The Best Exercise in the World
by Amy Auker
I like to walk three miles in the evenings. I occasionally like to run three miles. But no exercise I have ever done compares to teaching the most laid back child in the world to ride a bike. We tried to teach Lily to ride a bike shortly after Rex Glover gave us his daughter's cast off bike. Lily was 4½ years old at the time. It didn't work. We tried again when she was five. We tried again when she was six. Finally, the bike spent several months inactive until we realized that the tires had dry rotted.
Shortly after Lily's seventh birthday, my son commented that what he wanted for his birthday was new bike tires. Comments like these make me feel like the worst mother in the world since he certainly did not have to wait for his birthday for his horrible mother to take his bike in for new tubes. Mesquite and grass-burr country is hard on bicycle tires. So, I told him to park his bike beside the pickup and I would help him load it when we went to town. (A disastrous day a few years ago taught me to say "beside" instead of "behind." Mom practices what she preaches about "personal responsibility," so on that day she shelled out almost one hundred dollars for a new bicycle
after backing over the one that needed to go to town with us… but that is another story.)
I added that we might as well get Lily's dry rotted tires replaced while we were at it. Oscar's bike was fixed in a few days, but as things turned out, Lily's tires had to be ordered, taking a couple of weeks longer. But, today, Nick came home from town with Lily's bike, all fixed and ready to be ridden.
Now, a word about Lily. She is my very laid-back, calm, never shaken, um (shhhhhh….lazy?) child. She is far more stubborn than Oscar, but she is only internally motivated. All of my bullying slides off of her like the proverbial water off of the oily duck's feathers. In other words, Lily does not do anything until she is good and ready. Shortly after the bike came home, Oscar ventured out to "teach" her how to ride it. He came in with a bemused expression on his face. Oscar rides his bike several hundred miles a week, and he simply could not figure out how to make Lily keep her's going in a straight line. Next, Nick ventured up from the barn to give it a shot. He didn't last very long. Lily got tired.
Finally, I headed out to try. It only took about five minutes before the first battle of the wills happened because I was tired of running along beside holding her up, steering, AND pushing while she rode along like a queen on parade, feet still and arms proudly on the handle bars. Our second battle of wills came when 5 minutes after I persuaded her to actually pedal she found that she was exhausted and must go in to have water and a rest.
However, in about an hour she was ready to try again. I walked with dragging steps out to again try to teach my laz... uh… laid-back daughter to master a bicycle. Oh, my faith was small… but life had a lesson for Mommy today.
We worked in the yard for about half an hour but eventually decided that we needed more room. Our driveway is 1 ½ miles of graded county rode. I usually walk or run it every night, so I decided to take Lily and her bike along. My reasoning was that if we were away from the house, she would not have a choice but to keep trying.
For awhile, our pattern did not vary. I would get Lily set on the bike and run along beside while she pedaled and learned to steer. Eventually, she would lose control and plow into the soft bank on either side of the road. Panting, I would help her right herself and the bike and off we would go again. You are thinking, "She is right! This is great exercise!"
Those short sprints were really giving me a cardiovascular workout… not to mention those heart-stopping times when I would actually let go and have to watch my darling daughter wreck, helpless to control the bumps or the crashes. Then I would use the hem of my t-shirt to wipe the tears and the nose, and we would go again. There was also the elevation of blood pressure during the lecture I gave to darling son when I warned him that if he got in the way of or ran over either darling daughter OR Mom that he would be immediately exiled to the house. I had disastrous visions of… well, you get the idea. So lectured, he orbited our exercise, warily, like a competent moon.
Finally, after one particularly close call with a mesquite tree (several of which would grow right there beside the road), Lily tearfully complained that her arms hurt. Puzzled, I examined her arms for scrapes. She explained that they hurt from pushing. Pushing? "Yeah, Mom, you know. From pushing with my arms."
You have been pushing with your arms. Oh.
Teachers often speak of "re-teaching" when a student does not understand a concept. But, I have found that re-teaching is much more effective when a teacher first "re-thinks." Re-teaching in the same language you initial used
(i.e. "repeating yourself") does absolutely no good. First, a teacher must find another angle, another vocabulary, another direction to take in the re-teaching.
Do you recall how in cartoons a little light bulb is drawn over a character's head when he finally understands what is going on? Well, the little light bulb was almost visible over Miss Lily's head when I explained that her FEET were the motor. She did not have push with her arms. She must only sit up straight, relax her arms and push with her feet! We turned around and headed back home. After only a couple of false starts, she began to ride the bicycle.
Now, you are probably thinking that my workout was over. Wrong. The major exercise was just beginning. Now, I found myself sprinting behind her, not breathing evenly as a runner should, but catching my breath in gasps as
she wove her way along the road. I found myself alternately yelling PEDAL! as her feet slowed in their arcs or STEER! as her path became crooked and wobbly or LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING! as she became distracted by her success.
And, I began to fall behind. And the creek right before the house, with its very steep hill down to the bottom, loomed. Now, if you are a competent biker as my son is, you revel in being at the top of such a hill, ready to swoop to the bottom with all the speed of flight. But a beginner… with no control… this looked bad. Oscar and I began yelling with all of our might, "STOP BEFORE THE HILL! STOP BEFORE THE HILL!" Unfortunately, we had been so intent on
teaching Lily to make the bike GO that we had forgotten to teach her to STOP. After all, up until now, that is what the banks on the sides of the road had been for. I saw my triumphant little baby girl freeze aboard the speeding
hand-me-down bike, all efforts at pedaling over. Then, in slow motion, I saw the toes of her small tennis shoes descend toward the dirt and begin raising small puffs of dirt. There, on the brink of the horribly steep hill,
daughter and bike came to a halt. Mommy kept sprinting forward to close the gap.
I have seen the faces of Olympic champions as they received their gold medals on TV. I have seen the faces of new First Ladies as their husbands stepped to the mike to thank the American people for casting their votes in his favor. But, I am telling you now that no one's face has ever shown as much joy and triumph as Miss Lily's face showed this evening when she turned to face me at the apex of that hill. She laid that bike on its side and ran to meet me,
knees and hands covered in scrapes and scratches,
blond hair sticking to sweaty brow,
blood visible on her lip where a stray branch had left its mark,
a new bruise blossoming on her thigh,
and ecstasy beaming from her face.
My laid-back child had learned to ride her bike.
I got my exercise tonight. We did not do a whole three miles, but I got triumph and joy and heart-pounding excitement… thanks to a stubborn little girl and a friend's generous gift of an old bike.
Read about a Greasy cowboy .
a kid's horse,
when a cowboy is away,
Croutons & Sweetheart,
Poems by Oscar Auker.
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