I’m typing with one hand tonight and feverishly scratching mosquito bites with the other. Why? Because a certain Little Bear wanted to ride and ride and ride her bicycle this evening while Mommy sat outside watching … and donating blood to the local vermin.
Now, most people of normal intelligence would have probably been driven inside by the horde of bloodsuckers. But I’ve been waiting nearly a year and a half to see my little girl pedal up and down that sidewalk, and I wasn’t about to put a stop to her fun tonight.
You see, I made the mistake of looking at a child development chart a couple of years ago and deciding that my child should learn to peddle a tricycle or bicycle some time between her second and third birthday. I watched sale prices for months and scored the tricycle of my dreams — a big, shiny, red Radio Flyer — for Little Bear’s third Christmas.
… only to discover that Little Bear wasn’t really interested in big, red, shiny tricycles. Oh, she’d sit on it happily enough. She’d even push it around the house and use it as a makeshift step stool to reach stuff we didn’t really want her reaching. But she simply did not get the concept of pedaling it, and even more disconcertingly, she seemed to have no interest in learning.
I modeled. I encouraged. I cajoled. I attempted to bribe her.
When her third birthday came and went and she still showed no interest in actually pedaling her tricycle, I finally resorted to threatening. (After all, I couldn’t stand the idea that my child was “behind.”)
“If you don’t start riding your tricycle like a big girl, I’m going to put it on Craigslist and sell it to someone whose child will actually use it,” I warned her.
“Ok,” she responded nonchalantly.
Worse yet, she rolled out of bed the next morning, walked into the living room, and asked, “Have you found anybody who wants my tricycle yet?”
With some reluctance, I posted the thing on Craigslist, and it sold within a day. I feared that she would be sad to see it leave, but she wasn’t. I feared that she would soon miss it, but she didn’t. In fact, she never mentioned it again.
We went without any ride-on toys for a few months, until her father found a pink princess bike at a consignment sale. Surely that would entice her to ride, he reasoned.
It didn’t. Oh, she loved her new bike. She loved to sit on it. She loved to be pushed along on it. She would even occasionally put her feet on the ground and scoot herself along on it. But pedal it? No way. Within a few weeks, her bike was parked in the bike rack near our apartment and practically forgotten.
… until last month when one of her playmates rolled past our door on his bicycle and called out, “Hey, look at me! Look what I can do!”
Over the next few days, Little Bear would stand at the window or sit outside watching him ride. Occasionally, she’d get on his bike and try to pedal. Once in a while, she even succeeded. Finally, she turned to me and said, “Mommy, I wish I had a bike.”
“You do,” I reminded her.
Daddy Bear cleaned her bike up, restored it to good working order, and presented it to her a second time. This time, though, instead of trying to make her ride it, we simply made it available to her. If she pedaled it 10 feet or rode for two minutes before running off to do something else, that was her choice. There was no pressure. Yet with no pressure, no cajoling, and precious little adult intervention, she taught herself to do something I hadn’t been able to teach her in all those earlier months of pushing her.
I delighted in watching my little girl zip up down the sidewalk tonight, in hearing the confidence in her voice as she cried “Mommy, look at me!” But while she learned to pedal a bicycle, I learned a much bigger lesson.
The “experts” did not create my child. They did not birth her. They do not live with her. They are not rearing her. They have not observed her. And quite frankly, they have no interest in her. While they may be able to document developmental norms, my child is not bound by those norms. Some things she’ll do well ahead of the norms, such as rolling over within her first two weeks of life. Some, she’ll do right on target, like walking at 12 months. Others, she’ll do later than average (and in some instances — like sleeping through the night — much later than average).
My task as her mother is to love her and guide her into becoming the person she is meant to be, nurturing and encouraging her all along the way. In due time, in her own time, she’ll develop the skills she needs, just as she’s learned to walk, talk, and yes, ride a bicycle.