Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small Repair

I'm glad to be a runner today. I'm not talking about the long run this morning (which dragged a bit during the second hour and found me tired after about 13 miles), but for the afternoon's big activity: Teaching our 5-year-old daughter to ride her bicycle without training wheels. A dad needs to be in shape for this sort of thing.

I vividly remember learning to ride myself, and it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience. I was so worried about disappointing my dad by not being able to do it that I ended up very frustrated, and even in tears at a few points. My dad wasn't very patient back then, and I was probably a bit oversensitive. Eventually I got the hang of it, but it's never been an achievement or milestone that brought back good memories.

Will someone out there cue up "Cats in the Cradle" to play through the next few paragraphs? Thanks.

Anyway, I brought 2-year-old Finn and his tricycle along with Haiden and her two-wheel bike to the big grassy field at the Elementary school nearby. Haiden couldn't wait to get going, and after a few false starts I was running behind her as she pedaled along on her own power, my hands correcting her lightly at the hips when she leaned too far. When she finally got it, she knew it. And after the near-fall that ended her 50 meter cruise she turned around to face me, wide-eyed and grinning.

At this point Finn had given up riding his tricycle in favor of pushing it while running as fast as he could. While only 2, I think he realized that something very cool was going on when Haiden started riding for longer and longer stretches without any help beyond getting started and stopping (those are still tricky).

Remembering my own dad's impatience, I had mentally rehearsed today's scene, and I played it as cool as I could. I tried not to force or rush her, and only asked her to let me know if she wanted to give it another try after the near-crashes, rather than pushing her to continue. Over and over she either asked to try again or just pulled the bike off the ground herself and got into her starting position. After about 45 minutes I was exhausted from all the sprints with the quick changes in direction, and my back was shot from leaning forward with arms out while I did so. When I took off Haiden's helmet her hair was soaked in sweat from the adrenaline and the effort she put into learning to ride. It was obvious she had enjoyed herself and was proud of her efforts.

We stacked the bikes and helmets next to the playground, and while the kids spent the rest of their energy I realized I was emotionally spent as well. I was certainly more nervous about screwing up than Haiden was about falling, getting hurt or just not getting it right, and for that I was thankful. I knew that she would carry this memory with her into adulthood, just as I had with my first two-wheel ride, and I didn't want to screw it up for her.

The more I thought, the more I realized that the memory I carried for all these years probably doesn't give my dad enough credit. I think I wasn't so much afraid of falling and getting hurt while learning to ride two-wheeler as I was fearful about failing in front of my dad. Through years of little league, soccer games, and track and cross country meets I felt the same way. I would sometimes curse to myself when he showed up, for fear of disappointing him. Still, he showed up, over and over. Know where this is going now?

It's been 36 years, and I'm still learning what it means to give my best. All my dad ever wanted was for me to do the same. He never sat in the stands or stood on the sidelines waiting to be disappointed. Rather, he was hoping to see me wide-eyed and grinning at my own efforts. He just wanted me to try and to put myself out there for the character it inevitably builds. Just like when he gave me that poem back in high school just after I was cut from the baseball team and just before he forced me to run track.

No, he isn't a perfect dad, and I'm certainly not either. But we're much more alike than I'm probably willing to admit. We want our kids to be happy, and we try to pass on the lessons we've learned towards that end. We also want our kids to forgive us when we screw up, as parents often do. He probably still carries the memory of me learning to ride, and I hope for him it's similar to how I felt today. He's certainly earned that.

Training: 2/24, 17.5 miles, 2h03m, 7:00 pace. Tired for the second half, lots of hills
2/23, 10 miles, 1h12m, 7:09 pace


David said...

That was a beautiful post. Now I understand.

running faster with the ALIEN LIZARD said...

Am sure your daughter will look back with fondness and remember her special day with her dad learning to cycle for the rest of her life.

John Kynaston said...

I've read your blog off and on over the past year or so and have enjoyed reading about your training.

But I thought I'd drop you a comment after this post. I have four girls, now 15 upwards, and your post about teaching your child to ride brought back great memories!! Thanks

Keep enjoying your running and family


seebo said...

I enjoyed reading this post, it is very well written.

Juxtaposing generations is something as a dad I can readily identify with.

Thomas said...

I did pretty much the same thing with the twins a few months ago. They were older, both 6, which I guess made it easier for them. I was amazed how quickly they both picked it up; within 30 minutes they were both cycling like pros. We all had a great afternoon that day.

Phil said...

I'm sure you kids will have nothing but fond memories of you.

Joe said...

Dad never gave me a poem. I always knew he liked you best ...