Yesterday was a Saturday. I’d made plans to head out to an event that was sponsored by Parks and Rec and Trips for Kids. It was called Learn to Ride and it was happening out at Marion Diehl Rec Center and Park. I got there late. I always get places late on Saturdays (sometimes Sundays as well). I wasn’t sure what to do once I got there, so I spent some time chatting with other volunteers until finally my friend Charlotte and I found an opportunity in a set of grandparents who were older, a bit heat sensitive, and simply couldn’t follow their little granddaughter around the track holding her bike anymore. The granddaughter was smiley, pink shirted and freckly, with long, wavy, strawberry blond hair that was trying for all its might to escape the confines of her ponytail holder. To that she added her little mermaid helmet. Because the humidity had come in at 96% that morning she looked vaguely damp and sticky, but happy to be saddled with two willing adults to take her around the track holding onto the seat of her bike (Charlotte held the handlebars as well).
When you put a child on a bike for the first time, you’ve got to convince them to pedal, because they will continually stop doing it and fall over. Bikes don’t balance themselves. Balance comes from the momentum created by pedaling. Charlotte worked for the first half of the track and then we traded off. That’s when it all came back to me. I’d taught my own daughter how to ride a bike, and I suddenly remembered that it actually takes a very light touch. That was funny, because as I looked around the track I realized that as parents we mostly tend to be heavy handed a lot of the time. Parents around me held onto the handlebars and the seat back with a white knuckle grip. I decided to try what I remembered, holding the seat very lightly and jogging along beside the little girl while trying to convince her to keep pedaling forward. She seemed to be having the time of her life as all this was happening. My hand on the seat kept getting lighter and lighter until only the tips of my fingers were touching, and then, just like that, I let her go. I kept running next to her and Charlotte and I were cheering and telling her she was doing it all by herself. And when she heard what was actually happening and realized she was no longer being held, she said, “I can’t.” Then she stopped pedaling. She had a small bike so it was very easy for her to put her feet down and take in what had happened. She’s found balance and freedom, which is at once wonderful and frightening. We all tend toward the, “I can’t possibly.” And sometimes when we realize we actually are, panic ensues.
This morning (a Sunday) I was in church—just a few minutes late—and thinking about that light hand I had on the back of that bicycle seat yesterday. Again, I saw a lot of parents holding on to every part of the bike they could to ensure safety. Truthfully, as I was jogging that track barely holding and then not, I was nervous too, about the fall. While we were out on the track with children yesterday, some children did fall and cry, and needed to be brushed off and set to right again. Some children needed to be hugged and reassured that even when you fall you can get back up and go again.
When I let go of that bicycle yesterday I was worried about it. What will happen next? I think that was what was on my mind this morning in church, because I watched a group of small children come down for children’s time, and I looked around and saw the youth who used to be small children, and I thought about my daughter who moved to Seattle, and whom I’ve talked through a number of small crisis since then, all the time wanting to hold the seat and the handlebars for all I’m worth and make sure nothing ever goes wrong. But all the time knowing too, that the best I can do is let my hold grow lighter until it isn’t really a hold at all, but just a hand reaching out and then letting go. Yes, with so much concern over what happens next. But also with so much hope that she’ll develop a balance all her own, from the pedaling and the moving forward and the leaning in the right direction at the right moment, but also from the falls.
I looked through our church this morning and saw all these lovely people that I’ve known forever and I grasped how much of life has to do with the fine art of letting go. As we all grow older, and hopefully grow up. And we watch our parents get older and just hope nothing ever happens. Sometimes I want to hold on so hard, even though a lighter touch is best. I want to white knuckle the heck out of everything and everyone. But I’ve come to understand, it’s a lighter, sweeter life, to let go gracefully, at the right moment.
I had to let go of a lot this past summer. For a little while I had to let go of control over my own self and situation. I had to let a batch of wonderful, miraculous friends come and take care of me while I healed and spent a last month with my daughter who was leaving for Seattle. I ate chocolate chip cookie cake made entirely of chickpeas and chocolate (for a protein boost) and so many mostly healthy suppers brought by parents and friends and families. I drank wine on the porch and read and I wrote a little and I allowed my non-stop self to sit still and be cared for and loved. It was so difficult to stay put in the light of those wonderful beams of love and not offer up anything in return.
Right after I was well enough, I had to let my daughter go across the country by herself. And I thought that might kill me, letting go of the back of her seat that I had held so hard for so long. It was so hard, and continues to be. But watching her learn balance and confidence, seeing the amazing woman she is…has given me an incredible sense of lightness and joy in return.