I remember the phone call from her mother.
"I can't do anything with her! All I want to do is get her to TRY riding her bike without the training wheels and she just gets hysterical when I try to even talk with her about it!!"
We had been separated for about a year. In that first year the kids stayed with me about 95% of the time while their mother finished her Master's Degree. Their days with their mother were usually some adventure to make up for missing time or a new 'advancement' that was necessary and must be accomplished immediately.
"You really need to come over here. You can talk with her. She listens to you."
Well, I really didn't think whether or not training wheels absolutely needed to be removed on any given day is a crucial factor in the life of a five year old but I was certain that Miriam and her mother had gone on about this for some time (I could hear sobbing in the background) and that both of them were at meltdown stage. I said I would be over and see what I could do.
Well the first thing was to take my daughter into the bathroom and wash her tear stained face.
"You and Mom have been arguing, huh?"
"You know," I said, "those training wheels do have to come off... sometime."
"But not today!!"
"There is NO REASON they have to come off TODAY!!"
"NO!!! It was a perfectly fine day! Why today!" Her voice was coming back up and the eyes were starting to water-up again. Why today, indeed. Logical kid.
"Ok. Tell you what. We'll take one of them off, I'll hold on to you and you just try it with one. That should make her happy for today... then I'll put it back on and we'll all go back to a perfectly fine day." Well, Miriam saw right away that losing only one wheel was better than losing both and the 'put it back on' option was in the works.
"OK, Dad," she finally said. "But only in the driveway!"
So I took the left one off and she made it down the driving leaning heavily to her right. Now that I think about it, it was probably the only time she ever leaned to the right. But leaning to far in any direction is just an invitation to fall, so the next few times down the drive I held the seat and one handle bar and helped her balance.
"Don't look at the pedals, Honey, look straight ahead. Your feet know what to do." They did. Pretty soon that right training wheel wasn't even touching the ground. I even let go a couple of times. Things were going good. We went down the sidewalk a bit. And back. And up the drive way. Down the block.
"Ya know, kiddo, you're getting pretty good at this. Maybe we should take the other one off and see what happens. I'll hold on to you. It'll be ok.
She glared at me a bit. "Liar." And got off the bike while I removed the other training wheel. And we went down the drive. Up the block. And back. And forth.
"Keep your head up. Look straight ahead. Don't stop. Keep going. Remember, 'Things that stop fall over'..... Keep going."
Finally we were both chanting... "Things That Stop Fall Over...Things That Stop Fall Over..."
And I let go. And she was off. "I'm doing it.. I'm doing it"
When she graduated from High School she called me to say she was going sky diving.... that I shouldn't be upset, that she was going to be fine, that she always wanted to jump out of an airplane. Yesterday she sent me an email. She was accepted for a study abroad program in Europe for next semester. Rome, Florence, Berlin, London. I shouldn't be upset. She has saved the money and got a loan. She always wanted to go to Europe. I remember fifteen years ago when she was zooming down the block without the training wheels and she yelled back at me.... "How do I stop!"
Don't stop. Keep your head up. Look Straight ahead. Keep going. Go for it, kiddo.... it's the second star to the right and straight on till morning.