A few weeks ago Foos learned to ride her bike without training wheels. We got her this bike two years ago, when she was still so little that harvesting the strength to simply get the pedals moving seemed like herculean task. Even recently, if she went a few weeks without riding the bike it was as if she was getting back on it for the first time— slow and unsteady, like a drunk walking a line. She rode her bike to the park that morning, where she befriended a fellow bike rider, an older girl named Jessica, who turned Foos into her disciple. They excluded the bikeless from their schemes, chased each other in figure eights, raced to a victory line of their own making, and stopped short of a stranger enough times I contemplated leaving the park for fear of injury. During one of these loops, Jessica explained to Foos that her training wheels sometimes didn’t touch the ground. In fact, she may not need the training wheels at all! I watched this revelation unfold from afar, Jessica pointing to the wheels, Foos’ initial confusion and realization. Foos seemed so pleased by this news that when she rode her bike to tell me, grin on full display, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the wheels where designed that way. But Jessica had planted the germ, and I was going to take it as far as I could. As we were leaving the park I casually mentioned removing the training wheels, and she agreed without hesitation.
That afternoon, I fashioned knee pads for her out of tape and leggings while Seth removed the training wheels. We gave her the pep talk—you will fall down, you will get hurt, you may not get it today, but eventually you will. She rolled her eyes and walked her bike to the empty lot, the tape of her knee pads making noise every time she bent her knees. The expression on her face like she had been doomed to damnatio ad bestias. With seth holding on to the bike they went around the lot a few times. The first time he let go, she fell. The second time, she fell. The third time, she fell too. Big fat tears rolling down her face, threats of quitting and going back upstairs coming out of her mouth. We had been reading The Hobbit the night before, and I sat her on my lap and asked “How would you introduce yourself to Smaug? I know how I would. You are the never quitter, the rider of bikes, the scrape eater, queen of wheels,” and so on. She nodded her head. With her dad running after her, and me shouting introductions to Smaug, she got back on and fell down about a dozen times. A couple of our neighbors came out to cheer. Twenty minutes later she was going around the lot on her own. An hour after that, she was riding down the block.
She told us she promised her bike she would ride her everyday, and she almost always does.