Riding a Two-Wheeler: A Metaphor for Growing Up

Yesterday, while waiting for the elevator, I heard a colleague talking about teaching his kid to ride a bike. He was describing the process of running alongside his son, having him pedal, while he held on to the seat and handlebars. Then he let go of the handlebars, and kept running, just holding on to the seat of the bike, so that his son could get the feeling of riding alone, even though he was still there. Finally, the moment of truth came when he let go completely and after a few seconds his son looked back and realized that no one was holding on, panicked, screamed and jumped off the bike.
It’s an interesting thing, riding a bike… For the rest of your life, people always keep this learning experience as a reference. “It’s like riding a bike…”, They say… implying that the subject at hand, once learned, is never forgotten. But learning to ride a bike is much more than a childhood skill that we keep. It’s a process, just as in my colleague’s story. Sometimes there are training wheels, helmets, and elbow pads, always to be followed with the guiding hand holding the handlebars and seat. When you think about it, it’s a remarkable experience. A child, who can just barely dress alone, is propped up on this unstable mechanical device, and propelled forward, told to keep pedaling, and to steer, a verb that means nothing up until this point. The child has no experience to fall back on to help him with this task, but tries nevertheless, over, and over, and over… until he gets it. Despite the sharp repercussions of falling, failure is simply not accepted, because everyone learns to ride a bike, right? I wonder what else could be accomplished if all tasks were attempted with the same dogged determination.
For me, a similar bar was set with graduating from college: a task I completed only two years back. Failure was simply unacceptable. And, upon graduating, despite having ridden a bike successfully for over 15 years, I realize in other ways, I am still learning to handle my “two-wheeler”.
In high school, I wanted to be independent. My parents patiently ran beside me through the four years. They told me to study, cheered at my track meets, helped me apply to college, taught me how to drive, and set a curfew.
Then, one day, I left. One thousand miles away, and I was on my own. The college dorms had no curfews, the classes had no attendance lists, and the only thing that stopped the parties were the 9 o’clock tests the next morning. Stubbornly, I (mostly) resisted the temptations to party too late, sleep through classes, and skip track practice. I kept both hands on the handlebars and churned hard… and sometimes it felt like it was more uphill than downhill. And these times, when I just couldn’t pedal anymore, I called home. One thousand miles away, thank god, my parents were still holding on to the seat.
Then, just as soon as it had started, it was over. And I moved farther away. Three thousand miles now, living on my own, and I had to start a job, find a place, buy a car. I’m used to feeling like I’m on my own, but the question in my mind is: Who’s holding on to my seat now? If I look back, will I see my family growing smaller in the distance, as I pedal away?
I feel I have reluctantly reached the point where my parents are letting go. But on the other hand, wasn’t riding a bike without training wheels always more fun? In some ways, the answer is ‘yes’. But sometimes, the sense of freedom is so great, it almost swallows me. I’m not sure when to turn, or which direction to ride. But thankfully, the metaphor works full circle. My parents were always there when I fell off my bike, and I know that as hard and as fast as I pedal, I can always park my bike in the garage, and finish at home.


One Response to Riding a Two-Wheeler: A Metaphor for Growing Up

  1. Alissa says:

    i like this. it’s clever. and i like the last sentence the best.

    thanks for holding onto my seat craig.


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