Sunday, February 24, 2013

# 45 It's Like Riding a Bike

   It's Sunday evening, I'm 6 or 7, the family is sitting down to roast beef, gravy, potatoes and steamed vegetables. Grace has been said, we are all eating, and my father turns to me and says, "I think you should learn how to ride the bike." It wasn't a question, it was a declaration. My eyes widen, and I say, "OK!"

   After dinner I am out back before my dad, looking at the bike.  It's my older brother's blue hot rod with: no fenders, chipped paint, faulty brakes, and handle grips that are half worn away.  I've seen him ride it a million times with his friends. He can ride with no hands, one hand, he laughs and jokes with the other boys while riding, jumps curbs, pops wheelies, and ditches it on the back lawn like it was nobodies business, he is a pro!  This blue bike will be my ticket to that life!

   So, my dad comes out the back door and says, "OK son, push the bike out to the street."  So, I awkwardly grab hold, push it down the driveway to the curb, parking on the street, parallel to curb.  My dad looks at me, looks at the bike, and to my dismay says, "It's a little big for you, then a pause, but it'll do." Then, he grabs hold of the handle bars with his left, holds the seat with his right, and says "OK, get on. I'll hold you up." He lifts his right hand and I saddle up.  My feet touch the pedals, but just barely. Then he says, "Now steady your bum on the seat, and put your hands on the handle  bars. Now, see the right pedal that's close to you? When we leave the curb, you push on that with your body weight, and when the left comes up push on that one."  I'm getting nervous!

   We do about 15 minutes of this activity back and forth in front about three houses.  He holds onto the handle bars and the seat, while I gain my balance. Then he lets go of the handle bars and says, "It's OK, I have the seat. Keep pushing!"  My progress on this first night is way too slow for me, I want to ride this thing the way my brother rides it, and I'm not even close. Then, to my disappointment, my dad says "OK, that's it for tonight son, we'll try again tomorrow."

    I improve on the second night, but on the third, I hit a snag. I'm up, riding on my own for about the length of one house, when I realize I'm doing it, I am in control, I have the power to ride!  Then, I  panic, lose control of the bike, hit the curb, and wipe out.  As I fall down to the neighbour's lawn I scrape my knee on the curb. There is blood, and then pain.  Not a lot of either, but enough to cause my eyes to well up.  I look down the road at my dad, he is walking my way, eyes fixed on me. When he arrives, he looks at my knee, then my eyes, and says, "OK, that's enough for tonight, crab the bike, lets go home." A little disappointed with his reaction, I get up, pick the bike up, and follow him back to the house. Just before he walks in the back door he says, "Lean the bike on the garage, and come in the house. We'll try again tomorrow."

   I walk in the back door where my mother greets me with "What have you done to yourself? Come into the kitchen and I'll fix you up." As I walk past the living room I notice my dad is settled into a book, and smoking his pipe. So, I sit on a chair in the kitchen where my mother sorts out my wound, and sooth's me with sympathy.

   Then, I inform her, I'm not going out on the bike tomorrow, "my knee hurts." After those words she stands up, puts her hand on my head and says, "Don't be silly, you'll never learn anything if you let something like this get in your way." Then she informs me, "You'll go back out tomorrow."  And that is it, she walks out of the kitchen.

   So, I go back out the next night with my dad, and for three more lessons after that.  By the next Sunday, I am riding with some degree of confidence, no help, and no audience. Within six months I am attempting wheelies, jumping curbs, and riding with no hands.  The next year I am riding to school everyday with my friend, and a couple of years later, I get my first brand new bike as a birthday gift.

   Geez, I am surprised I can remember that far back, let alone, those lessons, but I do. They must have been important to me.

   I learned or developed some important skills during that week: motor skills, dealing with failure, perseverance, the feeling of success, among others.  I only tell you this story because I think these lessons shape how we teach in our future. Regardless of how we feel about the performance of our first teachers, they make the most significant impact. Enough said.