A pink bike with a pink and white floral print banana seat. I hold a wavery memory of my first bike as if viewed through a hazy flashback scene. Yet I remember with clarity the thrill of independence and pride associated with learning to ride it. A bicycle symbolizes newfound independence for young children, and I loved mine and the sense of adventure and freedom it gave me. Now that I am a parent, my children’s bicycles hold a different significance.
Because as a parent, loss is your biggest fear. My friend recently recounted a situation where her three year old daughter was lost behind the stage during a dance recital. My friend became emotional as she talked about her fear and inability to speak in the moment, and the amount of time it took her to recover, even after finding her daughter. Not being able to locate your child, even for a few seconds, feels like what I imagine drowning does. An immense pressure on your chest, an inability to speak or even breathe. Time slows and your vision narrows. You imagine the worst case scenario; calling for help or even forming a sentence becomes an impossibility. When faced with such loss, as parents, we hold on tightly to our children and resist their demands to let go.
In other situations, most people do the same, steeling ourselves against loss. Clutching our purse, locking our car and house, guarding ourselves, our family, and our possessions. Cruelly, sometimes, the people guilty of stealing the most from us are the ones closest to us, betraying our trust, our love, our friendship.
Throughout my divorce, acquaintances would talk about how divorce was so traumatic because it signified “the loss of hopes and dreams” and that captures the essence of divorce; my grief was not a result of saying goodbye to an imperfect partner, but the collapse of all I had built, the dissolution of all I had accumulated, and, far worse, the destruction of all my future plans for my family and me. Loss during divorce is inescapable, overarching, and momentous.
At every stage, as I continued to part ways with pieces of my life, I underwent the same heartbreaking process of grief and loss. My house, my furniture, my dog, and most recently, a 15 year friendship. At first, I railed against the loss, then I grieved it usually with lots of hot, sad tears, and, ultimately, I shed that old form of me, which had held the item close, like a second skin. Each time, faced with the threat of loss, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t recover, and, inevitably, I did. I emerged, often scarred, sometimes lighter. Always altered.
With the implosion of a roadmap for my life, there were certain ideas that troubled me more than others. One was that my children would not be with me when they experienced milestones. Ironically, my ex-husband had missed multiple milestones for our children when we were together; as the only constant in my children’s lives, I vow to always be there for them, and so my fears are unfounded. While I realize I have the annoying habit of worrying irrationally at times, an unusual source of recent distress became who would teach my children to ride their bikes without training wheels.
It was more than fortuitous then that in the midst of a particularly troubling month when my ex was threatening to take me to court regarding his misunderstanding of his visitation schedule, my daughter turned six and requested I remove her training wheels from her bicycle. My mother and I both took her out several times to practice with little success.
Two weeks later, as my ex’s threats increased, I took my daughter out again, and she practiced balancing and gliding on the bicycle. Then I held on and balanced the bike as she pedaled. Holding a child up is difficult work, both in that moment and all others. Every once in a while, she would tell me to let go and proceed to fall into a bush or onto a front lawn. She grew frustrated and cranky as we all do when our expectations of ourselves exceed our abilities. I tried to express how difficult and time consuming acquiring a new skill is. She did not care. She was determined.
That afternoon, after multiple attempts, when she finally instructed me to let go again, and I hesitantly did, my beautiful, tenacious daughter took off. Her long red hair streamed out from under her pink helmet as she rode away. I could see the pride she felt in her accomplishment in the set of her back, the way she sat upright in her seat and continued to ride away from me.
My heart was being squeezed. I felt simultaneously proud and nostalgic. As a mother, I cannot measure the pride I feel at my children’s accomplishments. At every one of my children’s milestones, I have cried with the weight and significance of the moment. This one was no different. I started to cry. I ran to catch up. When she finally came to a stop, I enthusiastically praised her, but she questioned my tears. I explained they were tears of joy.
The next day, my daughter came home with an even more valuable gift, a story she had written about learning to ride her bike. She is in kindergarten and an emergent writer, yet the story was very perspicuous. “I told my mom to let go. I told her to let go again. She let go, I could feel the fresh air and it was fun and my mom was crying joy.”
And so the student inevitably becomes the teacher. I had taught my daughter to ride a bike, and in turn, she gifted me a treasure. Sometimes, in life, we must let go. Letting go is scary and intimidating, but, often, it is necessary. In the process, we might be knocked around; we might fail at first. We definitely will fall. But it is in the act of letting go, difficult though it may be, that we find our way. Letting go is a freeing choice. We gain freedom and independence. We begin to fly. And we learn to write our own stories.