Goodbye training wheels, hello ulcer

“Big Pink” is now “Sparkle,” or “Diamond,” or “Mango Freddy.” Something like that.

It’s a metamorphosis of sorts. A big change. The training wheels have come off the little pink Huffy bicycle. It has a white basket on front that is loaded down with seashells.

My daughter held a wake when it became clear the trainers weren’t going back on. Right there in the shed, amongst the gasoline smells and the remnants of a squirrel’s frat party.

“I need a few moments,” she said with a sniffle. A little tear perched itself on the very edge of her eyebrow, about to take a life-changing leap.

She needed to talk to Big Pink. To say goodbye. To mourn the passing of her old bike, with its clanking training wheels. To christen a new one.

“Are you sure we can’t put them back on?” she asked upon emerging, the tear now gone.

“I’m sure we shouldn’t,” I told her. “It’s time you learn to ride without them.”

She went inside, unconvinced. The old man better know what he’s talking about, she was thinking.

I stared at the bike, naked and needing a newly attached kickstand to stay upright. To battle gravity. Incapable of keeping itself vertical on its own, without assistance. Two thin, tiny wheels. They are supposed to keep the whole ship afloat. But only if the rider stays balanced, and steers straight, and gives it speed.

Speed? Speed! I don’t want her to give it speed! What about cars? What about lamp posts? What about stop signs? ‘Speed’ and ‘stop’ don’t mix. Was this whole thing my idea?

Training wheels made a lot of sense. They governed the speed. They kept the bike from pitching back and forth. I want them on her car when she starts learning how to drive.

But now they’re gone, and safety went with them.

I don’t know how girls are — I’ve never had one before, and never been one myself (in spite of what certain schoolyard chums may have said.) But boys like to go fast on bikes. They ride like out of control freight trains. Like they’re late to rob a bank. Like if a car comes, that car will stop. Because the driver knows a boy with superpowers riding a low-down, dirty, blue steel Schwinn when he sees one. Such a boy might just cut a car in two. That’s the way little boys think.

My brother and I used to set up bike ramps in our driveway. Questionable pieces of plywood propped precariously atop wobbly cinder blocks. We scavenged them from here or there. Usually someone’s overly-engineered foundation.

At speeds that caused nosebleeds — because if you’re going to properly impale yourself on a picket fence … it requires SPEED! — we rocketed off the wretched ramp. The landing (if we landed) was mere millimeters from the road. There some car piloted by a horrified driver would screech to a halt. The driver, clutching his heart, would get out of the car, throw his keys in the bushes and then walk home, pledging to never drive again. The street in front of our house was littered with abandoned cars.

We rode down a hill at the little park behind our house — a man-made hill that swooshed down from a gazebo perched atop it. The hill was littered with oak tree roots. If you hit one, you got this strange feeling of weightlessness, and you couldn’t feel the pedals anymore. Then — peculiar this was! — an oak tree hurtled toward you at frightening speed.

That was bike riding. Speed. Danger. Careening out of control. Protruding bones. Weekly trips to the emergency room. Daily scraped knees and elbows. Occasional missing teeth. Body parts that to this day won’t bend right. Or left. This is what happens when you take the training wheels off.

This is what I’m teaching my child!

“I miss Big Pink,” she told me while walking back from the grassy yard that has become our practice spot/launching pad.

“I do, too,” I told her, sweating profusely — a tear at the very edge of my eyebrow. “I do, too.” Now it’s a day or two later and she’s started calling her bike “Big Pink” again. Asking to go give it another shot. Asking to go faster this time.

My window of opportunity to go back has closed. The training wheels are off for good. There’s no turning back. Look out tree roots and emergency rooms, Big Pink is coming through.

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