I Wanted to be a Dad

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Dad.

I was reminded of that today when my eight year old asked why I almost never ride my bike.

My husband is taking the two older boys on their first official ride, an eight-mile kids’ version of Elephant Rock. They got their Elephant Rock t-shirts and race number stickers for their helmets. They did a warm-up ride last night before dinner. And the excitement this morning was high.

“Mom, why don’t you ever ride your bike?” I know it was his way of saying, “I’m nervous. Please come!” But what I heard in that moment was, “Mom, why aren’t you as fun as Dad?”

I am staying home with our four year old who, though he learned to ride a “pedal bike” last weekend, is not quite ready for an eight-miler.

And that’s how it typically goes. Moms stay home with the little ones when the adventure really gets going.

My husband has earned this special time with the kids. He works long hours, arriving home just in time to get them all riled up either right before dinner or just before bed. I have the luxury of being with the boys all the time, especially in the summer, when we spend hours at the pool. I see them with their friends. I go to their basketball practices. I do homework with them. I read them stories. I get to snuggle with at least one of them at least once a day. I really get to capture the little moments of their childhood in my memory.

I know I have the better deal! And I love being their Mom.

The problem is that my husband just makes the day more fun for all of us.

And on a day like today, when they are off to conquer the world on their bikes with Dad in the lead, I remember being a little girl who wished she could be a Dad.

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My Inner William Safire and Riding a Bike

The words we use change over time, across generations, through cultural turmoil, resulting from an invention, or the shouts of a proud four year old.

My four year old just changed how I refer to a “bike.”

When I was a kid, I rode my training wheels until I was 6 or 7. One weekend, my parents decided it was time to learn how to ride without training wheels. We rode up and down the street, my Mom or Dad holding on to the back of my seat until I was ready for them to let go… or their backs gave out, whichever came first. I went from the three-wheel tricycle, to the four-wheel training wheels to…. the esteemed two-wheeler.

“I can ride a two-wheeler!” chanted the suddenly successful first or second grader of my generation.

However, between the time my eight year old and my four year old started riding a bike, there was a life and word-changing invention − a bike with no wheels, known as the “balance bike”.

Three year old boys and girls took to neighborhood streets on “balance bikes” that enabled them to learn the balance required of a two-wheeler without concerning themselves with pedaling. My youngest spent the last two years zipping up and down our street on his “balance bike”, feet up, gliding around our neighbors’ circular driveways at top speeds.

And then last weekend, his parents decided it was time. We put him on a two-wheeler. After a year and half on the “balance bike”, riding a two-wheeler took mere minutes to conquer.

But the number of wheels was not significant to him. It did not define his victory or success. He’d been on two wheels for what seemed to him to be a lifetime. That wasn’t the challenge. What were new were…pedals. They were the real challenge to overcome.

So when my four year old learned to ride a bike, he shouted to anyone who would listen, “I can ride a PEDAL BIKE! I can ride a PEDAL BIKE!”

Not a two-wheeler.

Word evolution. Cheers, Mr. Safire.

Bike Riding with the Boys

Yesterday, we took the boys to Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver for a bike ride. The sky was blue. The temperature was perfect for a ride – not too hot. The dirt path is wide enough that a child with limited control over steering cannot cause trouble. Critical for a four year old speed demon on a very small two wheeler with no pedals. And a concerned mom inexperienced with mixing riding and kids.

My husband and the two older boys took off. They are training for a 7-mile loop of the well-known 100-mile Elephant Rock ride, which my husband rode last year alone. With the middle child finally bribed into learning to ride (with a Wii Skylander game as his prize) and quickly growing confident, their Dad was initially planning to push them for the 30-mile loop. But wiser friends with older children advised him to go small for a first outing.

Our ride yesterday proved they are able. Minimal whining. Big smiles. Lots of boasting afterward. Typical boys.

While they darted up ahead, I coasted with our four year old on his Balance bike. It is an amazing concept that I wish our other two had benefited from. No pedals forces little ones to learn the balance of a two-wheeler when they are small enough to learn it only about a foot off the ground. The four year old rode for some time, talking all the while, before deciding to walk his bike for a stretch.

As we wandered the trail through the dramatic canyon along a gurgling stream, we talked about all the different bird sounds. We defined “rapids” and rated “waterfalls.” We imagined riding our bikes along the top ridge of the canyon and what it would feel like to fall. We guessed many times how far we had ridden. He claimed he saw George Washington’s face carved into the rocks, and made special note of George’s curly white hair. We saw three different colors of butterflies. He rode his wheel purposefully over a beetle crossing our path.

Tiny sips of lemonade were enough to rejuvenate the sweaty boy when he tired, and we kept a slow but steady pace while we talked. More experienced riders stared at the happy little guy on his red pedal-less bike. Some laughed. Others called him “tough” and his bike “cool”. He seemed to add to their day as he did to mine.

And then when his Dad and brothers had turned back and caught up with us, he boasted as much as they did about all we had seen and done while they were up ahead. He was not disappointed when they again rode ahead to the parking lot. Instead, he initiated a game of follow-the-leader in which he cut me off, laughing, any time I tried to pass. Several scratches on the back of my leg are evidence of my repeated attempts not to crash into him and cause injury.

Just less than 5 miles later, we were safe off the trail and driving home. A small adventure on our bikes. A victory for Dad who likes hanging with his guys. A success for the boys. And an afternoon with a four year old to be remembered always.