Friday, July 24, 2009

Failure Parenting

About two years ago we bought a little pink bike for Mckenzie. It had purple squiggles on the wheels and a flower seat--and it was at the thrift store and it was only five dollars. She was too young for the bike at the time, her two-year-old feet barely reaching the pedals--and without a concept of steering, so we waited.

The little pink bike with purple training wheels came out every once in awhile, when Mike or I was willing to hold Kenzie and move the handlebars to steer for her. Last year she figured out how to turn the pedals, but still not the handlebars. She would push as hard as she could on those pedals on the driveway until she ran into the inevitable grass and then hollered for us to come and turn her around. The pink bike was not a lot of fun. I sighed and longed for the days when I would not have to get up from my perch on the porch to rescue her stuck pedals and wheels.

Last week we watched the neighbor boy (who is four like Kenzie) and his dad hop on their bikes and ride around the block. Kenzie turned to me and said, "I want to ride my bike mom." I sighed a little at the prospect of walking behind her while she got frustrated about not being able to go where she wanted. "Will you ride your bike with me?" Kenzie asked.

"Sure. Go get your shoes on," I said. She raced to the house and put on her barbie crocs, not the most suitable biking shoes, but I figured it would be like it has been--down the driveway-stuck, to the neighbors-stuck, get off the bike and desert it for other toys. I got my bike anyway just to humor her. She got on her bike, turned out of the driveway and kept going. When we got to the corner--a slight uphill, daunting for my 4-year-old, I encouraged her to pedal faster to make it around and up the corner. She was elated and her face was flushed with the pleasure of accomplishment when she made it to the top and around that corner. We went around the "short" block. When we got home she said, "That was so fun! I want to do it again." She went faster and I again encouraged her on the corners to accelerate and cheered when she made it.
"Oh! There's a hill," she said everytime we hit a little bump in the sidewalk where a tree root had elevated it, and then she laughed when she succesfully navigated the challenge. She said she wanted to go further, so we went around the big block. Halfway home we met Mike on his bike.

"Are you done?" I asked when we got home, thinking of how she often says whiningly,"Mom, my shoes are tired," after walking three houses down the street. "Or would you like to go around one more time to show daddy how you can do it?"

"Again! I like riding my bike. I am good at it," said Mckenzie, still flushed from her last succesful ride. We paused for a drink.

Meanwhile, Mike pumped up the tires on her bike and when she got back on she zoomed down the street.

"Kenzie," said Mike, somewhat alarmed at her speed, "do you know how to stop?" She drug her toes a little and turned the wheel into the grass. "Push your feet back. See there's the brake."
She took off again, and we followed, Hannah quiet in the back carrier on my bike.

The first corner, she accelerated, leaned out and crashed spectacularly. Her knee was banged, and she sobbed a little. But she got back up and with a little more trepidation headed to the next corner. This time she panicked, turned too sharply and got stuck in the grass. Her excitement was fading and my heart was pounding for her.

"It's okay Kenzie. You can do it. You did the corners so good those first two times. You can do it. Let's go to the next one," I said.

She wouldn't go around the next one. Her pedaling crawled to a stop and the corner had a slight hill so she started rolling backwards and she cried out. Mike pushed her around the corner and up the hill.

"Don't worry," I said. "You got it. The next corner is a flat one. Show Daddy how you did it before. You can do it." She accelerated and put an unconvincing smile on her face. She headed into the corner, didn't turn and fell onto the grass, crying uncontrollably.

Heartbreak was something I thought I'd left behind in my melodramatic college romances. The ones where when they were over I sprawled dejectedly on the floor and moaned about how "my life was over" or where I ate a whole bag of reeses peanut butter cups and then tried to throw them up. Those were the days--and I thought they were gone. I had arrived at a fairly confident and competent part of my life, and these were my shields.

As a parent I have found heartbreak and insecurity once again. "Why, oh why, did I tell her to accelerate into the corners?! What kind of an idiot am I? You don't accelerate. This is all my fault. That was good when her tires were kind of flat, but now I've ruined biking for her," I thought. And it was more heartwrenching than feeling my own failure to watch my daughter's confidence falter and then fail. It was overwhelming to think about all the times I might give her bad advice, teach her misguided information. I felt so inadequate.

"Kenzie," said her dad, holding her sobbing body in his arms. "Do you want to stop riding now?"

"Yes," she sobbed, not really hurt but crushed. "I don't want to ride anymore."

"Well, you have to get back on. You have to ride home," said Mike. "You can do it."

She pedaled very slowly and carefully home, tears streaking her cheeks.

Today, I casually suggested we ride our bikes. She agreed. She got on her bike, pedaled a little and then began crying. She cried the whole time and dragged her feet. I hurt a little for her, but was frustrated as well. I only know one thing to do.

We will keep getting on our bikes. We will probably fall a few more times. That's part of bike riding. But we will keep trying and eventually we'll make it around the corner again.


The Spencer Family said...

I feel your pain. My Tyelr has learned (after lots of pain staking hours - my hours, I wanted him to learn more than he did) to ride his bike w/out training wheels, well he did and guess what??? The bike sits in the garage! He has no desire to ride. It kills my competative nature, but what can I do? I ask him daily, but to no avail. It is like everything in life, our own lives, as well as our parenting lives, we just keeping at it, little by little. We might never reach perfection but we will die trying right?

Melissa said...

Oh Steph, all our fault. I hope her bike riding days are not over!! Tell McKenzie she can come and ride at our house with Tayson, there are not that many corners or uphill battles to be fought!!

Loralee and the gang... said...

The only way to fail is to give up completely - and it doesnt' sound like you have done that. And I know you will keep encouraging your daughter! You are a good mom!

Anonymous said...

What sad lessons we learn at such a tender age. Kenzie will overcome and so shall you. You and Mike are great parents with great kids.

Kristyn said...

Cute Kenzie! She is a sweetheart. I won't discuss my 5 year old's lack of strength and coordination (and speed) in bike riding. He has finally figured out the pedaling this year, but.........he has lots of practice ahead of him. He will get it......right?