Sunday, May 20, 2007

How Things Have Changed

At the risk of sounding like a complete Old Geezer, things are sure different than they used to be. Particularly for kids.

The Bunny's school does a Bike Rodeo in the spring. Perhaps they did one for you when you were in elementary school. It's a day everyone brings their bikes, and during P.E. time you learn bike safety, hand signals, and do some traffic type riding. At the Bunny's school, the P.E. teachers make chalk outlines on the soccer field and kids practice riding around the "blocks" and obeying traffic signs, looking both ways, etc.

I remember being in elementary school, and we walked the 6 or 8 blocks to school every day. But once you were in either second or third grade, you were allowed to ride your bike to school. Of course, you'd had your safety training by then.

I remember we were all required to get off our bikes and walk across the street--at the intersection. There was one busy street where this made sense, but most of the streets were purely residential streets, and by the time we went to school, all the dads had already taken the one family car and gone to work. So while we did walk across the busy street, we bent the rules a little bit. We had a system where we would cross one foot over--so the right foot was on the left pedal--and slide off the seat and balance, holding on to the handlebars. Technically, we weren't ON the bike, we were beside it--even if we were actually using the wheels to propel us.

Well, like I said, things are different these days. Specifically, because we live in the city, and because as a culture we are aware Bad Things can happen to kids, our kids just don't ride bikes. In fact, Bunny had to go out and be taught how to ride a bike just so she could participate in the Bike Rodeo. Which seems totally backward to me. It's not that she needs to know the rules so she can be safe while riding her bike--it's that she needs to learn how to ride the bike in order to learn the rules.

This was particularly apparent as Mr. Sweetie and I were trying to get Bunny to trust her balance and ride. Now, realize that Bunny has a scooter, which she rides very well. Her balance is excellent and when she is on a bike, she looks totally balanced and fine. But she is scared of riding a bike, and doesn't want to ride a bike, and is only on the bike because of this damn Bike Rodeo.

Now, I have some firm ideas about parenting, and one of them is that parents should stay the hell out of their kids' schooling as much as possible. A parent who treats a child as a special case does more harm to the kid's ability to fit in. I'm thinking particularly about the kind of parent who says "I don't care what the assignment is, I am telling my child she doesn't have to do it." But I have to tell you, my resolve was a bit tested by watching my sweet tempered Bunny in serious tears over having to ride a bike.

I could have called the P.E. teacher at home and asked for her to be excused--which is exactly the kind of parental interference I hate. But she was SO upset! Okay, but that's only going to make her stand out and maybe force her to tell her friends that she isn't participating because she can't ride a bike, which by 5th grade has got to be social suicide.

Then, maybe I could call the P.E. teacher and ask if she could come with her scooter instead of a bike? Is that really any better? Maybe I just keep at her to learn how to ride, in spite of her tears? I mean, it's not like it's a critical life skill--like multiplication, for example. She could easily go her whole life without riding a bike. Is it really worth this amount of emotional upset? Watching her be upset is physically painful to me. It's a Mom thing, I guess.

This is the kind of thing they don't tell you about in What to Expect When You're Expecting, and this is the stuff you need the most help with. I mean, the baby's going to grow and get itself born after 40 weeks--you don't really need books to tell you how to make that happen. What you do need is someone to tell you how the hell you decide how much to push your child to do something new, and how much is too much.

In the end, we all stuck it out. I finally settled on believing that she was fully capable of riding a bike, and she would even enjoy it if she would just let herself go. She ended up using what she called a "moonwalk" where she sat on the bike, but didn't pedal. Instead, she just pushed herself along with her feet.

We both survived the ordeal, but this is exactly the kind of thing that drives me crazy about being a parent. She CAN do this--she doesn't WANT to. And who says she has to?

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