Contemplating life without training wheels

My daughter, age 7, surveying the parking lot across from our home, moments before we removed the training wheels from her bike.

My daughter on Aug. 11, 2002, surveying the parking lot across from our home, moments before I removed the training wheels from her bike.

As a parent, you never think it will happen to you even though, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know the possibility exists. When it does happen, you realize that no amount of preparation can prepare you for something like this.

On Jan. 13, it will happen to me.

Suddenly, and without warning, my oldest daughter will turn 19.

This morning, I came into work early and sat with my cup of coffee. It was my first opportunity to really contemplate this event without interruption or distraction. As I scrolled through old columns I’d written about being a dad, and specifically those about my oldest daughter, I was drawn to this piece I wrote when she was seven. She had just learned to ride her bike without training wheels. As I read it, it struck me how more than a decade later the experience, as well as the advice I had given her, still applies.

Metaphorically speaking, she is once again about to embark on life without training wheels. And just as I watched her back then, taking that first ride on her own, I couldn’t be more frightened.

Or proud.

Aug. 11, 2002
We stood in the parking lot and eyed the expanse of empty, black asphalt.

“If I fall, it’s gonna hurt,” my daughter said, and absently rubbed at the notion of skinned knees.

I patted her shoulder, advising her to fall slowly — and immediately drew a disapproving stare.

“That’s not funny, Dad.”

Straddling her bike, which was now absent of training wheels, she surveyed the stretch of pavement from over the handle bars.

What lay before her was more than a riding surface free of obstructions; it was her first step toward independence. As with most “firsts” in life, the moment was an uneasy mixture of opportunity and risk, willingness and fate. We both understood that after only a few cranks of the peddle, if she fell, I wouldn’t be there to catch her.

As a parent, this would be my first step toward accepting that reality, and the notion of watching her peddle beyond the boundaries of my protection. Whatever mistakes she made, I would be too far away to prevent them—but close enough to see the hurt.

“Got your helmet cinched up good,” I asked, making conversation.

“Yep.”

“Remember what I told you…”

“I know, I know,” she said.

I strummed my knuckles over her helmet. “Then let’s do this.”

She nodded, took a deep breath, tightened her grip on the handle bars — and rolled forward. While struggling for balance, she swung her feet onto the peddles and began turning the crank. Gradually, her speed increased. Her wobbling diminished. The pavement was passing smoothly beneath her wheels. Her smile broadened.

And I found myself alone on the asphalt, watching her ride away.

In that brief instant between momentum and balance, the world had changed for both of us.
For my daughter, it had broadened; for me, it had just gotten a little smaller — or at least my influence over it had.

After making a loop through the parking lot, she returned and skidded to a stop in front of me.

“Did you see that?!” she exclaimed, hands still locked onto the handle bars.

I gave her a squeeze. “Every second — I’m so proud of you.”

We looked at each other for a moment, then out over the distance she had just crossed alone. After a pause, she glanced up at me. “I did just what you told me to, Dad, and it worked.”

She then repeated the advice I’d given her.

Peddle hard.
Keep your balance.
Don’t forget to steer.
And if you fall down, it’s OK.

As she said this, I realized that maybe — just maybe — my influence still had a place in her broadening world after all.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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34 thoughts on “Contemplating life without training wheels

  1. I think I’ll keep the four pieces of advice you gave her handy; the day is fast approaching when my son has to give up his little potty seat and sit on the regular toilet seat. Except I might change the last one to: If you fall down, we’ll send in the tape to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

  2. =)

    You did great there, Dad! She has grown into a very smart, sensitive, young woman. I don’t think you will have to worry much about her. That is, until she introduces us to her ‘Mr. Right!’ =)

  3. I’ll have to keep this post in mind when my own daughter gets her first set of training wheels. Metaphorically speaking, may your daughter never crack her skull on the pavement of life.

  4. A beautiful post, Ned, and a real legacy you are leaving your daughter to reflect on for decades to come. She will always have these articles as touchstones. The line that really jumps out at me is “In that brief instant between momentum and balance, the world had changed for both of us.” This sentence captures so much of the essence of parenting–that fine blend of momentum and balance, and the fact that as their world gets larger, our’s grows smaller. Thank you for the insight.

  5. This is great! We had a hill and I taught my 2 older ones. I had them drag their feet as the road tge firat time down the grassy hill without peddling… Less intimidating then the street hill that ran into oncoming traffic. By the time they got to the bottom of the hill they began peddling daughter was 4 and son was 3. But for him to get off he had to bail off his bike.:-)

    • Haha! I had one of those hills when I was a kid. Decided to ride down it on my skateboard wearing only shorts and flip-flops. Crashed about halfway — Rolled the rest. I was a walking scab for a month!

  6. Pingback: A Dad Sends His Daughter on to Life Without the Training Wheels -

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