I once heard of a mother’s analogy, “Someone told me I wear my heart on my sleeve, now I know, instead of my sleeve, my heart has taken the form of a chubby, little two year old, running vulnerably around, outside of my body.” My heart is nine.
I received the call about an hour ago. I was in the thick of reading journal articles, grading papers, and drafting ideas, when my son’s father called, “You should probably get up here. He’s really riding this time.”
The skeleton in the closet.
My son is nine, and still deathly afraid of his riding his bike. Is this normal? I have no idea. I only know I learned maybe around 4 or 5.. and I only know each time I see a little 3 or 4 year old taking off their training wheels, I cringe a little. Honestly? Maybe with a little bit of a spiteful roll of the eyes.
Every year we try. Every year- this is it. Michael has owed at least four bikes. Four sparkly, cool bikes that never were honored with the experience of rust, or scrapes. Never littered with that notorious splotch of turf upon the quick stand, or the caked in dirt within the tracking of the tires. No. These poor guys stood valiantly in the dark garage, anxiously wheeled out, only to be walked back amid tears and talks of reassurance, into the confines, with hopes… next time.
In the thick of work, I locked the back door, grabbed my keys and drove, 15 minutes to Kennedy Park. My old stomping grounds. There they were. As I put the car into park I could sense something wasn’t right. Michael was sitting on the bench with his dad. His dad looked up at me. Gave me a weak smile, an, “ I can handle this…??” type of smile.
“Heeeey.. “ I greet them.
His dad is speaking quickly, in almost a whispered tone. Michael’s wincing. Ahh. Crap. He’s hurt. He stands, exaggerating his battle wounds.
I decide to downplay.
“I heard you’re doing great. Let’s see.”
“Aw no. Im done mom. I’m done. I got hurt mom. You want to see??“
He lifts his shirt dramatically to reveal his right rib cage, which is scraped across subtly, 2-3 inches. Not going to lie. I didn’t enjoy seeing it and I had to restrain the mommy in me. Back boo-boo kisser. Back now.
Instead, I told him the story about how I learned to ride my bike on that very pavement. How I scraped my toes, skinned my knees, and bumped my elbows, head, and sides plenty of times. Honestly, now in retrospect, I ask myself how I thought that was going to help matters. He only freaked out a little more. He just wanted to go home.
There is that crucial moment in parenthood- many moments I suspect- when you have to think on your feet. Do I feed it to him straight? Play the tough love card? Or, do I soften the blow, and do what I REALLY want, which is to grab him, hold him, shelter him, squeeze him, comfort him, in the outreach of my desperately loving arms.
It’s striking how much you can love another individual.
There he was- my heart- on a shiny, barely used, blue and white Huffy. Shaky, looking awfully overgrown to be waddling so much. Strangers and passerbys gave encouraging glances and sympathetic grins. One sweet jogger gave him a thumbs up, “Great work. Looking good. Keep at it.”
“Yeah, she just feels sorry for me.”
“No way. She sees how hard you’re working.”
He finally allowed me to hold the back seat of his bike to the tracks and back, through tears and anguish. No dramatization. This was real deal fear. I promised to hold the bike the whole while, and I meant it. I want him to ride, I’ve let go- literally- dozens, upon dozens, of times. I’ve watched him fall, scrape and bruise. So I held on, despite the impulsive thoughts, antagonizing and prodding me to let go and see what happens. Look, I’ve been there, done that.
No. This time- I decided to hold on, and I did. I can’t say it helped. My thoughts were that I just wanted him to feel comfortable. I want him to believe in himself, to feel secure.
I ran on the cracked pavement, behind him, just as awkward as he was on the bike, all crooked, and swerving. I ran, running pigeon toed and crooked, attempting to avoid the spinning tires while grasping the back of the seat. Did I mention I was in low heels and dress pants? Just another side note to complete the picture. We were a spectacle to be seen.
Our run came to an anticlimactic end. We reached the bench. He got off. As quick as he could. Then, he went back to holding his side.
“You’re going to do it. With each attempt and bruise and cut.. you’re getting closer. Anything worth achieving, is worth working hard for.”
In the moment, I wondered if my words fell on deaf ears. I tried as many analogies and used as many encouraging words as I could.. but.. you never know.
He got back into his dad’s car as I blew a kiss and reminded him how much I love him. His dad gave me a reassuring, “It’s ok.” As he closed the car door.
My heart drove away in a maroon charger, safely buckled securely in his seat belt, as my own thoughts whirled and wheeled.
We never know. We never know what will stick, what will resonate, what will heal, what will scar. The irony killed me. Him- so fearful and doubting, Me- so resolute and assuring. So outwardly strong. Inwardly, my fear was an abyss compared to his ditch of dread. He feared for his skinned knees, while I feared for his scarred self esteem, his bruised ego.
Like any risk in life, sometimes you have to let go and let the rhythm of life take flight. This pertains to all aspects. I wonder how much my “holding on” keeps my heart from soaring. Solace lies in each breath we take, whispering words of love and encouragement…each reassuring breath that whispers, “It’s ok. Its ok to get hurt. You have to be strong.” Let go and live. Sometimes the runway may be long. May be narrow. But I will let go, and you, my little heart, will soar.