The largest birthday gift I ever received was the shiny red Hero bicycle I got my for tenth birthday. Hilda, for that is what I named her, actually came home two weekends after my birthday, but despite the delay, she was meant to be my birthday gift.
She came home on a Saturday, and on Sunday morning, my cycling lessons began. Pops would hold the handlebars steady, as a practiced pedaling. It took me quite a few days to get the hang of it, and the driveway was more than adequate for our practice, but once I mastered the trick of not allowing my feel to slide off the pedal, we graduated to the road outside our house.
Pops would patiently push the cycle for hours, while I pedaled. I think the next thing I was supposed to learn was to balance myself, but when someone is holding the cycle steady, there is no way of knowing if you can balance yourself or not. We went on like that for days – Pops walking beside me not relinquishing his hold on the handlebars, and me dutifully pedaling along. The other kids who had got cycles around the same time as I had were cycling, but I was still being pushed along – too scared to allow Pops to let go, and not being encouraged to try it out on my own either.
Then one day, I decided I wanted more. I wanted to pedal faster. I tried picking up speed, but Pops couldn’t keep up, and asked me to slow down. I did. But the very next day, I tried it again, and again. On the fourth day, my need for speed got the better of me, and I refused to slow down when Pops asked me to. Huffing beside me, he asked me to slow down again, and when I did not, he uttered the only threat I ever remember him making to me – “Slow down, or I will leave you.”
My answer was to push down harder on the pedals. I never expected Pops to actually let go, but the freedom of cycling down the road entirely on my own was incredible. Flying down the road, I was only vaguely conscious of a very practical problem – I did not know how to get off or even to slow down and turn around. But I was not to bothered – I knew that Pops would do something, he would never let his little girl get hurt.
The inevitable happened. I went till the end of the road, then off the road and towards the forest. Perhaps some silly part of my brain was telling me to keep cycling down the footpath and to the river, but long before I could reach it, I went over a rock, and fell.
As far as cycling injuries go, the cuts I got were minor – nothing some Dettol, a sprinkling of Nebasulph and a couple of kisses couldn’t cure. But the ramifications were major. The next day, Pops started teaching me to slow down and dismount, and by the end of the week, I had learnt to turn around.
It is important to protect your children. But it is equally important to know when to let go.