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Rebecca Eckler

Lessons from a banana-seat bicycle

I just finished reading the May 3rd edition of Maclean's and was surprised to find myself more outraged with a "fluff" article in the lifestyle section of the magazine, than I was with the editorials or the typical Mark Steyn rants found near the back pages. Rebecca Eckler, self-proclaimed as "one of the most talked about bloggers of this century," headlines a new trend in parenting in, "Outsourcing how to ride a bike."

You read that correctly. Parents are coughing up hundreds of dollars for their little Johnny and Susie to go away to bike camp to learn what most of us did by trial and error on the streets of our suburban neighborhoods. Their reasons are many while their justifications are few.

Everything from the overly worked parent who doesn't blink at the thought of being replaced, to the overly worried parent who just couldn't bear the thought of seeing their kid fall. I've got a newsflash for you, honey. If it hurts too much to see your kid suffer a few scratches from this thing called "life," you might not be cut out for this thing called "parenting." Because we will surely scrape our knees, cut our fingers, break our arms, and our hearts many times over before we're relinquished to the world.

I remember the day I learned to ride a bicycle vividly. There were no paid experts involved, a "safety first!" helmet, or a cush landing pad of encouraging words. With four kids at the time and only my dad working, my parents could barely afford bikes let alone the extravagance of Bike Camp.

It was my brother's 7th birthday in the summer of '88. Freeze-pops, birthday cake, and a water sprinkler were enough to keep us and the neighborhood kids of Palmer Street content. My brother had opened all of his presents from friends and extended family. Now it was time for the grande finale gift from Mom and Dad.

Out came Dad from the shadows of our garage, rolling the coveted BMX off-roading bike toward the birthday boy. While sheer delight flashed across his innocent face, envy flamed across mine. I was eight years old! A whole year and a half older than him and I didn't have a bicycle. Just one more thing I'd have to borrow, but only if I asked really nicely...

In my state of selfishness, I may have cried at the injustice. I can't remember because that tragic moment didn't last very long. Dad, knowing his first-born daughter all too well, discreetly pulled me over to the side of the house. My burning ears could still hear the squeal of the kids sharing in my brother's excitement, but the fire was quelled, for leaning up against our modest brick house, was another bike--second-hand, but for me.
Similar to mine but missing the plastic basket out front, streamers, and wicked spoke beads.

With a beaut of a purple banana seat (albeit its colour faded from riding years gone by), and streamers catching in the lazy breath of summer, I felt special and loved and dignified again as I wouldn't have to learn to ride a bike after my younger brother had, and on a boy's bike none the less. This, a right of passage, deserved of every child in the modern world.

It took a few falls and some scraped elbows, but I earned my license to pedal that June afternoon on Palmer Street. I'll never forget my catch of breath and momentary sense of dread when I realized my dad had let go of the back of my bike seat. That flash of feeling forsaken was quickly followed by a new-found freedom and understanding that I could get to my best-friend's house at the end of the street faster than you could say, "Chuckie Cheese, please!"

My dad loved me by letting go. He watched me fall with the knowledge that I would be brave enough to get back up regardless of the scars that might remain. You can't outsource that kind of love. The kind of love that sees you through to your next milestone--from riding bikes to writing about bikes. It's a parent's privilege to give you that running start and the precarious push that follows. Don't cash it in. Treasure it, because maybe one day it'll survive those dusty years as a fond memory of when the training wheels came off and the growing up began.