Mama Madison: Wheel expectations

When it's time to learn to ride a two-wheeler....

It was the summer of 1972. The Watergate scandal was breaking, Jane Fonda was touring North Vietnam and a 6 year old girl in suburban Washington D.C. (me), completely unaware of the politics around her, was itching to put rubber to the road. My mom, aware of my level of grace (or lack there of), pleaded with me to keep the training wheels on for just one more season. But my older brother had learned to ride that morning, and being a closet competitor, I was determined to master a two-wheeler by evening.

I spent all afternoon practicing on the back patio, and around dinnertime felt sure I was ready to attempt going around the block. Things seemed to be going fine up until the final stretch when, for some still unknown reason, I neglected to turn the handlebars sharply enough, and cruised directly into the side of my neighbor's (fortunately) parked car.

The damage to both the car and my bike was minimal; I'm not so sure I can say the same for my ego. While I did get back on the bike a few weeks later, my confidence was shot. I've never felt fully at home on two wheels since--especially street riding. There is just no bike line wide enough to accommodate my fear of falling into traffic.

But I haven't wanted to pass my biking anxieties on to my kids. We live in Madison, for goodness sake, land of the never-ending bike path. Learning to ride here isn't just a right of passage"I think it may be part of the citizenry requirement.

Fortunately, my oldest son, while not exactly what you'd call coordinated, was fearless and determined when it came to learning. He spent day after day tackling the neighborhood church parking lot. It certainly didn't come easy-- he fell. A lot. But there was never any crying or complaining. He could taste the impending success. I think he could also taste the Michael's Frozen Custard we promised when he could ride all the way there.

To be honest, I don't remember much about my second son's learn-to-ride experience. It just went so smoothly. He woke up one day, said the training wheels were coming off, and that was that. I am pretty sure we were down at Michael's to claim his reward before lunch. He toilet trained much the same way -- a simple pronouncement and then follow-through. I promise to remember these smooth parenting moments when he is a teenager. Tougher battles lie ahead.

Teaching my daughter though, was another story. She had no sense of balance and no sense of humor---a lethal combination for learning to ride. It was the summer of 2009; she had just turned seven. And while hardly Guinness-Book-of-World-Records-old for learning, we were starting to get nervous that her fear and apprehension would build over time. It was only going to get harder, both to learn and to fall. But with Labor Day fast approaching, my husband and I had resigned ourselves to the fact that she'd be starting second grade with an extra set of wheels still firmly attached to the back axle.

Then a friend told us about a new event the City of Madison was putting on, Ride the Drive. Downtown streets would be closed to traffic and bikers would rule the road. We kept our fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, a change of scenery might initiate a change of heart when it came to her learning.

My boys and I were all over the six-mile loop. The kids loved being able to ride down the middle of the street (and not just any street, but East Wash, mind you) without me yelling at them to get out of the road. And even I started to understand why so many people are passionate about biking in this town; it's actually pretty fun if you don't have to worry about red lights and car doors.

But the experience was transformative for my daughter. She and my husband packed her bike into the back of the car and drove over to Brittingham Park. Then, without annoying brothers, a nervous mother or self-imposed fears to stop her, it finally clicked. She made it up North Shore Drive and then onto John Nolan"straight on through the Tunnel where musicians were playing. The theme to Rocky would have been appropriate---she was a Champ.

Needless to say, it was ice cream for dinner that night.

Our whole family has gone to every Ride the Drive since... and this year's event, taking place Sunday, June 5 from 10 am-3 pm , looks to be the biggest and best yet (although possibly the last for this year). With a Charity Lap kick-off, a morning bike parade, the Weinermobile and the Milwaukee Brewers Famous Racing Sausages, there is something for everyone (especially meat lovers). And don't forget to make it over to Family Drive (North Shore Drive/Brittingham Place). will be there hosting a "Decoration Station" to help your kids spruce up their rides.

My daughter and I will definitely be stopping by the booth to help cut a streamer or two. It will be nice for both of us to be reminded that, while you never forget how to ride a bike, it's nice to remember the day you learned, too.

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