Learning to ride a bike is a balancing act – just like raising children.
Nothing quite so elegantly sums up the intricacies, delicacies and difficulties of parenting as teaching a child to ride a bike. You are bent over uncomfortably, hurtling forwards, pushing and balancing at the same time, while your toes are being mangled and your closest calf is acquiring a gradual bruise from repeated beatings with the pedal.
You are being screamed at confusingly: ‘Don’t let go!’ and ‘Let go, Mummy, let go!’
You look ungainly, and, no matter how fit you are, after 5 minutes you are sweating like a porcine jogger on a sweltering Durban day.
When the work is done and your child can balance alone, no-one pats you on the back. Instead, doubled-over with exhaustion, hands on your knees, you are the one squeezing out another breath for praise: ‘Well done baby! You got it! You’re doing it! Woo-hoo!’
It took a week of back-breaking work before I got to that point with Number 2, who found he could only concentrate on either pedalling or steering, not both at the same time. Number 3 took less than an hour to get it, after we’d told her not to get too excited, because it does take a while to master the ancient art of cycling.
‘This is easy,’ she shouted into a howling South-Easter as she peddled away from me across a field, ‘all you have to do is pedal and balance!’
Indeed. Now you go and explain that to your older brother.
So, anyway, bicycles are big at the moment. In a small pocket of our city, every weekend, parents are squeezing and squashing bicycles into their hatchbacks to bring to our house so that I can walk to the park with a helmeted clan of bike-pushers.
These kids do not cycle in roads - even the quiet ones that carry a maximum two cars a day. They are nervous in a way that can only be described as 21st century. They look both ways 15 times before crossing. So, getting four of them to the park a few blocks away is an exercise in true grit.
Herding kids has never been my strong point. Herding kids on bikes across two busy streets and several very quiet ones is one of those jobs I only do because I can reward myself on the other side with a lie down on the park bench with my book.
We can’t go anywhere with the bikes except the park because two bikes can’t fit into the little car. Actually, neither could just the one, but somehow we used to do it. It works if you fold one child in half.
We need a bike rack, but to get one, we need a tow-bar. To get both, we need extra moolah. We hadn’t budgeted for these, naively thinking that introducing children to bicycles was a simple matter of a one-off outlay on the wheels.
Biking is so complicated. I spend my weekends thinking about how to transport bicycles. When I was little my bike WAS my transport.
My parents bought it to make their own lives easier, and disguised it as a Christmas gift, slyly killing two birds with one stone.
I seem to have bought my kids bikes in order to make my life marginally more complex. Is cycling an essential part of your children’s childhood?
Read more by Karin Schimke