When I was a kid a bicycle was my first taste of freedom and independence. All the children who lived in our cu de sac would gather on our bikes and ride around our streets engaged in elaborate games. It took me a while to learn to ride a bike, though. It wasn't until Father Christmas clanked in a couple of brand new shiny bicycles for my sister and I one Christmas eve, the kind that folded up in the middle with a hinge for easy transport, (I guess this was before people invented bike racks?), that I mastered the art of riding without stablizers. I must have been at least 9 years old.
Our San Francisco home, being situated on a hill so steep that it is used for the 'street louge' event when our city hosts the “X games”, is not an ideal place for teaching kids to ride bikes. Our Tahoe place however is perfect. We have a long, smooth wide tamaced driveway ideal for bike practice, the streets are quiet, bikes, pedestrians, dogs and kids have right of way over cars. The community up here feels a like going back in time, to how I imagine America was back in the 1970's. It isn't unusual to see a bunch of dusty children, not much older than 7 or 8, flying around on bicycles, unsupervised except by a galumphing golden retreiver with an American flag bandana around its neck.
I've documented here our struggles helping Geekygirl learn to ski. Our first attempts at teaching her to ride a bike were similarly difficult. I optimistically bought a cheap little bike with stablizers last year but she showed little interest in it. Geekygirl is not a child who can be persuaded to try something difficult if she reslly doesn't want to, so the bike languished in the garage. This summer I was determined to get the kids velocepidal. We splashed out on a decent brand of kid bike with smooth pedalling action.
Shopping for these bikes made me wonder about the 'genderization' of everything. When I was a kid I don't recall bikes being quite so obviously “Girl” and “Boy”. As a parent with a child of each gender I would very much like to be able to pass down these expensive items, but we ended up with a purple bicycle with a basket and pink handlebar streamers for Geekygirl (it is at least decorated with dragonflies rather than princesses, and Geekyboy is quite envious of the streamers) and a black and white motocross style one for Geekyboy.
Geekygirl was thrilled with the bike, but still unsure about riding it, and as usual our efforts at encouragement caused her to become self concious and refuse to try. I decided just to sit out in the driveway, reading and half paying attention to her. I love to watch geekygirl play. She takes off into imaginary worlds, narrating out loud the story that she is participating in. She was on some kind of mission that involved climbing the rocks when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was on the bicycle. "The girl needed to take some cookies to her friends house, so she got on her bicycle and zoomed there" I heard her say. Sure enough she got on, pedalled a few feet then hopped off, parked it and skipped off to the imaginary friends house. She came back, rode a few more laps of the driveway, then hopped off again.
I remembered, watching her, how my own childhood bicycle doubled as a pony, a broomstick, or a magical silver deer. Seeing her incorporate hers into into her games reassured me that she would come to love riding it.
Sure enough, by the end of the weekend she was even confident enough to ride in the 4th of July bicycle parade, an event of such wholesome, sweet all-Americanness that it makes me nostalgic for the American childhood that I didn't even have.