. How do we motivate without (to use your metaphor) scaring the turtle back into its shell forever???

  3. It’s comforting to know we aren’t the only ones struggling with this. I try to talk up courage and remind her how brave she Is, but i think on some level she’s not buying it. Maybe emphasizing practice more would help… I don’t want her to stay stuck in this fear, and I don’t want her to accept it as part of her identity.

  4. From a developmental standpoint, sometimes some kids have a hard time with gross motor control. Riding bikes and scooters are difficult because their motor planning is just not ready to handle both steering and legs at the same time. Fear plays into it a bit, but for some kids that motor planning is more difficult.
    Some kids the balance of being upright is a little harder, but they can manage something like a big wheel bike because they are sitting and cycling their feet more in front of them.
    Anyway, just another angle to consider. I think the bike with/without training wheels at 5 years old is just another milestone in child development that are more of a guideline then a rule.
    Otherwise, I think it’s great she keeps getting out there. I think the leader thing is going to be hard though. My Owen is always trying to be faster then his friends, and thinks every new pair of shoes will be it, but we talk a lot about why the other kids are faster: ie they run a lot more, they have longer legs sometimes, he needs to practice to get stronger.

    • This makes a lot of sense to me: I think we all expect the biggest kids to be developmentally advanced. But really, Dorothy’s not THAT much older than Lucy in the scheme of things, right? Nor is Robin THAT much older than Holly. And considering how brainy and verbal these oldest girls are, it might be sensible that motor skills aren’t as advanced. I know that I have problems with depth perception and spatial reasoning, so I might not be really excited to hop on a giant contraption and careen down the sidewalk, either!

      • meghancroson

        Exactly! Kiddos that have a difficult time with motor planning usually advance in other areas because they are easier for them and are areas of strength. Were these kiddos later walkers? Or just always less of a dare devil with physical activities?
        A lot can change with practice, though. Maybe sit them on the bike with the seat really low and have them sit and push bike with their feet on the ground first. They make “bikes” now with no pedals just for this purpose.

      • Yes– Dorothy is just 18 months older than Lucy, and D talked early and walked late (15 months). And Lucy has typically been quicker to climb, jump, balance, though I saw a definite jump in D’s willingness to do those type of activities after she started preschool and was playing on a playground more regularly with other kids. I think the skills will come along– what worries me more is the fear and hesitation. I worry about her internalizing a sense of herself as a kid who is scared to ride, scared to climb, scared to fall.
        Although she is sleeping in the top bunk of the new bunk beds even as I type this, and she announced that she was VERY BRAVE about climbing the ladder. And indeed she was 🙂

  5. Pingback: Tick, tock | mama nervosa

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