What do we want for our children? It’s a question many people seem to struggle with. Many answer, “Success!” For some, it’s as simple as not facing the troubles they had growing up. Just staying out of jail can be enough for some parents.
I don’t think I’m any paragon of wisdom, but it’s not a question with which I’ve wrestled. I want my kids to be happy. Happy is a solution that is both finite and infinite. It encompasses all our needs, eclipses all our wants.
My attitude about their happiness has informed my approach to their fun. It is, after all, their fun, not mine. I’ve decided that I’ll do all I can to give them the resources to embrace the world. Scooters, skateboards, trikes, balance bikes, and actual bikes (of at least six different wheel sizes) crowd our garage to the point that the cars are parked outside, not in. There’s a soccer ball, a Green Machine, a ramp and at least a few other gizmos that have no purpose other than furthering stoke.
There are days where they don’t dig any of that stuff.
Those days bum me out. And because I’m on the front end of parenting, not the back end where I can begin planning what to do with all that new income, I sometimes despair, and wonder if suddenly wheeled fun has ceased to be a thing. Invariably, it’s just one day, not the end of sport itself.
The Deuce came into this world at a pretty supreme disadvantage, one I won’t recap here. As a result, he’s followed a different path of growth. The tricycle has really only been a delight for three or four months now. His older brother had been on a 12-inch-wheel bike (sans training wheels) for months by the time he was this age. No matter. I let him decide that the trike was his idea of a good time on his own. To do that, I pulled out the trike any time I was doing bike work. I’d leave the trike near me as I wrenched and at first he Fred Flintstoned it, walking the trike around the driveway. Then he gradually began pedaling on downhills. Flat ground came next, but pedaling uphill and the advantage of momentum took another two months.
And he gets the idea of effort. I’ve watched him go for the red kite prayer, staring straight at the ground as he pumps his feet around and around the roughly eight centimeter cranks. He’s plowed into a couple of curbs and a bumper, despite my cries for him to look up. As Pepe Le Pew said, “Le sigh.”
There are a couple of families of ducks nearby and the boys have loved to watch the duckings grow from yellow puff balls to proper Mallards. In riding over, The Deuce must negotiate a number of columns and a few narrow stretches of walkway. It’s made for walking, not riding. Fortunately, the neighbors all think he’s cute, so no one has made a fuss about the lane hog.
It’s no great revelation that I was thrilled when he started pedaling on his own and started asking me to take him downstairs so he could ride the “red bike.” A football coach can be forgiving for wanting to raise a football player, right? Watching his development as a rider satisfied me as a father, but also enthralled me just as a person, as a cyclist who was curious to watch someone gain mastery over a wheeled thing.
The first time he turned sharp, he flipped the tricycle on top of himself. Tears. Same thing the second time, natch. But sometime after that, I noticed him pull a stuntman and then steer that wheel back down. We locked eyes and both exclaimed, “Whoa!” He was more amazed than I was. At least I knew that was possible. He’d just invented calculus.
During a recent ride we were negotiating some of those columns and narrow walkways when I noticed him look over his shoulder briefly to check his clearance, then cut the wheel hard before straightening out. It was a small moment, but one I’d been watching for. One of the big struggles for little people is proprioception—their sense of themselves and their location in the physical world. Part of that struggle is their newness to life itself. Part of that struggle is the fact that because they are growing rapidly, just how big their bodies are is changing on a monthly basis. So just being clear on where your body ends and the rest of the world begins is an achievement for a three year old. Becoming familiar enough with something else that your sense of proprioception extends to it is a remarkable event.
He still bangs fenders and scrapes wheel nuts from time to time, but those are just mistakes; he’s now clear he must allow more room for the trike to pass an obstacle than he requires. It’s a remarkable threshold to pass, and though not unique to him, in his experience it’s significant epiphany. It’s a step toward mastery, and in mastery we find happiness.