One of the reasons I decided to send my child to a hippie charter school was because instead of a football team and a cheerleading squad, the school has drumming, snowboarding, and mountain biking clubs.
The bike club is for middle schoolers. I volunteer, so that my first-grade son can participate. He can hang. He’s a really smooth rider and is pretty strong when he puts his mind to it. It’s the putting the mind to it part that’s difficult for him. But more and more, that’s what he chooses when it comes to the bike—ever since the Easter Bunny came and took his training wheels when he was 3.
It’s a group of about ten 6th through 8th graders who run the gamut from not knowing how to ride a bike to being comfortable in the woods. The 6th grade teacher, Mike Sule, runs the club, and also commutes by bike. He hasn’t had a car in several years and appreciates being alleviated of the financial burden that accompanies car ownership as well as alleviating the stress to the planet.
One girl learned how to pedal and balance on the first day. Mike spent the whole hour doing wind sprints behind her bike while she screamed. She works harder than any of them, not afraid to fall and always immediately gets back on her bike to have another go at it.
I tried getting her to go down a slight hill, and she was terrified. I finally convinced her to try it, and ran along behind her so that she would somehow believe that I could prevent her from falling should something go wrong. I held on to the seat post, and as she rode off perfectly steady, I let go, ran alongside her and waved. She was grinning and looked like she’d just had a little too much caffeine the way her eyes were bulging with excitement. That’s when she realized I was no longer holding the bike. That’s also when she drove the handlebars directly into the grass and told me how wrong I was to let go.
I only felt a little bad—especially since it gave her enough confidence to do it again.
I worked with another girl the next week. She could ride, but she lacked any self-confidence and was terrified of falling. I guess that’s why I felt so bad when the first thing I let her do is wreck. It was a slow-speed wreck, though. It took her a few minutes to get back on, and I thought I’d lost her from the decadent lifestyle of dirty boys on bikes. I was sad for this—especially at such a young age. So I begged and pleaded until she got back up. There was no way I was getting her to climb the hill now, so instead we started a mini time trial.
We rode a loop together, and then I had her ride it alone as I worked the clock. She began by getting off the bike any time she had to turn. After all, that’s how she had fallen. I had her look through her turns even though she was walking. When she saw that she was easily able to beat her initial time of 34 seconds, she began riding through the corners instead. By the time her mom picked her up she was riding the loop in 16 seconds. I was so excited that I kept cutting her off so that I could tell her mom the story myself.
I don’t know why that pleases me so much more than football practice, but it does.