I remember my eldest daughters first steps. She’s always been determined and when she decides she’s going to do something, she dedicates herself to it completely. A week before her first birthday, we were in the kitchen. I was tidying up after breakfast, putting the butter away. She pulled herself up to standing, using her little table. This wasn’t new, she’d been pulling herself to standing for months now. Usually, she sat down quick smart, as if something in her brain had just registered the potential risks associated with this new upright position. She has also always been rather cautious. Once she knows she can do something though, there is no holding her back. This day, however, she was done with being wary. As I bent to put a plate in the dishwasher, I caught a look of intense concentration on her face.
As I bent to put a plate in the dishwasher, I caught a look of intense concentration on her face. First, her right foot shuffled forward, then her left. She still had hold of the table, but she was moving. She lifted her foot, and took a proper step, and then another. She reached the end of the table, and paused, seeming to weigh up the distance to the cupboard, and then she stepped. One, Two, Three. She arrived at the cupboard, then promptly turned around and walked back to the table. One, Two, Three. For four hours, she walked from the table to the bench, back to the table, to the other bench, and back again. She refused to do anything else. She was not interested in her lunch, nor was she interested in playing outside. All she wanted to do was walk.
Her tenacity and her focus inspire me. Sure, it’s frustrating when we are at a stand-off, but it remains to this day, one of the things I love most about her. This last summer, she decided she wanted a bike. She was 4, it was time. I had wanted to start her off with a balance bike, but my husband wanted a bike with stabilizers. On holiday in Italy, we happened to be in a sporting goods store where upon the girls pounced upon a couple of bikes with stabilizers and proceeded to race each other up and down the aisles, giggles flying in their wake. They were so excited, so I surrendered.
My girls spent the rest of our holiday terrorising tourists in the many piazzas surrounding Lago di Garda. Fortunately, they are still cute enough to get away with it. Especially when my eldest, who had decided at some point during the holiday that underwear was not an essential clothing item, stopped her bike just before a puddle, to hoik her skirt up to her shoulders so that it wouldn’t get wet, revealing her dimpled bottom to everyone in the piazza.
Back at home though, (after my husband had finally figured out how to get the girls’ bikes on the plane to Amsterdam, apparently bubble wrap, miles of packing tape and a sweet smile at the check-in counter will do the trick) I noticed the stabilisers were actually causing more problems than they were preventing. Both of my girls were repeatedly coming off their bikes because they were turning too sharply. The stabilizers were giving them a false sense of security and of stability, and consequently, they were not learning how to manoeuvre the bikes safely.
When my husband was away on a business trip, I took the stabilisers off. My intention was to turn these bikes into balance bikes by simply removing the pedals. I’d looked it up on YouTube, how hard could it be? Hard, it turns out. Actually, impossible with the bikes we had. My eldest, having grown frustrated with the length of time I was taking to give back her bike, decided that she would just learn how to ride it as it was. And so, for the next half an hour, she pedalled and steered, while I ran along behind her till she had a feel for it.
‘Don’t let go,’ she said, glaring at me.
‘I won’t dare, not until you are ready,’ I reassured, huffing and puffing and wishing I could sit down.
‘Let go,’ she said ten minutes later, as though I were some overbearing helicopter Mum she couldn’t get rid of.
‘Let go,’ she demanded ten seconds later when I hadn’t let go fast enough.
I let go, and she was off. Legs pumping furiously, hands over correcting wildly. It wasn’t perfect, but she was upright and she was riding. Two hours later, she was still riding. Up and down the same stretch of road, over and over and over again, but she had it now.
‘Mama, Mama, watch me,’ she called out, blissfully proud of herself.
This morning, when I woke up, I had no idea today would be another milestone day. Sometimes this job is pretty amazing.