Learning to ride a bike at the same time as my 3-year-old

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Riding a bike wasn’t a part of my childhood.  It used to embarrass me when the revelation that I couldn’t ride a bike provoked such incredulous responses as, “You don’t know how to ride a bike?” and “You’re Chinese and you can’t ride a bike?” (that second one is actually more irritating than embarrassing – don’t get me started on it).

It’s not that I couldn’t ride a bike at all – there were a couple of interventions to teach me, once when I was an early teen and then when I was much older – but those first times were clumsy and apprehensive, as I was fearful of crashing into objects and innocent bystanders and not being able to stop without seriously injuring myself.  Then those efforts weren’t sustained.  Both times were on borrowed bikes, one that was too small for me and the other too big, which probably affected the comfort of my learning experience.
Skip forward to my son’s third birthday and the gift of a balance bike (a small two-wheeled bike without pedals) from his grandparents.  It was a gift that I had diligently researched before buying it on my parents’ behalf.  In my research I came across a great step-by-step instructional on how to teach a young child to ride a bike.  The first step involved taking off the pedals so that the child could develop skill and gain confidence in balancing first (same concept as a balance bike), and then proceeded through a few other steps to help the child master each step safely and confidently. I emailed the link to my spouse and asked, hey, do you think this would be a good way for me to learn how to ride a bike?  I wasn’t really joking.  For people who grew up knowing how to ride a bike, the response is likely, just get on a bike and ride, it’ll come naturally.  But I knew that for me it was also a confidence issue.   
The day after his birthday party, my son was having a blast scooting around on his new bike.  Inspired by how much fun he was having, I suggested to my spouse that we go to the nearby high school track so that I could practice riding a bike alongside my son.  I was prepared to screw up my courage, just get on the bike and try to ride it.  To my surprise, my spouse got out the bike, took off the pedals, and lowered the seat for me so that I could stop easily with my feet at any time, just like my son with his balance bike. 
In no time I was coasting for longer and longer stretches, and more importantly, I was relaxed enough to enjoy the experience and feel that, hey, I could do this.  I even offered my son a few pointers about how to pick up speed with your feet and coast. 
After a few practice outings, my son was already starting to coast.  So amazing to watch him lift his little legs up and balance while his wheels did the work – he makes it look so easy!  I figured I better learn how to ride a bike quickly, before he did.  My spouse put the pedals back on my bike and raised the seat up, and – TA DA!  Off I cruised around the high school track, not seized in fear, but enjoying the leisurely movement, the warm breeze blowing against my skin on a sunny day, and the fact that I was showing my son that I could do it. 

So here are some lessons I learned from this experience:

1.      It’s best to learn skills like riding a bike when you are still fearless, i.e. a young child, and better yet on equipment that can help the learner gain confidence on the most difficult part of a skill (e,g. learning how to balance first when it comes to riding a bike).
 
2.      If you have somehow reached adulthood without learning how to ride a bike, it’s never too late to learn.  Some tips/thoughts for those in that situation:
 
o   Learn alongside a young child because:
 
a)      That child will inspire you.  My son sometimes still falls when he runs too fast or doesn’t realize he’s too close to the edge of a bed.  If he can balance on a bike, well so can I!  Also, why should he have all the fun? 
 
b)       Having a child riding with you might help disguise the fact that you’re learning too.  Maybe I didn’t look like an awkward adult trying to learn how to ride a bike.  Maybe I looked like a super-supportive mom putting herself in her son’s shoes to guide him and encourage him on every step of the way.
 
o   Have no shame in taking baby steps if it helps you gain confidence.  The baby steps allowed me to relax and actually enjoy the experience rather than fear that I was going to fall off my bike at any moment.
 
o   Recruit a spouse/friend/cheerleader who will be supportive of your attempts to learn in your own way.  Thanks B!
 
3.      Observing my learning experience compared to my son’s, I realized we have opposite challenges and that we can both learn from each other.  I need to tell him to be careful going down steep inclines, watch where he is going, make sure he doesn’t run into people – basic safety and judgment stuff.  My son, on the other hand, shows me the fun — how to thrill in the experience of one’s body and what it can do, test limits, and not worry so much!
 
 
 
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Stories are remembrances passed forward

There are certain topics that haunt me and try to prod me to say something about them, but at the same time loom so big and amorphously in my mind that I end up putting off further exploration. This post is an attempt to make a bit of movement into one of those topics.

Stories have been a lifeline to me so many times throughout my life that I don’t know how to begin expressing what they have meant. The stories that have touched me have become a part of that private-me, occasionally reaching deeper than actual people in my life for how they have connected to me in a certain way, at a crucial time, explained something I needed to understand, articulated what I had not yet been able to put words to, or provided other ways of seeing. They have shown me how to be honest with myself and attentive to who I am at that moment, in the process of convincing me of something that needed to be heard.

These are thoughts I have been returning to recently, as I observe what engages my son when I read him stories and think about the kind of stories he will grow up with and remember. A couple of days ago I was googling around to find what kind of Chinese stories for children were written in English. I’ve already read a few to my son, mainly revolving around Chinese New Year, but I had in my mind a book about 7 Chinese brothers that I recalled from my childhood. There was a wikipedia entry on the book, noting controversy around whether it was racist in its drawings. One quick look at one of the pictures brought back memories of the book at the same time as I thought, “Yeah, those drawings look racist.” It’s the only book with a Chinese story that I can remember reading as a child.

I did grow up with other Chinese stories, as told by my parents and teachers at Chinese school (held every Saturday morning which I resented because it meant missing cartoons). So I learned about such things as the origins of dragon boat dancing, how revolutionary messages could be smuggled in moon cakes, a bit of Chinese history here and there.

My fondest memory, though, was of my uncle telling me the adventures of Monkey King and his companions. He had an illustrated version of it, and the pictures caught my attention, but it was written in Chinese, which I couldn’t read. So he started translating it into words I could understand – mostly simpler Cantonese, with some occasional English if I still didn’t understand. At every possible opportunity, I would ask him to tell me some more.

I didn’t reserve the 7 Chinese Brothers at my local library. But I did reserve a children’s book version of The Monkey King written in English by a Chinese author and illustrator, for my son. I also reserved an English translation of Journey to the West, the classical Chinese novel that features the Monkey King and his companions, for myself.

So then I asked myself, what is the point of telling Chinese stories to my son, who is half-Chinese and when I myself am pretty much Westernized? Does it matter? I’m convinced it does. Stories are remembrances passed forward, even if they are translated. My son will eventually make of his identity what he will, but I want to provide him with some rich source material, through the stories we share that reflect who we are and what we want to say.

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Reflections on my habits as a new parent while my son is away

There’s almost no greater upheaval for most customers than the arrival of a child.  As a result, new parents’ habits are more flexible at that moment than at almost any other period in an adult’s life.

The quotation above is from the fascinating book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, from a chapter in which he explores how Target tried to find out which women were pregnant so that the company could get a head start on marketing to new parents, the most “profitable, product-hungry, price-insensitive group in existence”.

It’s true that becoming a new parent throws you into zombie mode, and also true that it’s hard to break out of the habits you begin to form as new parents, and not just in terms of shopping patterns.

Sometimes these new parent habits are good, like eating more nutritious meals at home, seeing my parents more often, getting out of bed at 8 am rather than 10 am for my spouse, and for me procrastinating far less because I can’t stand too much clutter in my head.

Sometimes these new parent habits aren’t so good.  I got so used to my thoughts, emotions, energies, days and nights revolving around my baby that it has taken some time to step back now that he needs me less, and make more time for myself, and most importantly, make the most of that time.

If nothing else, becoming a parent has made me realize how transient life is, in the way that Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) feels at the end of the summer — wanting to cram in and relish every moment before it all passes far too quickly.  My fear is not acting on that realization.  My fear is in not figuring out what being a mom enables and instead falling prey to certain views of how being a mom is limiting.  My fear is having regrets and excuses for things that were within my control.

But I also have a lot of hope — my son is a daily reminder of how to look at something with fresh eyes and the wonder and joy in doing so.  He is constantly trying to figure things out and testing boundaries.  When I stop to explain something to him, I do a much better job if I adopt his perspective so that I can tell him in words and concepts he can understand.  He makes me a more patient, empathetic, observant, and curious person when I pay attention and relate to him.

Beginning yesterday afternoon, I was given the opportunity to change my parent habits for a week.  Yesterday afternoon, my son and spouse left for Florida to visit my parents-in-law.   It’s the first time I’ve been away from my son for more than a day.  I was tearful when they left, but it didn’t take me long to move into planning mode for all the things I wanted to do but were difficult to fit in or arrange as a working mom with a young child.  I saw that I had more things I wanted to do than I had time over the week.  And in quickly filling up my weeknights and weekend, I realized that I’ve been not-a-mom longer than I’ve been a mom.  It’s the same kind of realization I had when I returned to work after my year of maternity leave.  It’s just the intensity of new parenthood that made me feel like it was all I knew (and not that well) while I was deep in it.

Tonight I had a perfect moment in a restorative yoga class.  When I was in a supported child’s pose, the image of my son sleeping on his stomach with his butt up in the air came to my mind.  I smiled, thinking this is how peaceful he must feel in that position, despite how awkward it might look to an adult.

This week is about reconnecting to that single gal part of me, and trying to knit it together a little better with the mom part of me by the time the guys get back.

New and veteran parents – I’d be interested to hear about how you’ve found the time and energy to pursue your own interests, or the kinds of experiences or interests that your child has facilitated for you.

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When my joy is greater because I’m sharing it

Yesterday was the first day that I felt that my small family of three finally embraced this cold long winter.

For the past week, a red plastic sled has sat in our living room, where my son has been taking me and his stuffed animal friends for a boat ride.  I brought the sled up partly so that my son could play with it, and partly as a very visible reminder that we still had to poke holes into the front and add a rope for pulling the sled before taking it out to use.

Yesterday, by late morning I was getting a little restless and frantic that holes had not yet been poked and a rope not yet been found, while snow was gently falling falling with the weather finally above -10 celsius.  This prompted my husband to put down his iPad and morning coffee prematurely to search for something rope-like in the garage.

My husband came back with speaker wires.  To that I snapped on one of my old glasses case as an elegant handle.  We were set.

Off to the tobogganing hills we went.   It was close to noon when we got there, with only a few older children tobogganing and no one as young as my 2.5 year old son.   I began to wonder if the hill was too steep for him, and possibly too bumpy, as I watched one of the intrepid tobogganers fly over a hump towards the bottom.

“Why don’t I try it out by myself first,” I suggested aloud, to which my husband readily agreed, pushing me ahead.  I stalled for a bit, and asked the 8-year-old watching beside us if it was scary, realizing that I hadn’t gone tobogganing since I was much younger when my bones were quicker to heal.  She reassured me – “It’s fun!”

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have screamed on my way down, since I was supposed to be showing my son that tobogganing was fun and not scary at all.

It’s a good thing that young children place unquestioning trust in their mommies.  By the time I climbed back up, my son was eager to nestle with me on the sled as together we experienced his first toboggan ride ever.  Wheeeeeeeee!  He was a solid and cosy bundle hugged in front of me, as we sped down and went much further than I did on my first ride down.

“Was that fun?” I asked him when we finally came to a stop.

“Yeah!”

“Look how far we went!  You wanna go again?”

My son didn’t answer, his eyes still taking everything in — the bottom of the hill, how he got there, the other children tobaggoning down (but without screaming like his mommy), the white white snow covering everything, still falling still falling.

“That was fun!” I announced to my husband when we get back up.  “Wow – his first time!” I exclaimed as I give my son a hug.

“Do you want to go again?”  I asked again.  My son was still taking everything in, watching the other children.

I turned to my husband.  “Hey – do you want to go?”

“Yeah?”  My husband seemed to hesitate.  “Uh, okay.”

My husband didn’t get far down before his sled swerved off to the left ending in a mini wipe-out.  But he laughed it off, got back on, and made it all the way down.

When he climbed back up, I realized something and asked, “Hey, was that your first time tobogganing?”

“Yeah, I guess it was!”

My husband grew up in Florida.  Even though he’s been through 10 Canadian winters, it was only last year that he realized that mittens are much warmer than gloves after he borrowed my mittens one day, and that he didn’t need to take off my son’s regular pants to put on his snow pants (we actually argued about this since he was disbelieving).

I beamed and realized however much fun my husband and son were having in tobogganing for the first time, it couldn’t have been as joyful as it was for me to be a part of their experience.

I remember the first time I went tobogganing.  It was in Grade 6, which was much later than when most children had their first tobogganing experience.  I went with a few friends to a huge hill after a big snowfall.  My heart raced as I readied myself, and then I squealed and laughed in delight all the way down.  I climbed back up the hill as fast as I could, and after a few runs like this, my enthusiasm betrayed me.  Someone asked me, “Is this your first time tobogganing?”  I turned red and denied it.  It seems so silly now, the things we get embarrassed about.  There are still many things I haven’t done or can’t do, and that I look forward to trying for the first time.

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Diarrhea provides many opportunities for toilet training

I’ve always admired the attitude of Pete the Cat who, when he ultimately loses all four of his four groovy buttons, finds joy in his exposed belly button (sorry for the spoiler for those who haven’t read that one).  Hey, buttons come, buttons go, just keep on singing kids.  If only I could be as zen as Pete the Cat and roll with it.

Today I may have come a little closer to the Pete the Cat ideal.  These past few days my son has been battling some stomach bug – the last couple of days it was vomiting and today it was diarrhea.  Today was also the much anticipated Raffi concert.  My son loves loves loves live music and is a fan of Raffi.  While our seats weren’t close, I was still stoked to take him to his first concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

The tummy-aching didn’t start until late morning.  We were out when my son first started saying that his tummy hurt, but got home in time before the diarrhea hit.  He isn’t usually too fussed about dirty diapers and has been reluctant to toilet-train at home.  He’s sat on the toilet before but after a minute says “I’m done!” and gets off.  Today, something about diarrhea made him a clean freak.  The upshot was many diaper changes and trips to the toilet at his request.  It was often too late by the time he got on his toilet seat, but the timing worked on one occasion and we cheerily celebrated his success, charting it with a special sticker, hugs, and “I’m so proud of you”s.

The tummy-aches and constant trips to the toilet interrupted the nap he was supposed to have before the 4pm concert.  But he was still awake, so I had a small hope that maybe we could still make it.  He kept saying that he wanted to go to the concert.   At 3 pm, he fell asleep on the changing table.  I asked a friend with a small child, I asked a neighbour, I went to the local library to ask strangers with young children, but I had no takers for tickets that I didn’t want to go to waste, especially ones where I had paid exorbitant service fees.   I came home and asked my husband if it would be crazy of me to go down to Roy Thomson anyway, to see if I could find someone to give the tickets to or failing that, go myself and take a little video for our son.  His silence told me what he thought, but I headed out anyway, not sure exactly whether I’d be heading to the subway station to get to Roy Thomson or to get myself a latte.

At 3:40 pm, I had passed the turnstile and was inside the subway station, feeling a little weird about being there, when I saw an older woman with a young girl coming up the escalator.   She looked at me suspiciously while I spoke, until she realized I was trying to give the tickets away, not sell them.  Her expression immediately opened up, as she asked the young girl if she wanted to hear “Baby Beluga” in concert.   I’m pretty sure my smile was wider than theirs as I handed them the tickets, told them to hurry and enjoy the concert.  Ahhh – mission accomplished – with time to go get a latte.

The coffee shop was packed when I got there, and as I walked around to find a seat, I saw someone I knew from high school, amazed that she looked so much the same more than 20 years later.  I don’t usually approach people I haven’t seen in years, but something about approaching strangers to try to give away Raffi tickets made me bolder than usual.  After she realized I wasn’t coming over to see if she was leaving soon so that I could take her seat, we had a good conversation about where life had taken us.  I found out that she is now a firefighter, which I thought was really cool, so cool that I approached her again later on to ask whether she gave tours at her fire station.  I explained that I would love it if my son could tour her fire station and more importantly, see that firefighters can be women too.   She happily agreed and gave me her contact information and the next weekends she would be working.

When I was speaking to her earlier, I was telling her about the kind of day that I was having, including missing the Raffi concert because my son had a stomach bug.  But then after a pause, I blurted out, “But on the positive side of things, he had his first poop in the toilet today.  Diarrhea provides many opportunities for toilet training.”  We laughed and she joked that it could be blog entry.  I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now.  And so now, here I am.

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