Training wheels

No really, this post is about training wheels and learning to ride a bike, inspired by events that happened recently:

Before I start, you have to know about my kids. I have four of them, and (through a twist of fate and a bout of OCD) they are named in alphabetical order: Heather, Isabelle, Joram and Kaleb

Heather and Joram had normal training wheel experiences. They rode with them, got to the point where they realized other kids didn’t have them (no matter that “other kids” were older, that’s the nature of role models I think), and asked to have them off. My wife or I held onto the back of their bike, ran behind while they got the hang of balancing, and after a couple of weeks they had that mystical, transformational moment where they felt themselves moving under their own power. This was inevitably followed by a series of physically minor but emotionally gut wrenching wipeouts (including one memorable crash into and over the top of a fire hydrant). After which the bicycle became just another milestone in the progression to independence.

Isabelle was extremely dubious about the entire affair. She wanted to ride without training wheels (because her idol, She-Who-Must-Be-Emulated-In-All-Ways – aka, her older sister – didn’t use training wheels), but clearly mistrusted the physics. Watching her sister demonstrate starting, stopping and turning, the expression on my Isabelle’s face spoke volumes of disbelief:  “If you think about it hard enough,” her tiny furrowed brow seemed to say, “you’ll realize the entire thing is just impossible.”

For days she would consent to let me run behind her, holding her up while she all but hugged the handlebars for dear life. In frustration I stopped one day, stood in front of her and said “Look, I’m your Dad. My job is to make sure you are always safe. That’s the first rule in the Daddy Handbook the  hospital gave me when you were born, and I take my job VERY seriously. If I thought that this would hurt you, I wouldn’t let you do it. Not only that, but if I didn’t think you were able to do this, I wouldn’t let you try!”

It was one of those moments when I could see the world change around her as her perception of the situation shifted. All of a sudden she knew she could do it because she wouldn’t have been permitted to try it otherwise. Success was a foregone conclusion. Minutes (I’m not making this up, it really was minutes) later, she was riding under her own power. It was that sudden and radical a shift.

Which brings me to my youngest boy, Kaleb and recent events. Kaleb takes after his mother: He watches. He thinks. He processes. And then he executes, usually flawlessly. In Kaleb’s world, no plan typically goes unrewarded.

Yesterday, he rode up to my neighbor (who was outside working on his car) and asked him to take off the training wheels. I guess the fact that my neighbor already had tools out fit some “conservation of motion” concept in his head. In any case, once the training wheels were off, he thanked my neighbor and rode off.

Yes. Just like that. Nobody running behind him. Nobody shouting encouragements. Nobody to witness that first moment. My wife and I found out an hour later, when he called us outside to show us his new trick, which consisted of riding down the driveway and executing a sharp 90-degree turn to avoid rolling into the street. (where’s a defibrillator when you need one?). As far as I can tell, Kaleb has always known he could ride without training wheels, and just got tired of waiting for us to notice.

As I stood marveling at him, thinking about the journal entry I would have to write to remember the event, I realized it was moments like that when I can hear God laughing loudest. Laughs of amusement at my repeated mistaken perception that I know anything about what “is going to happen”; giggles of joy at a child’s effortless accomplishment.

And I just realized this essay isn’t TOTALLY about training wheels. Go back and reread it (if you have the time and inclination) and swap out the bicycle for Torah, or Judaism, or Jewish observance. Heck, you could substitute ideas like Exercise or even Dating for that matter. But this is a Jewish blog so I’m sticking with stuff like “Torah”.

Think about your own Jewish training wheels, and how it felt when you took them off.

If you find that they aren’t off yet, what’s holding you back?