Back on the Bike: Lessons in Resilience from my Preschooler

Here is what we share:

The frustration tears. The hot, humiliating tears that start to burn when we are afraid or uncomfortable or feel like we’ve been caught being less than perfect. The betraying, infuriating, soul-revealing tears. I hate those tears.

You are learning to ride your bike.

You are learning, and it’s hard. We hate hard things, you and me. We prefer to wow, we prefer to win easy, we prefer the work that is quickly, impressively done. We are not keen on feats that demand things like diligence and perseverance and sometimes even bravery.

I am learning how to not save you.

We hate hard things, you and me.

Braking is hard, hills are mountains, those hot-hated tears are building, and you are furious with me for not holding on to the bike you are riding. My hand is inches from the handlebars, and I have not and will not let you fall, but you are afraid and I will not hold you — I’m not sure I can think of a more heartbreaking lesson.

The tears are winning, so I crouch down in front of the bike.

“Hey.”

“HOLD ME.”

“I can’t hold you. I will not let you fall, but you have to learn to do it yourself.”

“NO.” The tears win. I know that victory. We hate those tears.

“Do you need to walk home?”

You nod as you meltdown, you wail as you climb off the bike, you bark orders and refuse to let me touch you.

“TAKE… MY …HELMET… … OFF.”

“Okay. Take some breaths and calm your body down.” Those breaths are our first line of defense against those tears, you and me.

“I need you to help me walk your bike home please.”

“YOU ARE PUSHING IT ON ME. I CAN’T FIT.”

“AH YOU ARE FALLING IT ON ME.”

“IT IS GOING TO ME YOU ARE PUSHING IT.”

I’ve got a real perilous grip on my hard won cool at this point. People are staring. We share those damn tears. Never mind the 30 bonus years I’ve had to learn to keep them in line. Deep breaths, calm my body down.

“Baby, we have to make space for other humans on the sidewalk and I am doing the best I can. Hi, sir, sorry.”

I sit on the porch steps while you hide behind a post, and I wait. I wait because I am you 10,000 times in this moment, and me/you wants to somehow be held and not seen, be loved and invisible all at once. Inside, there are screens and distractions and at least seven ways we can just stay mad each other, so I sit, and you hide. A few minutes go by.

“I like the sunset.”

“I CAN’T SEE IT.”

“Well, me neither, but I like the light on that tree. See?”

You are behind me now, poking my shoulder. Touched without being seen. Your voice shrinks to its normal size.

“I like it too.”

“Can I tell you something?”

You are next to me now, playing connect-the-dots with the freckles on my arm. You nod.

“I’m really proud of you.”

Now you look at me and shake your head, hard. You don’t look away, so I breathe deep and look right into the wound in your eyes in the center of my own soul, the one behind the tears we share that says we’re the only ones alive who are unworthy if we fail, and say it again.

“I am. I’m really proud of you.”

You shake your head again.

“Wanna know why?”

It’s a small nod, but it’s there. You still haven’t looked away.

“Because I know you’re scared, and frustrated, and this is super hard to learn, but every day, you keep trying. I think you’re really brave to keep trying. I’m scared to do things too.”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm, sometimes I’m scared to have hard conversations. Or to try something new that I know I won’t be good at. My friend tried to get me to play a game called hackysack where you kick a little ball and I was super worried that everyone would think I looked silly and I wouldn’t be good at it.”

“But you were good at it?”

“Nope. I looked so silly.”

“How did you look?”

“Really?”

You nod. Now you’re smiling, so I do an impression of myself failing miserably. Then you do a better one. Here is a place in me I don’t let anyone see, but I’ll open it for you if it saves you from closing yours.

“I didn’t do a good job with riding my bike.”

“Yeah, happens to both of us. Can I tell you something else?”

“Yeah.”

“You have to learn how to ride without me holding on.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?”

“Because you don’t fit next to me with bushes?”

“That’s a reason. Why else?”

“Because I know how to do brakes and I know how to go slow and I can do it myself?”

“Also true. What else?”

“Because when I’m a big kid and grown up I will ride fast and you can’t catch me?”

“Yep. And maybe sometime I might want to ride a bike too, so we can ride together.”

“You don’t like riding bikes.”

“I’d like to ride with you.”

“You don’t have a bike anymore.”

“I can rent one right over there.”

Here’s what we don’t share: You stand up and walk back to your bike. Me, I have spent decades learning to recover, years hiding away and retreating when embarrassed, years abandoning projects and getting tired and bored or distracted, but you, you have a core of fire in you. You are a resilient, magical thing. And you’re a girl who loves to call a bluff.

“I need your help to get my helmet back on.”

“Why?”

“So I can ride over there and we can get you a bike.”

Kid, if you retain nothing else of the hours of rants and inspirational speeches you’re going to have to endure from me, hear this: you’re the most impressive person I’ve ever known. All those big, deep feelings, all those frustrated tears, the hurt and the fear and that mighty resilient core — that’s world changing alchemy. That’s the whole of it. Keep it all. Stay in it.

Keep getting back on the bike.

Karyn Thurston writes about womanhood, motherhood, and her endlessly messy attempts to live and love well in San Diego, CA.

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