The Narrator is rapidly approaching his 6th birthday, and while he’s still very much a child, there is no doubt that the world is coming at him hard and fast. We’re having to explain more complex and important issues to him at home, and whatever we do with him now will resonate for a very long time.
At his age right now, raising him is a lot like teaching him how to ride his bike.
I need to make sure the training wheels are on right and hold onto him as he pushes the pedals slowly and awkwardly down the road at first. I’ll hold the handlebars to make sure he doesn’t turn too sharply and fall.
He’ll get bigger, smarter, and stronger, and soon I’ll jog alongside him as he does it himself. I’ll reach out and catch him when he starts to fall, and…..I’ll let a few of the falls happen. He needs to learn to take those falls, and get back on the bike.
Then, I’ll stand back and let him ride out a ways on his own. Still ready to run after him if things go wrong, and still counting on those training wheels that I gave him to do their job.
Eventually…not yet- The training wheels will come off. Then he’ll balance on what I’ve taught him and what he’s learned of his bike and his body all on his own. If one of those lessons are lopsided, he’ll continue to fall until he figures it out. This is crucial. Some people never seem to figure it out, and continue to fall for a very long time.
The last step is watching as he pedals out of sight for the first time. Up the hill and around the corner. Strong on his practice and lessons. If he comes back unscathed, he’s ready and there’s nothing I can do but let him grow.
The trick to successful bike riding and indeed successful parenting- is knowing how long to hold on, and when to let go. If I just plunked him on the bike and said “Figure it out!” He’s probably going to end up seriously worse for wear. If I hover over him forever, he’s eventually going to resist everything I tell him about bike riding, try something rash, and end up hurt as well.
Life and growing up aren’t any different. Parents cannot just figuratively say “Figure it out!” when it comes to the real world. Nor can we hold hands constantly or we risk being pulled away from.
The trouble, and what I worry about constantly- is finding the balance. How ‘tough’ do I need to be on him so he learns lessons from me, and how much distance do I give him to figure things out on his own?
The good thing is- I’m not doing it all on my own. My wife and I compliment each other fairly well. I often accuse her of being too overprotective, and she often balks when I hand the 5 year old the keys and tell him to “Go start the car.”
I’m just terrified that I’m going to do something that results in a lop-sided lesson. I’ll leave something out, I’ll harp too much on something….and he falls harder than he would have if I’d done my job correctly. Maybe he’ll break something. Maybe he’ll get a scar because daddy didn’t tell him about something, or was too hard about something else. Or, worst of all- stopped paying attention when things got dangerous.
When The Narrator comes home from school for summer vacation, I’ll be very grateful for the fact that I work at night and will get to spend days with him. I’ve already got a lot of activities planned out for the time we’ll get to have, and- scary though it may be for both of us….we have a lot of bike riding to do.