Teaching Lexi to Ride a Bike

One of my projects this summer has been to teach Lexi how to ride a bike. We’re almost there.

Yesterday she went down the alley for stretches all by herself:

Today she went down the entire alley all by herself (with me running alongside in the excessive heat warning). She still needs some help starting and lots of practice, but we’re almost there. I’m still waiting for the first big fall and bigger tears.

Teaching a child how to ride a bike is full of lessons for a parent:

  • I think one of them is start early. I see kids half Lexi’s age riding bikes without training wheels all the time and I realize we’ve put this off.
  • I also think it’s about taking baby steps. Riding a bike involves a lot of skills at once, from pedaling to balancing. Anything you can do to learn one of those skills at a time instead of both at once is huge step up. That’s why we got Milo a kick bike. That’s why I took the training wheels and the pedals off Lexi’s bike at the same time so she could work on balance.
  • We also tried one of these co-pilot bike trailer things, in part to teach her balance but also to get her used to the idea. It’s also been a good way to teach her safe bike habits while I’m still in control (biking in the city is a bit different than the suburbs I biked in growing up).
  • But in the end it really comes down to practice. Running up and down the alley with Lexi for several days in a row is what finally got us the break through. It’s kind of the secret to most of life—you keep on trying until you get it. I hope Lexi’s starting to understand that (though yeah, she’s 6, it’ll be a while before that sinks in).
  • And if what Lexi really needs is practice, what I really need is patience. Loads and loads of patience. Oh my goodness did I need patience. Lexi’s not a super athletic kid (what can I say, she’s a Hendricks) and she also gets freaked out trying new things. She had a lot to overcome here and that required a wealth of patience on my part. Me getting mad or short with her would just shut her down. Having the patience to wait her out, to keep trying, to notice tiny improvements and praise the heck out of ’em. I don’t remember my dad teaching me how to ride a bike (oddly I remember when we took my brother out to learn how to ride a bike, but I don’t remember learning myself), but I imagine he needed the same boatload of patience I needed. I’m probably more like my dad, and Lexi is more like me, than I ever would guess.

We’re almost there. I think bike riding is one of those awesome things that can give a kid an incredible amount of freedom. There’s nothing like a summer of bike riding, of stretching your limits, of putting fun and adventure within reach, of simply feeling the wind in your hair. I’m almost as excited as Lexi is.

The Freedom to Disagree

I just finished reading Held at a Distance by Rebecca Haile. It’s a memoir about a woman who lived in Ethiopia until she was 10. Her father was wounded by the Derg in the aftermath of the revolution and her family eventually had to flee Ethiopia. The memoir is her experience returning to Ethiopia as a 36-year-old American.

I’ve been reading the book with the backdrop of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that has sent people into a tizzy—either expressing dismay at how the country is going down the toilet or complete euphoria that justice is coming to health care.

Full disclosure: Personally, I’m happy with the Supreme Court decision, though this doesn’t seem like a perfect law that’s going to fix the mess that is health care. I hope it’s a step forward. But I find the reaction to the decision more interesting than the decision itself. It makes me wonder how people have reacted to other historic court decisions. Were people this dismayed after the landmark 9-0 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that overturned segregation? (I’m not trying to compare this decision to that one in historic terms, just wondering how people have historically reacted)

All the cries of America going down the tubes seem especially disheartening to me. If anything, the will of the people has spoken. A law was passed by a Congress elected by a majority (multiple times—senators and representatives), signed into law by a president the majority elected, and upheld by a Supreme Court made up of justices appointed by past presidents from both parties and approved by a Senate controlled by both parties. Whether or not you agree with the decision, democracy happened. Complain all you want if you don’t like it, but this is government of the people, by the people and for the people. The law is constitutional, if you don’t like it you have all the legal power of democracy to change it. [Sidebar: And I hope my stance in this last paragraph would be the same no matter how the decision came out. It’s easy to make this statement when “your side” wins.]

Back to Ethiopia
I say all that because that’s what was going through my mind as I started reading about this family torn apart by military and socialist revolution in Ethiopia. When the government was overthrown in 1974, military rulers took over and imposed socialist ideals on an impoverished country. But it was really just a dictatorship disguised as socialism. Anyone who disagreed with the new government was seen as a threat. They were targeted, harassed, attacked and in many cases killed. The Derg’s iron-fisted rule continued until 1991 when they were overthrown. The government that followed is, according to Haile, less violent but more of the same. Dissenters are still arrested, censorship continues and the press is not truly free (I should note here that my understanding of Ethiopian politics is extremely limited and I’m basing all of these statements on Haile’s 2007 memoir. Take it with a grain of salt.)

An obvious lesson from Ethiopian history would be that when you can no longer disagree well with your political opponents, you’ve got a problem. When you vilify your opponents, you’re in trouble. You’re just a step away from outright attacking them. And when that happens you’re no longer pushing for a democratic ideal, you’re forcing your own opinion on someone else.

Today, the Fourth of July, is about celebrating our American Independence. As we celebrate and approach an election in the fall, we seem more divided than ever. But in our division, we must find a way to be united. We must find a peaceful way to disagree with our opponents. Disagree all you like, but democracy means that we come together and the majority rules under the Constitution (i.e., the majority might not have voted to end segregation, but it was still deemed unconstitutional).

Because the end of our independence happens when we’re afraid to disagree.