I’ve heard it said that mothering is like learning to ride a bike. You might be a bit wobbly at first, but once you catch your balance, you never forget how to navigate your way whether you face paved paths or off-road obstacles.
And yet, I’ve found it to be a bit more complicated. I’d liken it more to riding a bike with training wheels. You’ve armed yourself with books and blogs, lactation consultants and early childhood development activities. They are your version of wearing a helmet and maybe even kneepads. You will not fall down, and even if you do, you’re protected. You are nothing if not prepared. But then, just as you start to steady yourself, at almost the exact moment you dare to murmur, “I’ve got this,” the training wheels betray you and fall clean off, clattering loudly and making a scene.
Well, this is embarrassing. But even worse, out of nowhere, your tasks have all changed. You pedal faster, lilting to and fro, dodging bumps in the sidewalk. Sleep regressions, potty training, nursery school, and first friendships. Miles and miles of this until just like before, at some point you begin to slow down and coast again. The cool breeze falls upon your face for a moment. You relax, but you’re suddenly snapped back to reality.
Something’s different again.
You look around and notice you’ve lost a wheel. That’s right, a whole wheel. It spins off behind you, and now you’re on a unicycle. You’re on a unicycle that used to be a bike that used to have training wheels. How did this happen?
You’re heaving forward, then backward, desperate to stay upright. Screen time, social media, sportsmanship, bullying, and lessons in self-worth. Tree branches are smacking you in the face, leaving needles and brush in your hair. You squeeze your eyes closed tight just to breathe until you sense a sliver of calm, equilibrium.
You cannot tell yet whether this experience is driving you toward disaster or if you’re adeptly unlocking new achievements. It’s too early to know. And besides, you don’t have time to waste because you’ve opened your eyes again now, and somehow, you’re piloting a rocket ship to outer space. That was some leap and you can’t even remember how it happened.
You miss your bike. Remember the bike?
Remember the training wheels! Their problems were so small. Now foreign dials and levers are at your fingertips. Drugs, sex, graduations, college tuition, career building. Your field of vision is filled with red blinking buttons. You don’t know what these buttons do or how hard to press them. Now you’re just hanging on, white-knuckling this astonishing ascent until, in an instant, someone hits your eject button.
You’re hurtling right into the cosmos at light speed. You feel the rush and the force of it unfurling inside yourself until you come to stillness. Floating. Suspended. Watching your miraculous, ever-changing vessel hurl itself toward the unknown with an almost unrecognizable self-assuredness.
That miraculous wonder used to be a bike. With training wheels!
But somehow all along it knew it was meant to be a rocket.
It knew it was a rocket when you thought it was just a bike, and it’s on autopilot now, using only the imprint of the pathways you’ve navigated together before. You watch breathlessly, craning your neck to keep it in your line of sight. You remember it all. The training wheels, bike, the unicycle, the rocket dials. Every crack in every sidewalk. Every rain-soaked trail and every sunlit path.
Yet your tether unties. You can’t even see it happen, but you feel it and your own weight changes. You watch the glittering skies and the craggy meteors and the fiery asteroids across your shared universe. Awestruck by the new soaring view, you wring your hands out of habit, and you think to yourself amidst all of your sweat and toil, “This was worth the ride.”