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?

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

  1. Way to go D!!! And way to go Jen for encouraging and coaxing and doing everything you should but never forcing her to do something she wasn’t ready to do for herself!!

  2. awesome! and happy mother’s day, mamas.

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