My first bicycle experience was very memorable. It was my birthday. My sixth birthday. My parents got me a brand new two-wheeler. It was a pretty blue, blue being my favorite color, and it had shiny fenders. Even with training wheels, I thought it was awesome! The driveway had a gentle slope down to the road. I am sure I received plenty of instruction but also sure I didn’t really hear any of it. I climbed aboard and was sitting “tall in the saddle” as they say all ready for my maiden voyage. I do not remember if anyone was yelling or cheering at me as I started coasting down the driveway. Slowly, little by little, I was drifting to the right and the edge of the driveway. Now, this is the point where I tell you I turned the bike and put on the brakes and ended up safely at the end of the driveway, right? Well, I can’t tell you that. The truth is that I was more of a passenger on that first ride. I had not been told how to use the brakes and for some reason, I did not steer the bike back onto the driveway. I crashed into the mailbox at the end of the driveway and that was the start of my biking life.
Fast forward a few years and I had another memorable experience. This time with a much better ending. A safer one, anyway. When you are a teenager but not sixteen, everything you do is waiting for that day and the freedom it brings. While waiting, you use whatever you have to be free. A couple of close neighborhood buddies and me had our bikes to go places. Our biggest outing was to go out to eat. One thing that every teenager shares is they eat you out of house and home. The three of us were no exception and being of limited resources, in other words not a lot of money, we decided to go to a Ponderosa Steakhouse about 10 miles away. Ponderosa had a lunch buffet. We planned to eat until we were full and maybe more. I didn’t have the smooth riding bikes of today. I had a metal frame 5-speed with spyder handlebars and a banana seat. The journey to Ponderosa was uneventful but took us a while. About two hours into our feast, one of my friends got sick and puked. Fortunately, he made it to the bathroom first but the manager did ask him to go. So off we went on our bikes back home. A normal ride back to our neighborhood and all was well.
Eventually, I became old enough and got my driver’s license. Then the bike took a back seat for many years. I still loved to bike but other things got in the way. My sons were born and grew and I taught them to ride a bike and we would even ride together. I went on some organized rides like the MS150, a 150-mile benefit for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and I still ride today.
Maybe sometimes we need to give our kids the freedom to experience things on their own, to give them the freedom to be creative and test themselves. Somewhere there is a line between keeping them safe and allowing them to be themselves. One thing I know for sure. Our kids need to get out and let their creativity bloom. There is nothing wrong with computer games and they are fun. I even play a few. But when kids are given the opportunity to discover the world for themselves, maybe we should let them. Let them have the time to be kids and to be who they want to be. It doesn’t always have to be structured time. Maybe we should make time to let kids be just kids. And then maybe they will develop a lifelong love for something, dare I say it, outside. Or at least something that ignites a passion within them.