Written by M.J.C
It was a typical summer mid-afternoon day in Oakland. The weather was typically moderate and the sky was typically large and beautiful and we were outside typically playing, running, laughing, arguing, and riding our bikes between games of street football, baseball, and roughhousing.
Mom was inside doing who knows what, but she was probably reading. She enjoyed her quiet time when my brothers and I were all outside.
I was “going deep” for a “bomb” – a football term for running far to catch the thrown football – when I noticed mom was sitting on the porch. It wasn’t often she was outside watching us play.
But today she was.
I wasn’t certain how long she’d been sitting there watching us, but as soon as I noticed I tried to run faster, catch more balls, and do whatever I could to impress her. I told myself, after I’d caught one really hard thrown and harder to catch ball, that mom was impressed by how good I was.
After a few more catches I decided to see how mom was doing as she sat on the porch.
What are you doing out here? You see how good I am? I can run faster than anyone, even the older kids, did you notice?
She just laughed and agreed that I was very good – in that mom way that’s honest, not condescending, and with just enough proud tones that one instantly swells up inside.
What are you going to do next, mom asked?
Ride our bikes and practice popping wheelies, I replied. There were three bikes on the block and about 8 kids who rode them. No one really owned them because they were community property and everyone accepted that simple fact.
I never learned to ride a bike, mom said.
What? You can’t ride a bike?! Yes you can, you’re just teasing me! Hey, I yelled out the other kids and my brothers. My mom don’t know how to ride a bike!!
They laughed and mom laughed too, saying she didn’t have a bike as a kid and never really learned. And besides, she was scared she’d fall on her face.
We laughed for a few minutes before I tried explaining to her how easy bike riding is and how you just jump on and go – that was the extent of my understanding of how one rides a bike.
Mom just laughed.
Then it hit me: I’d teach her.
So I said: Mom, I’ll show you how! It’ll be fun and it’s so easy!
Mom protested and said no, and that there was no way she’d get on a bike now at her age.
She was 30.
I persisted though, and I would not accept mom’s excuses. I told her she was just scared and there was no way she’d get hurt because I’d be right there!
I was determined to teach her. It seemed so exciting to me that I could actually teach her something. I thought she knew everything there was to know in the entire universe so the fact that I could teach her something that was so simple, to me, got me so excited that I just would not leave her alone until she agreed.
And she did agree, after about fifteen minutes of me pleading, begging, and begging some more.
I quickly ran to get one of the bikes – I picked the the one I thought would be easiest to learn on – I didn’t tell mom that fact – and rode it over to her.
Mom climbed on and said: what do I do?
I just laughed and replied, nothing yet. I’m going to roll you to the street.
Then I explained that she just needed to sit up with a slight lean forward, hold the handlebar steady and I was going to start pushing her. Once I start pushing, I said, you start pedaling.
“I don’t want to fall!” She yelled out.
My reply was serious and firm – as much I could be with her as a ten year old – and I said, mom, don’t worry. I will be right here with you and I will run alongside you until you get your balance. I won’t let you fall.
She just said, “okay”.
She was ready.
I was nervous but I didn’t tell her that.
I started rolling mom and the bike, slowly at first, before gradually picking up speed. Mom was all smiles and screaming. At the top of her lungs. She was screaming with joy and excitement.
Also, we were barely moving.
Then I pushed harder and we began picking up speed. And mom’s feet pedalled right off the pedals and her feet were sticking straight out on either side of the bike as I pushed her faster and faster, and as she continued screaming.
I screamed back: MOM! Put your feet back on the pedals!
PUT YOUR FEET BACK ON THE PEDALS! I screamed over and over, as the other kids laughed and screamed the same thing.
Finally mom got her feet back on the pedals and started pedalling. She was ready, I thought.
So I gradually and slowly let go of the back of the bike, where I had been helping steady mom until she got enough speed and in control of her balance.
Mom, I let go!, I yelled to her.
“Don’t let go! MYRON, DON’T YOU DARE LET ME GO! She screamed. But it was too late, I had let go and ran to catch up to her.
She quickly glanced at me and her eyes were huge. It hit her. She was riding a bike.
Myron, I’m doing it! I’m riding a bike! Look at me!
I told you you could do it mom! I told you!
Mom rode on a past a few more houses before she started to slow down and I ran to help her stop. She was breathing hard, and smiling ear to ear. Her hair was messy and she may have had a sweat bead or two on her forehead.
I just laughed.
Mom asked me to help her turn around, so I did and she rode back down the street and stopped, on her own this time, in front of our home. She got off the bike and we stood around laughing and talking about the ride, her screaming, and her feet sticking out.
We told her next we’d like to teach her to ride a skateboard. And mom tried that, too, but she wasn’t too good at it though she had fun, and we had fun playing with her.
She went in the house shortly after playing on the skateboard. I don’t think I ever saw mom have so much unconstrained joy and fun, so much laughter outdoors, and so much excitement playing with her kids and the neighborhood kids.
I never saw mom ride a bike again.
Epilogue: 29 years later.
Leah is five years old and has a new purple bike. I’ve taken the training wheels off because she said she’s a big girl and doesn’t need them. She’s afraid but being brave.
Leah was on her bike and saying she was ready. I gently pushed her at first before we began picking up speed. And Leah’s feet pedalled right off the pedals and her feet were sticking straight out on either side of the bike.
Daddy! Don’t let me fall! Leah screamed.
I screamed back: Leah! Put your feet back on the pedals! PUT YOUR FEET BACK ON THE PEDALS! I screamed over and over, until she did indeed put her feet back on the pedals.
Leah got her balance and I let her go.
Leah, I let go! I yelled to her.
“Don’t let go! DADDY, DON’T LET GO! She screamed. But it was too late, I had let go and ran to catch up to her.
She quickly glanced at me and her eyes were huge. It hit her. She was riding a bike.
Daddy, I’m doing it! I’m riding a bike! Look at me!
I told you you could do it Leah!
I told you!
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I love that your mom allowed you to teach her how to ride a bike. What a beautiful memory!
Hi Claire! Thanks so much for /reading/commenting and for the compliment!
Now THAT’s a good story. My first wonder was, “What happened to Floy’s childhood? Was she ever allowed to be a child? Didn’t a neighbor have a bike in Brookfield village? But then again, girls were constrained from sports activities for many decades. It took Title IX in 1972 before women were allowed to play sport in college, for the most part. Because they contributed money through tuition. They protested. Now they get roughly 50% of the sports budget at colleges, depending on female enrolment. Before then? Men got 99% of the money and women got 1%. This was pathetic. The change led to our women’s soccer team taking over the world. Boys Clubs became Boys AND Girls’ Clubs. It must have been wonderful to see Floy glide and feel free. I’m well acquainted with this freedom as I ride on 12-20 mile jaunts along backroads in farming country around Chico. I read a quote to my students every semester at San Jose State on this topic. Susan B. Anthony noted at the end of the 1800s her passion for bicycles. And remember, women had severe constraints on their movements in society. What say you, Susan? “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Well said, Susan. Well said, Myron. Congrats, Floy, for getting a much-needed taste of freedom…and childhood pleasures.