So this happened recently:
The photo makes it look pretty effortless, but I’m a firm believer that photos lie and behind many photos, there’s often a narrative completely contradicting what the photo depicts on the surface. Like when smiling, happy couples are captured arm in arm at a party, but nobody knows, just moments before, they had a major argument in the car on the way over.
So, this photo portrays training wheels coming off and the 6-year-old willingly tearing down a path on his bike. Right?
If there were outtakes, they’d go something like this (through tears):
“I CAN’T! I don’t WANT to! I’m not GOOD at this! But, I don’t want to FALL (*crash*).
“You SEE, I told you I would FALL. Why are you making me DO this?! I want to go HOME! Can we PLEASE go home right now? I HATE this! I’m not GOOD at this! Am I DONE now? But I CAN’T do this! I don’t WANT to do this!”
“I HATE this.”
And repeat some more.
He’s had absolutely no interest in riding a bike. He’s never asked for a bike nor has he ever asked to learn to ride one. But it was time. He’s tall for his age — people think he’s eight or nine — and I knew he was coordinated enough to do it. He just looks like he should know how to ride a bike, you know? He’s in first grade and many of his friends can ride a bike and — okay I’ll admit it — I felt some peer pressure to get him on a bike. I guess I felt like he might be a forty-five-year-old non-bike-riding grown man one day and he’d probably be quite fine with that, unless I initiated the training wheels coming off.
And you know what?
After all the whining and dramatic dialogue and tears and “I CANT’S!” he figured it out in fifteen minutes, flat. He was off, just like that. And then, after one reluctant loop around the park, he was done.
I have the most difficulty navigating this aspect of his personality. He’s extremely cautious about trying anything new and is so afraid of failure, he’d rather not try it in the first place. If, usually after lots of coaxing on my part, he does end up trying something new and he finds he’s decent at it and it wasn’t all that bad, he’ll stop right there, so as not to push his luck.
Truthfully, he has many of the same anxieties I had as a child (and some I still have as an adult) about leaving his comfort zone. As a parent, I never know how much to try to push him out of that safe, familiar world he dwells in without pushing too hard. I mean, at what point do you become that Tiger Mom who’s forcing her child to practice the piano seven days a week against their will so they’ll rebel one day and hate the piano altogether and probably hate you in the process? At the same time, when are you being too laid back with a child who would really be okay eating the same breakfast, lunch and dinner day in and day out if you let him, watching the Star Wars trilogy ad infinitum, until he’s practically memorized the entire script?
When do you nudge or initiate and when do you just let it go?
I admittedly get impatient with his refusal to just try. This applies to new foods, solving math equations, sounding out complicated words, making his own bed, brushing his own teeth, showering on his own, and so on and so on.
It is this part of parenting that’s most challenging for me, nuanced and ambiguous, not outlined in child-rearing books, without concrete answers, specific to each unique, multi-faceted child with their own quirks and traits. I find parenting infants so much easier, their needs straightforward and readily met. Their cries for food or comfort accommodated with milk and cuddling.
With him, there are times I don’t have the right answers and I’m not even sure there is such a thing as “right answers” and sometimes I feel like I’m making it all up as we go along. So far, I’ve found parenting to be a long string of dilemmas and decisions and conundrums punctuated with breakthroughs and wonder and joy and love all mixed together.
We make mistakes, we learn from them, we fall down, we get back up on the bike and keep riding, with skinned knees and scabs and hopefully, we don’t end up broken in the process.