May 25, 2011

learning to ride.

In kindergarten, I fell off of my backyard swingset and broke my arm. It happened right at the beginning of the summer, just as the weather turned humid and warm. This in itself was a catastrophe for my five year old self: no swimming during the summer?!

But the real tragedy was this: All my friends learned to ride a bike that summer. And I didn't.

By the time my cast came off that autumn, everyone I knew had become an expert in cycling--the two-wheel version, that is. Kids were riding their fancy new bikes to school--ones without a basket, without streamers, without a hot pink bell--and I remember feeling a sort of humiliated panic, a desperate fear that I was behind. That all of my friends were moving forward while I was standing still. 

The fear turned into a phobia, of sorts. What if I never learned? What if I didn't learn until--gasp--high school? What if I became the only teenager in the history of the world who still needed training wheels? It was a crippling fear, one so wrought with shame and embarrassment that I couldn't even try--couldn't even let myself learn. Again and again my parents would offer to teach me, but I'd worked myself up into such a frenzy that I'd say no, no, not now. Next month. Next season. Next year.

None of my friends cared that I couldn't ride; it was a big deal to no one but me. And luckily, I was best friends with all the boys--I was part of the pack of guys who grew up in my neighborhood--and since they never teased me about it, no one else did, either. Besides, I made it work: I'd ride a scooter, or rollerblade, or run along side them in the street.

Finally, in fourth grade, at the ripe old age of ten, I learned. I picked a weekend when none of my friends were around, when I knew there'd be no one to see me riding through the neighborhood, and I hopped on the two-wheeler my parents had bought me for my birthday that year. It was purple and perfect, and I learned in a matter of minutes.

Afterward, I kept kicking myself: Why hadn't I just hopped on sooner? Why had I let all that fear and shame and humiliation fester inside of me, stop me from learning something new? What, really, had I even been afraid of?

Looking back, it's obvious: I was afraid to fail. I was afraid I'd tumble and crash and become the laughing stock of the neighborhood--The Girl Who Couldn't Ride A Bike. I was afraid, mostly, that I'd disappoint myself. That I wouldn't meet my own expectations.

It's a tough lesson to learn, fearlessness. It's especially tough to walk into uncharted territory and be willing to let yourself fall, let yourself collapse and make mistakes--let yourself totally, completely screw up. But it's only by walking into that unknown that you ever realize what you can do.

And really, it's all just a battle with yourself:
Learning to accept that sometimes, you might fall that first time.
Learning to believe that someday, you might just ride.

(Photo: Tim)

8 comments:

nadiine said... [Reply to comment]

i need to start learning to ride a bike again! the last time I rode a bike I was too big for it and it fell apart - stabalizers and everything! I was traumatised! I must have only been about 3 years old! I think now at the age of 21 I can face my fears but we'll see!

lrs said... [Reply to comment]

this is a message i really needed to hear today. thank you so much.

brlracincwgrl said... [Reply to comment]

This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

Allie said... [Reply to comment]

I want to print this out and put it on my mirror to read everyday. So dead on and perfect!

Maura said... [Reply to comment]

this is so beautiful. i love everything you post! you're a very talented writer. can't wait til you write that first book :)

Tiana Ells said... [Reply to comment]

I hadn't ridden a bike in about 5 years. Recently I just bought a freaking sweet beach cruiser. I didn't realize how out of shape I was until I started riding around.

You're writing is amazing by the way.

Jennifer Rod said... [Reply to comment]

beautiful! now if I could just learn to ride a ride a bike.

Roshan said... [Reply to comment]

I so want to make this into a movie - The Girl Who Couldn't Ride A Bike. Where in the end she saves her family or perhaps her neighbourhood while riding on her bike.