It was when our neighbor, an almost five year old, decided that he was going to ride his bike without training wheels that Henrik finally wanted to test out his big boy bike too. He'd gotten it for Christmas and thought it was "cool" because it was re-furbished by his father in Hank's favorite colors: black and green. It had new pedals, a new seat, handle grips and came complete with flashing lights and a muffler. But he had no interest in riding it. "It's too big for me, maybe when I'm older" he'd reply every time we asked him to try it out.
But on this day, without hesitation, he hopped on the bike. "Can you help me mom?" I knew he could do it, he's been balancing on his balance bike for two years and he already knew how to pedal. I was the one pushing him to ride this bike for weeks, heck, months. "Sure can, bud, climb on, don't ever stop pedaling. Ever." He clinched the handlebars, he checked for cars, and just a second after making sure he was balanced, I let go of the bike. I smiled. I was proud, I ran along side next to him to let him know I was there. I didn't realize what was about to happen next.
It wasn't my hesitation of letting go, it wasn't for fear that he would fall off and get hurt, it was my ability to stay calm and collected as he rode off down the street. In an instant, he was free. He was big. He was an almost four year old. He was proud. He had the whole world accessible him. When he returned from his trip down the street, he returned, put the bike down, put his hands on his hips and knew that he was cool. He walked around with a swagger, a new sense of pride and I swear he grew an inch or two in the two minutes it took him to return from the cul-de-sac.
Minutes later, Theodor decided that he was going to take his balance bike out for a spin. The two year old who had already mastered in the house bike riding was ready to take the road like his big brother. I didn't let Theo go as far. He's only two for goodness sake, but he can go just as far and just as long as his brother. Minutes later, all of the other kids emerged from their houses, they saw the three and four year olds riding big kid bikes and they wanted in too. The dad's came out and took the training wheels off of each bike and just like that, a street full of school aged kids from pre-school to second grade, were all riding their bikes like kids.
It was a wonderful day for our block. When a little kid fell off, an older kid came to the rescue and quickly helped them back up and back on the bike. Sometimes parents were needed to check scraped knees for bleeding, but mostly, the kids had it all handled. They even yelled, "CAR!" when a car turned on to our street. All the kids, urgently moved to the sidewalk or edge of the road to let the car through. I know, it sounds like Pleasentville over here. On this day it kind of was. All of the parents shared their bike riding stories about how we took over the town when we figured out how to ride a bike. We were allowed to the Diary Queen or to the park by ourselves, or how we'd ride to the store for our parents. We all agreed that that wasn't happening with this bunch, but we could now see the world open up for our kids. "Can we go to the park?" they asked. Fortunately for us, it's at the end of our cul-de-sac, and we can all see it from our houses, but this question and desire for freedom comes naturally to a child who has been given the opportunity to ride a bike.
I have to say, I'm really proud of my boys for doing so well on their bikes. Later, when we rode down to a different park, Henrik wondered why a boy older than him was still using training wheels. He impressed kids from the park who were playing basketball and were probably 8-10 years old as he rode around. "He's riding a real bike?!" they wondered in shock. They then saw Theo on his balance bike and Theodor just smiled at them as he rode away.
I smiled too. Maybe the "freedom" isn't just being allowed to go somewhere by yourself. Maybe the freedom is knowing that you are capable of more than you thought. Absolutely, a bike is a mode of transportation, but it's also a tool to teach kids how to fall, how to test their own comfort and boundaries and how to get back up and try again. And, it's the freedom for a parent when you give your child those tools and lessons. A lot of growing up happens around a bike, and while it's hard to sit back and see your three and two year old boys riding around cones and jumping off curbs, it's also really rewarding.