The Fearful Rider

I run across streets.

Two weeks after my 11th birthday, I was hit by a car. Apparently, the car was speeding as the driver was late for work. I don’t care. It was a Wednesday night. My family and I had frozen pizza for dinner. Friends of mine were going to Loesche Elementary School’s playground. The playground had an old rocket ship. When the wind blew or kids pushed, the top compartment of the aged ship would shake. My knees would grow unsteady as I approached the top of the ship. I was eager to conquer my fear and confidently climb to the top of the rocket ship.

Sure, I would go to the playground. My friends and I rode our bikes there. I made it to the top of the rocket ship and enjoyed the view of my childhood neighborhood. On the way home, we got separated. When I got to Red Lion road, I got off my bike with the intention of walking it across to the other side. I never made it.

I have very vague memories of the next few hours. I had a severe concussion and was badly bruised. However, nothing was broken – except my bike that is. For a few years after the accident, I had to go for EEG’s. Doctors were concerned I could have a seizure. Thankfully, I was fine and had no long-term affects.

Except, I run across streets. When I come to a big street at an off hour, I run. Red, yellow, or green, I run. I never ride a bike. I don’t like driving near people on bikes. I do everything I can do avoid them. I hate seeing bicyclists on the streets.

BR is 8 years old and is unable to ride a bike. He has certain issues that make bike riding more challenging for him. One of my summer goals was to enable my elder son. We have started practicing in earnest this week. On Monday and Wednesday, we went around the block with BR on his bike and me guiding him. I’d like to say that this practice is showing promise.

He fights me nearly every pedal of the way. When I say it is time to go outside, he immediately goes for his scooter (without his helmet – but that’s another story). BR dictates that the only way he will practice is if I do not let go. I try to reason with him: you’ll never learn this way and it is okay to fall. He doesn’t accept my reasoning. We start out with my hand on his back. He insists on both hands, but I don’t give in on this.

As BR rides along under my guiding hands, I give instructions: keep pedaling, eyes up, remember to steer. He takes in the instructions like a pampered athlete.

“Why, why, why? I don’t see why.”

“Just trust me. I know what I am talking about. And stop talking and focus on what you are doing.”

He doesn’t stop talking. I let go for a moment. He can do this. He is doing it. Then, the bike crashes. Actually, that is not accurate. He puts the bike down. BR is scared.

“You were doing it. You can do this. Why did you stop?”

The excuses fly. He will never say the truth: He is scared. I don’t know how to make him not scared. Is it possible more practice make him less scared? Of course. Those issues noted above include anxiety. It is neither surprising nor unexpected that it would take more practice for BR to get bike riding down.

Then, there is the other side of me. I am scared. In the 30 years since the accident, I have ridden a bike a grand total of two times. Both times were while I was on vacation, and I did not enjoy it.

So what do I say to BR when he questions, “Why do I have to learn to ride a stupid bike anyway?” My answers – it’s fun, a kid your age should be able to ride a bike, what are you going to do when the other kids are on their bikes – don’t even convince me. Or him. He comes back with the dagger of a comment for which I have no real answer. “But you don’t ride a bike. Why don’t you ride a bike? You’re okay.” A mumbled, “That’s different.”

We’ve made it around the block, and I am thankful. We have practiced. He’s getting better, I think. The end of the summer is not so far away. BR can be riding a bike on his own by then. I am convinced of it. I just have to find a way to convince him. Then, maybe he can convince me to ride next to him.

34 thoughts on “The Fearful Rider

  1. It’s amazing how incidents from our childhood still effect us today. My kids can’t ride bikes yet either, their tires are always flat and it is so much trouble to haul them to the gas station to air up the tires, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

  2. My daughter taught herself how to ride a bike last year. Our neighbor gave us a bike that was rediculously small and she was comfortable with it because her feet were so close to the ground. Maybe that would work. She also taught herself how to swim using the same principle. We were on vacation last year and they had a huge pool that was only three feet deep. The trick seems to be having a high level of comfort.

  3. I sympathize with you. I can’t really relate because I’m an avid cyclist and the cycling gene was passed onto my kids, but the way you write about teaching your son to ride and your own fears, I really get that. Some people just don’t like riding. Whether it’s fear or doubt; it doesn’t matter what the reason. I truly believe that you either love it or you hate (or at least strongly dislike it). Do your son’s friends ride their bikes? If he’s not hangin’ out with kids who are riding all the time, he probably doesn’t need to learn because it means that he’s never left behind while they ride. My daughter learned because she wanted to ride with the big kids and she couldn’t keep up with them when she still had her training wheels. Kids (like adults) tend to do things when it matters to them in some way. He’ll get there; don’t worry.

    • I don;t see many of his friends riding bikes around here. i am sure this would help to push him. However, he is the kind of kid that if he does not want to do something, his anxiety will stop him regardless of peer pressure.

  4. There’s actually so much to consider here. I’m not sure I would push him beyond his comfort level. He will learn eventually. Is it possible he senses your fear which is, btw, completely justified. He will remember that you took the time to teach him, that’s what’s important. My boys don’t have any memories of their dad teaching them anything really and now it’s too late. Concentrate more on making memories than achieving success. 🙂 You’re a good dad.

  5. This is an honest and warmhearted blog post. It made my emotions work with you! And I think you’re brave to still stand and work with the bike!
    I admire you! Well done!

  6. My son is 12 and still won’t ride his bike. He’s had 3, all different sizes as he’s grown. There is severe fear and anxiety associated with bike riding for him. I’ve all but given up so good for you for sticking it out. Keep us posted. You both can do this.

  7. Well done, Larry. Lots of great elements – nostalgia, depth of emotion, relate-ability, strong ending. Thanks for the “ride” – enjoyed your post! You’ll have to let us know if your son learns to ride by the end of summer. 🙂

  8. Hi,
    Just maybe you’re trying to hard. Maybe you are trying to get over your own fear by making BR ride a bike and that kid knows it. He may not be able to explain it so that you can understand, but he knows this is your thing. I hope you forgive me, because I am not trying to tell you how to raise your son, but what if he doesn’t want to ride a bike? What if something inside of him repells from the idea because he knows it is not what he wants? I never learned how to swim as a kid. Everybody was being thrown into the middle of the water and they came out swimming. Not me, I panic, started fighting the water, and my brother had to save me. I will never forget that. I didn’t want to go into the water anyway, but everybody thought I should do it. Everybody, except me. Today, I still don’t swim, but I am not afraid of the water. But it is not because of what happened back then. No, the fear went away when I got to a certain level of maturity where I wanted to learn about how the body can float on water. So today, I float and that is good enough for me. I don’t feel a need to swim. I love to watch others doing it but I don’t sit there while they are swimming and drool and wish I could. I am extemely happy with my floating. So maybe, just maybe, your BR is rejecting living your life horror. The questions that he ask you are very revealing. Kids see much more than we think because they have the gift of seeing behind our veneer into our souls. I hope you don’t mind my speaking out, because you are dear to me, but this came out of my heart as I was reading your article.

  9. Ooooh, what a fabulous post! I so relate to being afraid. I also had a bike accident as a child that left me scared to ride and uneasy about my girls riding. I’m sorry you had such a traumatic accident – so scary. It’s wonderful how you’re acknowledging your own fear and helping your son get past his own. Here’s to a father-son bike ride in your near future!.

  10. It is my opinion (for whatever that means) that you should get on a bike and ride (and play Queen’s “Bicycle Race”!). Your son is most likely picking up on your fear and hesitation. You do not seem like a “do as I say and not as I do” kind of dad, so why start now? And be honest with him. Don’t children need to know that it is ok to be scared and the important thing is how you handle and what you do with the fear? (what guilt?). Sorry for being so blunt – it’s a habit of mine.

    • Good/fun song.
      He probably is picking up on my fear to an extent. However, it is not quite so simple. He has ot issues and anxiety. I have told him it is okay and everybody falls. I even had him put his feet down on to help him feel more comfortable (helped a bit). Anyway, you can see it is a bit more complicated.
      I don’t mind the bluntness at all. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Now I’m nervous…thanks a lot!

    Kidding of course…best of luck encouraging him and maybe jumping back on two wheels and joining him more:)

    Pretty sure our offspring sense our fear and best us with it.

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