I could feel her heart pounding through the thin cotton of her sweaty t-shirt. I patted and rubbed her back halfheartedly while my mind wandered to a place where I could look down on this moment, and I wondered if I appeared more sympathetic than I felt.
My thoughts were: “Come on, you’re not even trying. Don’t wimp out, you’ll feel like shit and make everyone suffer.”
My lips uttered much more encouraging sentiments: “You’re doing great; I know it’s hard, you can do it!”
I had wondered if the bike was too big, if she would be able to control it. I had never been a strong bike rider, and always preferred having the ability to lay my feet flat on the earth if I was so inclined. This bike was so stinking cute though, and it was the smallest one they made that did not come with training wheels.
I knew she wanted to give up. She had tried a couple of runs on the grassy hill, but kept bailing before she gathered enough speed to find her balance point. We were not even worrying about the pedals, just trying to coast a little and find that point. On her last attempt, she totally let herself fall along with the bike, landing on top of it. She lost it, the tears came, the panic unleashed. Naturally, she commenced with yelling at me. “You were tipping me! You’re talking too much! I can see you walking right there! I can’t even breathe!” And the quintessential: “You’re stressing me out!”
Her blond hair hung in her tear-streaked face; her piercing blue eyes shot daggers of accusation and mistrust from beneath the visor of her new pink helmet. So I shut my mouth. I patted and rubbed. I reflected. I hypothesized:
If she gives up, the rest of the day is going to be miserable. I’m not sure that I will ever get her back up here to try again. It could be a year before she will agree to it. We should have taken the training wheels off of the tiny bike for this lesson, and then let her tackle the big one. I don’t know if she can do it, she’s a bit uncoordinated. Should I let her give up?
I felt rather than heard the deep intake of breath. She pushed her hair back, squeezed my hand as she removed it from her back, righted the bike and announced: “I’m ready.”
What process had she been employing during that moment of shared introspection? While I was preparing for the aftermath of her certain failure, she was gearing herself up for success. God, this girl! What a girl.
Her brother and I were instructed not to move or speak. There would be no cheering, no running alongside, no catching her if she fell. We were to reveal no evidence of our existence.
Of course she did it.
I wish I had a photo to show you, but it’s right there in my mind. Her square, defiant shoulders perfectly aligned above the teetering wheels. Her tan, thin arms maneuvering the handlebars through the wobble, her impossibly tiny legs taking purchase on the pedals to maintain the speed she had finally accepted. She turned on to the paved sidewalk and finally glanced over to give me a smile. That’s the photo.
I was actually jogging over to get my camera from the car when we heard the telltale sound of an approaching ice cream truck. Some moments just have to be celebrated rather than documented.