One blazing-hot summer day, when I was a small child, I almost drowned while at a day camp.
That is the way 5-year-old me remembers the incident, anyway. My group was taken to swim at the big junior high pool, and as part of some kind of test, we were lined up like petite penguins, and one by one asked to jump into the deep end.
In reality, it was probably the shallow end, but one is short when one is only 5. The point is, that I had never had to jump into water over my head before.
I was one of those can’t-get-my-face-wet kids. I pleaded to not have to do it, but the unsympathetic teenage
captors counsellors prodded me to the pool’s edge, and so I leapt.
I remember the sinking, echoey feeling of floundering underwater. Of not being able to breathe. So this is it, I thought, I’m drowning.
Before darkness closed in, I was hoisted to the surface, water-logged and teary, and ejected from the pool to shiver in a towel somewhere.
My enduring feeling to this day, is of shame at not being able to perform this simple exercise that “everyone else” could do.
But the truth is that I just wasn’t ready. Being pushed, literally, at the wrong time created a negative association with swimming that lasted for years.
With my own kids, I’ve tried – key word – to strike that balance between an encouraging push and allowing them to get to something on their own terms.
We’ve all witnessed that parent publicly pushing their child to do something they’re not ready to try. Come on, you can do it. Stop whining. I’m right here. Nothing’s going to happen. The child is in tears and the parent is fuming. There’s nothing worse.
Actually, there is something worse than witnessing it, and that is being that parent.
But it is also true that there are times that our kids will not do something without the required pressure. My oldest would never have gone to overnight camp without a little momentum, but I waited until he was almost 10 before signing him up. I knew that he wasn’t anywhere near ready at the age of 8, as many kids are.
My daughter came to this world to spread joy and fun times. She is the life of the party, exuberant and affectionate. She’s also as stubborn as a mule, or an ox or any other stubborn animal you can name. You can want her to do something all you want. But if she’s not ready. It. Is. Not. Happening.
Almost two years ago, we bought her a bike.
It was everything her four-year-old heart dreamt of. It was sky-blue, strewn with flowers, and had matching pastel streamers.
She had a few wobbly outings on the quiet street behind our house. My husband did that awkward knees-bent run beside her, to keep her stable and prevent a major collision. She made a little progress.
She was very excited about having the bike, but absolutely not excited about riding the bike. Each time I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride, the answer was no. No amount of coaxing or cajoling helped.
Eventually, the cold weather came and our bikes went to hibernate in the garden shed. Then came the first spring of the pandemic, and every 5 year old in our neighbourhood was cycling circles around us. Every day, I asked her if she wanted to get her bike out and have a little ride. The answer was no, no and again, no.
I started to get annoyed, and became, for awhile, that parent.
I ramped up the coaxing.
I tried some small bribes.
I even resorted to threats like these, “Well, if you don’t ride your bike, you obviously don’t want it, so I’ll have to give it away.”
I don’t recommend any of these strategies.
In danger of creating an I-almost-drowned-at-daycamp moment for her, I quietly stopped with the bike.
The summer flew by, and the bicycle continued to gather dust.
Another spring! 2021. After the winter of our despair, hope welled up anew.
In April, I began plotting about how to get her on the road without prompting the digging in of heels.
I finally realized that there was something about riding in the laneway behind our house that just wasn’t working for her. She needed new territory.
With that thought in mind, I loaded my two kids’ bikes in the back of the car and took them to a running track at a local high school. It is wide, it is 400m long, and it is perfectly flat.
She was hesitant and needed some convincing to get into the car, but with her brother riding point for moral support, her streamers finally flew in the wind. First one lap. Then another.
Turns out, all she needed was a change of scenery. Such a simple solution!
Going up to the track to ride her bike became a daily occurrence. She finally was able to voice that she was terrified of falling. But, she also finally realized that you actually can’t learn to ride without a few falls.
She’s become incredibly proficient at getting up again.
As much as she loved her sky-blue baby, eventually, she was forced to admit that it was too small for her. So we upgraded to a geared bike, a huge step up that I would never have imagined several months before.
She then asked me if biking is a sport in the Olympics. To which I say, Citius – Altius – Fortius.