Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Daddy, Look at This!"

A friend of ours was given a bike which was too big for her daughter, so she let us borrow it for a bit. At the time, I wouldn't have guessed Ellie was ready to ride a bike since she couldn't quite coordinate her legs to propel a trike with much regularity. It turned out that she could pump her legs around much better when she was over top of the pedals on a bike. We've been having fun in the second half of summer watching her gain confidence with the bike.

She's quite cautious coming down our driveway, which has a fair bit of slope to it. A time or two when we headed out to ride her bike, I'd put her on her bike at the top of the driveway and she'd freak out because she was so scared about losing control, gaining intractable speed as she descended the pitch, hurtling toward the street of which she has a vivid fear. So deep was her terror, that we called the ride over before it even started.

What she really needed was mastery of her brakes. When she first got on the bike, she reverse pedaled fairly often, which naturally exercised the brakes and eliminated her hard won momentum. Over a few rides that were frustrating for both of us, she learned that there was only one right way to pedal. Retraining her to pedal backwards to break was tough, particularly because the occasions I tried to demonstrate were in contexts she was already afraid: perched atop the driveway and approaching a corner, which necessitated crossing the dreaded street. In the last two weeks or so, she really gotten the hang of it and now can easily control her driveway descent. Of course, she still demands that I stand between her and the street to catch her if she can't figure out the brakes.

Contrast that caution with the following anecdote. She was pedaling over to the neighborhood playground; I was trailing behind, as I usually do now that she can easily outpace my comfortable walking speed. On a long, straight sidewalk section, I heard her yell, "Daddy, look at this!" Glancing up, I saw her put both hands up in the air. Yes, my three year is already playing, "Look, Ma, no hands!"

On our way home from the park she repeated the feat, but this time pulled her hands off the handles and her feet off the pedals.

I definitely see a bit of myself in Ellie's approach to risk taking and derring-do. If she thinks the consequences are severe, she's very cautious; if she judges the possible outcome as mild, she'll push her limits just for the fun of it.

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