Bear Cub on a Barbie Bike

Down the street my little bear cub rode on the pretty, pink and purple Barbie bike with it’s matching girly training wheels. It should have been ever so cute.

But it wasn’t.

The bear cub on the bike wasn’t my little, pigtailed, feminine three-year-old, but instead her tall-for-his-age seven-year-old brother. His knees came up above the handlebars with every turn of the pedals. The training wheels gradually bent upward as his body weight tipped from one side to the other. His red helmet clashed with the pink and purple paint. And frankly, he looked pretty ridiculous.

My bear cub on a Barbie bike.

I call him my bear cub because he’s my son and because I turned into a Mother Bear that afternoon. I guess if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been a protective and fiercely loving Mother Bear for seven years.

That’s really the whole problem here.

You see, when our son was a toddler he was very ill and endured over three years of chemotherapy after a devastating leukemia diagnosis. During that time we hibernated. I was a Mother Bear with a sick little cub and I did all that I could to keep him safe and sound while he healed. Our hibernation did not include bike rides because they could lead to falls and scrapes and bruises, especially for a child who often had low platelets and was very fragile. And since he never asked to ride a bike, we simply didn’t put him on one.

Today he’s a healthy and strong young man who was the tallest child in his first grade class. He plays basketball and baseball and swims like a fish. He’s big for his age and you’d never know by looking at him that he fought cancer as a preschooler. He’s growing up right before our eyes.

But he still can’t ride a bike.

And one thing he learned in first grade was that his friends can.

Now he knows what he’s missing and he wants to learn… desperately enough that he was willing to ride his little sister’s girly bike.  We’d tried his own bigger and boyish bike over and over again to no avail. He just didn’t have the experience of riding a smaller bike to know what it felt like to balance without training wheels. My husband even tried putting training wheels on his bike, but bikes built for 82 pound kids just aren’t made for training wheels.

So there we were on a sunny Sunday afternoon going down the sidewalk in our neighborhood. My son on the bike and me walking behind with my eyebrows raised and jaw clenched… just waiting for the poor training wheels to finally burst off and the exhausted bike with it’s rider collapsing to the ground. But, that did not happen. In fact, he did very well. Granted he had to get off the bike every once in a while to kick the bent training wheels back down so they’d reach the ground, but otherwise it was smooth sailing.

Until he rode by a yard full of kids.

Now, thankfully my little bear cub kept pedaling on and was completely oblivious to the conversation that took place amongst his peers. But I wasn’t. I was walking far enough behind that by the time I got to the kids I could hear their laughter, see their pointing and understand their mocking comments about the big boy riding a small pink bike. And oh, did my Mother Bear instincts kick in! I kept on walking and kept my mouth shut, but I sure wanted to go give those little kids a grizzly piece of my mind!

I held on to my tongue that day, and other days my husband and I held on to the back of my son’s bike desperately trying to help him learn to balance.

But it’s hard to know when to let go.

I probably should have let go years ago and allowed my little cub to ride a bike, even though it was scary for his mother. I probably am not a good one to help him learn to ride his big bike now because I’m afraid to let go and watch him fall.

But I can’t hold on forever… it wouldn’t be healthy if I did.

In fact, I’ve had to let go more often. I’ve had to let go of his bike and I’ve had to let go, albeit ever so gradually, of my children. It’s good for them to learn to ride a bike, even when they fall and get hurt. It’s good for them to grow up and become more independent and confident, even when it hurts my heart.

It’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go.

But it seems like letting go is necessary. I’m going to have to send my children off to scary places… like second grade… and heaven forbid, middle school and high school. It’s why I get choked up at the end of Toy Story 3 when Andy’s toys are all waving goodbye to him as he heads off to college. I’m just afraid I’m not going to handle my own kids growing up with the grace and poise of Buzz Lightyear.

But grow up they will. I really wouldn’t want it any other way. But it’s hard. And I know those who have children who they have watched graduate from High School, enter the work force, and walk down the aisle, laugh at me and think I ain’t seen nothing yet.

So please, don’t remind me. I must take this one day at a time. One letting go at a time.

I’ve stopped hibernating now and I’m doing better at allowing my little bear cubs to roam on their own and grow to be more independent and confident.

And Barbie bikes, high school graduations, or wedding days, I pray that this Mother Bear will enjoy both the holding on and the letting go as my bear cubs grow up before my Mother Bear eyes.

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