T. is on a mission these days to learn to ride her bicycle. Her best buddy A., who is five years old, just mastered his two-wheeler a couple of weeks ago, and T. feels left behind. The fact that she can't ride without training wheels yet is partly our fault: we just haven't taken her out enough to practice. It's hard during the week, when only one of us is home with both kids, because L. wants nothing to do with loading up T.'s bike and taking her off to an empty parking lot where she can practice. Our neighborhood doesn't have sidewalks, either, so there is no taking her up and down in front of the house--the way I learned when I was a kid. We've also been remiss in helping her learn to ride because, frankly, kids and bike riding have been off our radar for so long. L. didn't learn to ride a two-wheeler until a year ago--when he was ten years old. Yet we took the training wheels off his first bike a good five years earlier, when he was in kindergarten. I still remember the clutching feeling in my stomach as I steadied the back of the bike and let go, for a few seconds, to watch him wobble to a crashing stop. I wanted him to learn to ride so badly--and I know he did, too. We tried over and over again but he just couldn't seem to pedal the wheels and keep his balance, and he was always too upset to try for long. When he outgrew his first bike he got a new one for Christmas, but he still wouldn't ride it. The training wheels stayed on, and as he got older he felt the stigma of this. The bike sat in the garage, gathering cobwebs.
At our house, the mention of bicycle riding always gave way to lots of drama, and lots of meltdowns, and lots of anxiety. I discovered that L., like a lot of kids on the spectrum, struggles with certain activites requiring the special type of coordination you need to ride a bike--that combination of physical development, coordination, and mastery of gross motor skills and fine motor skills--all of this working together in the process. I spoke with many parents of kids with AS and discovered that their kids didn't ride bicycles, either. We were, I realized, collectively mourning the lack of bicycles in our children's lives--this iconic piece of American childhood that so many take for granted. We had let go of the image of our boys, skinned knees and flushed cheeks, pedalling furiously around and around the cul de sac. Oh well, I thought sadly, no bikes for us. We let the bike riding issue drop for years and then, one weekend morning this past spring, L. decided to bring his bike to the greenway trail. He clipped on his helmet, got up on his too-small bike and rode off. No practice, no coaching from us, no worries. Just like that. It was amazing to see and, also, bizzarely anticilmactic as well.
This weekend we finally took T.'s training wheels off. I drove her to the empty parking lot, where you can access the greenway trail right at Catfish Creek. We spent a good hour in the parking lot--me running behind T. with one hand firmly gripping the seat of her bike. By the end of the hour my back hurt, and my voice felt hoarse from cheering her on. She shed tears and stomped feet, and even kicked her fallen bike in frustration. She begged for the training wheels to be screwed back on but I held firm, and told her not to quit. And then, by the end of the hour, on that last run before it was time to head home for dinner, I let go of the seat and she pedalled a little on her own--for just a few feet. She turned in triumph to look back at me, with flushed cheeks and shining eyes. I stood there, shading my eyes from the sharp afternoon light, just like so many parents before me, and wondered how this came to be.
If you're looking for some great tips on how to help your child learn to ride a two-wheeler, check out this site. I didn't find it until after T. and I came home from our first two-wheeler attempt, but the next time we head out, we're going to scout out a grassy hill and try and follow the suggested sequence. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!