The following was inspired from the prompt, “The Novice.”
He was too big for the bike. Knees splayed awkwardly outwards, feet slipping off the pedals, hunched over the handle bars determined to hang on, the bike pitched from side to side, training wheels bent up so far, they didn’t touch the ground. It was time. Time for the training wheels to come off. Time for the big boy to ride a big boy bike.
It was two years past the growth spurt that should have graduated him up from his purple and pink bike, red plastic ribbons hanging in a tattered shower from the ends of the white handle grips, purple metal showing through the torn plastic. The plastic flowers, once carefully woven in and out of the wheel spokes, were bend and faded, flapping against the support bars with every pass.
His face puffed fiery patches across his pale cheeks as he struggled for speed along the long driveway. He leaned into the curve of the circular drive and a training wheel grabbed the pavement. He lost control and went down hard. Tears welled up but he gritted his teeth, rose up, and straightened himself and the bike.
“Kiddo,” I called as gently and evenly as I could. “Those wheels are hurting more than helping.” I stayed still on the path to the house, toes even with the edge of the pavement. It was the furthest away he allowed me to be, watching his every movement. “Maybe it’s time to take them off.”
His head whipped around and his grip turned white on the handle bars.
“No!” He twisted the bike around and stomped toward me. “I need the wheels!”
“Looks like they are getting in your way.”
We looked down at the training wheels, little tread left on them. He’d insisted that the wheels remain tightened as an extra braking system, keeping his speed under control, and his fear. Two years of abuse had locked up the nuts rather than loosened them. The tread was worn in even patches, making the wheels blocks not circles. The metal extension brackets were pointed more to the sky than the ground, twisted and scarred from too many crashes.
He took a deep breath and sighed, the sign of his father when he knew he’d lost the game. “They look sad.”
I contemplated my child and the training wheels. “Useless” was my description but sad was good enough for me. “You’re right.”
“What am I going to do? I can’t ride without them.”
“And you can’t ride with them.”
“Hmm.” Emulating his father again, a hand went to his chin feigning thoughtfulness. His father only did this when contemplating an escape route out of a tough discussion, but Andy picked up the habit and applied it when he dropped into deep thought mode. He signed a deep sigh again and I waited. Gears were churning. “We need to take them off.”
Decision made, it took only a few minutes to find the tools and loosen the screws. The bike was now freed of two of its six tires.
“I’m scared now.”
Reassuring him that he’d been riding for almost two years without the help of the training wheels wouldn’t work. I learned long ago that the best ideas were the ones he made himself, so I agreed with him. “I’d be scared to ride on only two wheels, too. That’s probably why only the older kids ride that way.”
A new idea formed in his head. Until I’d watched my son grow up and never witnessed a true light-bulb moment. Now they were a regular part of my day. “I’m as old as they are. And I’m braver!” He threw a leg over the seat. “I can do this.” He pushed with both feet straddling the bar, waddling himself and the bike toward the end of the driveway. I followed, appearing to not be too concerned as I stepped behind him. He turned the bike around and aimed it down the drive. One foot on a pedal, the other cemented to the pavement, he stared down the course, a warrior facing the enemy. “I can do this.”
I could see him processing the procedure. Right leg would push down on the pedal, left would lift and find the other pedal to continue the churning motion to propel the small bike down the drive. He moved his body forward and back, preparing himself for the forward rush, legs pumping, wind in his hair, bike upright.
He turned his tow-head around with a shy smile. “Will you hold the back of the bike?”
I nodded and stepped up close, hand lightly placed on the back of the seat. He took a deep breath and refocused on the challenge before him. I thought I heard him whisper, “I can do this,” again but it was lost in the burst of speed as he jammed his right foot into motion. My hand twisted off the back of the seat immediately, so I ran behind him trying to catch up, my hand outstretched.
“You holding on!” His shout was barely heard over the sound of rubber tires on rough pavement.
“You’re doing great! Keep it up!” It was the safest response I could offer, shouted out between pants. A meter, now two, three, four, there was no way I could keep up. I stopped running at the break of the circular drive and watched my son fly around the curve. He leaned into it, smile splitting his face wide, and circled around toward me.
He saw me standing still ahead of him. Eyes wide, joy turned into fear.
“You let go! You let go!” He slammed his scarred tennis shoes down on the pavement jerking the bike to a halt. “I can’t ride unless you hold on!”
He started to cry and grabbed the handle bars lifting the front wheel up and slammed it to the ground, bouncing the bike back up into his chest. “I can’t ride!”
I walked calmly toward him, constraining my own celebration of his accomplishment. “Looked like you did a great to me.”
“But I can’t ride without help.”
“You did. All by yourself.”
His blue eyes widened even more as the idea took hold and a measure of confidence returned. “I rode?”
“All by myself?”
His hands lifted from the grips and raised over head. He shouted, “I rode a bike! All by myself!”
I cheered inside, both crying and rejoicing, keeping my outer expression calm, just smiling. This was his moment, not mine.
There is no training for being a parent. And no training and little understanding for the parent of a mentally challenged child. Each day is a new experience in patience. Today it was a lesson in hope. Today I saw a future, my son’s future without me by his side 24 hours a day. I stood back as he threw himself upon on the two wheeled bike built for a 4 year old and raced off shouting. My 12 year old had just graduated from training wheels.
He won the moment but I deserved the trophy.