So, I was 9 before I learned to ride a bike.
Yeah, I know. Most people learn around 6. I had a bike, but I was too busy trying to learn to tie my shoes–or learn to swim–or cut my own food– uh… wait. I didn’t really learn to tie my shoes until last year (it’s a long story), I’m still more of a floater than a swimmer, and I became a vegetarian mostly because I’m not so good at cutting meat. Ok, so I don’t really have a good excuse.
Anyway, for whatever reason, I couldn’t ride a bike. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. It wasn’t that my mom didn’t run behind me for hours holding the back of the bike, it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to pedal. I mean, every member of my family spent hours in the driveway with me, but I just couldn’t get past the training wheels stage. Finally, I just started to feel dumb, inept and ridiculous. It was frustrating to me and to everyone else. The bike with its streamers went into the garage and stayed there for months.
Then we moved to a new neighborhood. It was quiet and friendly and a perfect place to spend hours riding a bike. But I couldn’t. I just walked or stayed home. The bike stayed in the garage. Eventually, someone noticed. At a cookout one evening I wanted to go with the other kids, but they were all on bikes, so I sat with the adults and looked bored. Our neighbor Richard asked me why I wasn’t out there. As I hung my head in shame, my mom gave a long and embarrassing explanation while all the other adults proffered helpful suggestions.
“Yes, we tried that, but she still can’t ride it.”
“No, it didn’t work.”
“I just didn’t know what else to do.”
Richard spoke up. “I can teach her.”
“Really? I don’t know. We’ve all tried…”
Richard looked at me and said, “Meet me in our driveway tomorrow afternoon.”
I was afraid, but I walked the bike over to Richard’s house the next day. I was fully expected to fall, to fail, to disappoint another adult and embarrass myself yet again. I was afraid this was going to end in another visit to the dentist or the ER. Worst of all, I was afraid that Blake and Michael– Richard’s teenage sons– would make fun of me.
But I got on the bike. After a few falters, Richard said, “Jolie, when you feel like you’re going to fall, turn the handlebars in the direction you’re falling.” Huh? But, if I’m falling that way, then don’t I want to go the other way? That doesn’t make sense. “Just try it and see what happens.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was riding a bike down the biggest hill in the neighborhood with Richard running behind unable to keep up. It is still one of the proudest moments of my life.
I still remember that–“turn towards the way you’re falling.” There’s probably an important life lesson there. But the thing I remember most is that someone believed I could do something, even after I had given up on myself.