Breaking Away

Jennifer Belden Girls

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I screwed up.

The minute the words were out of my mouth, I knew I had said exactly the wrong thing, but it was too late to take it back.

She had rushed out the door to walk to school with her friends, only to be met with the announcement “we’re riding our bikes to school today.”As my ten-year-old doesn’t yet know how to ride a bike, this presented an obvious conflict. My under-caffeinated brain acted before full thought process kicked in, and I said “do you just want me to drive you, or can you keep up?”

The look on her face was one of both disappointment and determination. She said “I’ll walk with them anyway.”

This made look on her face three minutes later, as she rushed in the door bravely fighting tears, all the more heartbreaking. She had been told that they had to ride quickly as one of the younger girls needed to get to school for jump-rope club – fair enough, as she was little and couldn’t ride on her own. But when another friend offered to pedal along slowly so Miss M didn’t have to jog alongside to keep up, she was told they had to ride together, and my girl was left behind in a wake of feeling “not enough.”

All along, she has showed no interest in learning to ride a bike, and not even peer pressure could convince her that she should. Now, she’s reached the point where it’s embarrassing to not know how, and even more mortifying to be seen learning how to ride a bike. Hovering overhead is the fear of not while all her friends are – the fear of failure is a powerful force in this house.

While not learning to ride a bike is entirely her choice – you can’t force a kid to pedal, no matter how fast you run along side them – my mistake this morning was jumping in, because it gave her friend an “out” to leave her behind.

I could have said “why don’t you ride your scooter?” if I were to say anything at all. No. Saying nothing would have been best.

She quietly walked back into the house, opened her backpack, and sank slowly into the sofa with her book.

“I don’t need to leave so early, Mom, if you’re driving me.”

Sadness was etched across her face and my heart shattered into a million shards. This wasn’t the first time she’d been purposefully left out, and I could keenly recall how it felt, the steely-shafted pain throwing me back in time thirty-some odd years in an instant.

She’s bright and silly and quirky and kind, overly-sensitive and very black-and-white in her view of the world. It’s a treacherous combination, the latter, particularly in combination with the quirky. If I could wrap her up and shelter her from the next eight years or so, from the girl drama that is the tween and teen girl, I would. But I can’t, any more than I can wrap her in bubble wrap and send her out the door with the hopes that we can avoid more sprains and skinned knees. They are part of growing up, too.

The determined, happy little person whose hand I held as she learned to walk, who I caught when she stumbled – she needs to walk on her own. It’s only in the falling over and getting back up that she will learn, and she will grow. It was in that moment of looking at her face, at the disappointment and smallness that she was feeling that I knew that I wasn’t really helping, and that she has been trying to tell me this for some time now, but I couldn’t let go.

It was time.

As we rolled up to the school, she leaned over the front seat and gave me a big hug. Looking me in the eye, she quietly said “thanks, Mom.” Those two words spoke a million between us. Those two words were what I would hold on to.

This weekend, we’ll be taking a trip to the bike store to pick out her first brand-new, not a hand-me-down bike. We’ll run beside her..and then we’ll let go. It’s time.




About the Author

Jennifer Belden

I am an uprooted coffee-drinking Yankee adapting to Texas life with my two fabulous kids, feisty dog and amazing husband. When I'm not writing on my blog Momma on the Rocks or working on my children's book, I'm shlepping kids to soccer and lacrosse and failing miserably at keeping up with the laundry.

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