Learning to Ride
My heart stops beating when he lets go of the seat and she takes off on her own, coming down the street toward me. She doesn’t realize he has let go, and I swear that everything goes into slow motion, the kind without any sound. The birds in the sky soar unhurriedly, silently, the leaves wave but the rustling stops, her hair blows and she’s wide-eyed, mouth open a little, tongue moving like it does when she’s thinking about something. But there’s no sound. I try my hardest not to let her see on my face that he let go 8 feet ago. She is riding, gliding, all on her own.
The world turns back to real-time and the sound returns. “How am I doing, Daddy?” she asks in a voice clearly designed to be heard by someone right behind her. He doesn’t hear; he’s watching her from the spot where he let go. “Daddy?” she says, a little panic in her voice. “How am I doing?” I try to signal to him that she’s talking to him, but what should that look like? She glances at me, and I know she knows she’s all on her own. “Daddy?!” she says again, clearly frightened now.
“You’re doing great, honey!” I say. She knows he’s not there, right? “You’re all on your own! Way to go! You’re doing it!” She’s going really fast. I realize I shouldn’t have said it out loud. Of course she knew he wasn’t there, but not really, until I said it.
She falls, her tires slip and whoosh across the sidewalk as her pedal clatters and scratches on the pavement. “Oh no!” she cries out, sliding to a stop and pulling her fists to her chest protectively. Her dad and I both run toward her. She slowly opens her hands and looks at her palms. I see her wince. They must be bloody. She pulls her legs up and checks her knees. Now she cries.
Her dad and I reach her at the same time. She looks first at me and I see anger in her tears. She turns to her dad next and almost screams, “I told you not to let go. You let me fall! Now I’m all bloody!” I can’t believe he is trying not to laugh! Our child is mangled and irate and he’s stifling a chuckle? She glares at him as he struggles to not hurt her feelings more. “Jerk,” I mouth at him over her head. He shrugs, embarrassed, and offering his hand, says to her, “Let’s get those cleaned up. I’m sorry, Sweetie. I thought you had it.”