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Mean Mom

Simon is a kind, sensitive child whom I try to rear with kindness and sensitivity. Every once in a blue moon, I find myself at the end of my rope (usually due to things besides him) and say or do something unkind. Then I feel awful. This weekend, I was fine and Simon was fine, but I chose to get a little mean anyway and I don’t regret it.

This was meanness with a purpose: Simon learned to ride a bike this weekend! It’s something we should have gotten to ages ago, but our neighborhood is bad for bike riding (hills, no sidewalks, tons of street parking and alleys) and we’ve been busy building a runner, professional footballer, and the next Wimbledon champion. Amid all this running and ball playing, two things we really needed to knock out for safety and social development—swimming and bike riding—got left behind.

I’m confident we’ll get to swimming soon. Simon loved being in the pool this summer (the three times it was warm enough) and he was getting pretty close on his own. The bike was another story. He had little interest, but friends of his were learning and Matt and I realized that going into spring with training wheels was going to be a social liability.

He spent the night at the Whitworths’ this weekend, they have a perfect place to learn to ride (patio home community on one large circle), and so we decided that this was going to be the weekend it happened. Simon was excited but nervous.  He tried delay tactics: we ignored him. Once he learned to coast without pedals, the dimples were out and he was ready for pedals.

Then the bike got wobbly and he got scared. We ignored him. Then he got going with the pedals once or twice, but was unsure of the steering. We ignored him.* Then he pedaled and steered a ways, was briefly exhilarated, then sobbed because his bottom hurt. We called it a day.

Yesterday we were back. It was time to go around the entire circle. Simon didn’t want to, but I told him he had to anyway. This surprised him. Then I explained why:

“Simon, you know how we all laugh that you were almost two before you walked? Well, it won’t be funny if you are 12 before you ride a bike. Your friends can do this, and you need to do it, too. Get on.”

I think he understood me, but this was not the gentle, go-at-your-own-pace tone he expects from me. We ended up offering ice cream as a bribe, but even then it was a close call. He started off strong, then had some steering issues, and then complained about his bottom some more. The bike was too small for him, so I’m sure it was an uncomfortable ride. Still, I pressed. With about 10 yards before the finish line, Simon steered into a circle and fell over, then looked up at me and expected me to say something kind and reassuring. He got this instead:

“Get up and get back on! You’re not to the driveway yet.”

So there I was, meanly ignoring my child’s trauma and forcing him to bike—through tears!—to the finish line of the arbitrary course we set for him.

Once it was over he was proud of himself, and he sure loved the Graeter’s ice cream he got after dinner. This spring he’ll get a new bike and enjoy the social outings and relative independence a bike can bring. Having said that, I think it’s a lot more likely Simon will be playing midfield at World Cup 2026 than saddling up for the Tour de France. Also, while I don’t regret my firm line and borderline meanness, I do regret my lack of camera for the big event!

* While possibly accurate from Jessica’s point of view, this is not at all a complete picture of what happened.  When Simon got wobbly, I told him how to pedal out of the wobble.  When Simon had steering problems, I told him to look in the direction he was trying to go.  Simon implemented both of these strategies for a while and he improved when he did. [Matt]

One Response to “Mean Mom”

  1. tlalbaugh says:

    I was SO the mean mom when Kira learned to really ride her bike last year. I remembered so clearly learning to ride myself that I knew it would take a bit of hard-nosed pushing (literally and figuratively : ). It’s one of those moments in life when you just have to let go of the fear and jump, and when you do, wow, what a feeling! She was so amazed at herself that first trip alone; it was great.

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