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March 9, 2009

Let Her Go, Dude

“If you need somebody, call my name –
If you want someone, you can do the same …
If you love someone, set them free.”

- Sting, “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” (video after post)

Several weeks ago I described (in this post) my five-year-old daughter’s adventures in learning to ride her bike without training wheels, as well as my preferred method of safeguarding her along the way: rolling behind the bike with my inline skates in order to keep a supportive hand on her seatpost as needed. In previous experience with my two older kids, it only took a couple of afternoons like this before I felt confident enough to release my grip and let the kid roll off across the playground.

This time around, for some reason, I’m finding it much harder to let go.

Part of it has to do with the girl; of our three kids, she’s far and away the most easily distracted by everyday wonders. The smallest pretty flower, colorful bug, fluttering bird, or any of a thousand other chance observations will cause her to stop in her tracks and marvel at the rich details of life. (It’s a great quality to have when you’re strolling in the park; when trying to focus on steering your handlebars properly, not so much.) She’s also an incessant chatterbox, and sees no reason why learning the hardest new skill she’s ever encountered should detract from her telling an important story in the process.

Consequently, my girl wobbles and weaves much more than she should, then barely gains her balance before she starts looking at the trees, or finding shapes in the clouds, or singing me some new song she’s learned. Throw in all the times she looks over her shoulder to see if I’m still supporting her, and you can appreciate my hesitance to let her out of arm’s reach.

However, a larger part of the problem has to do with me. Skating circles on the blacktop behind my daughter’s bike, at some point I realized that this was the last one; this was the last kid I had to teach on a two-wheeler before that aspect of my job description was no longer necessary. On some level, I was sad that my youngest child was gaining the freedom to not need me anymore; not only that, but I was the one who was teaching her to do it.

So it was that I found myself rolling along behind my daughter recently with part of me coaching her and reminding her to pay attention to her task, and the other part reluctantly hoping that she’d take just a little bit longer to accomplish it. Finally, a few seconds into a ride when she seemed to be in a groove, I actually had to whisper a command to myself: It’s OK. Let her go.

I eased my fingers off the seatpost, and she was riding. I drifted to the side of her bike so she could see me, and her face burst into an enormous smile. The maiden trip lasted a handful of seconds before she coasted to a stop, but progressive attempts lasted upwards of 60 seconds or more. All I gave her was a gentle push to start, then followed far enough behind for her to know she was flying on her own now.

Less than 10 minutes later, she did a faceplant into the asphalt.

As crashes go, it wasn’t terribly tragic; a long hug and some encouraging words were all it took to get her back on the bike. However, she was slightly more cautious with the rest of her riding that afternoon, and wanted reassurance that I would stay close by her for the remainder of the day. Obviously, I was happy to oblige.

And that’s where things stand now: a 5-year-old girl who is independent enough to suffer her own crashes, but insecure enough to want me alongside her when they occur. It’s a situation that I’d love to somehow maintain as she faces down one challenge after another on her road to maturity.

Even though I can’t prevent her from falling anymore, I guess that sharing the adventure with her is the next best thing.

Sting, “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” (click to play):


Mark 3/10/09, 5:20 AM  

I remember those days-brings back good memories, wait until they go off to college!

Backofpack 3/10/09, 8:14 AM  

Oh, Donald. It doesn't get any easier. Though my boys are far from me in miles, I find myself skating along after them in my mind (and heart), ready to catch them if they crash. Hang in there Daddy, you are in for a long ride!

Runner Susan 3/10/09, 8:26 AM  

oh, how sweet. reminds me of letting go of my girl on the bike for the first time.

stronger 3/10/09, 8:52 AM  

Cute! Our girls would flutter around together famously!

You'll get another round in grandchildren someday ;)

jen 3/10/09, 9:27 AM  

Beautiful post Donald. :)

Dave 3/10/09, 10:57 AM  

Let me start on the lighter note: My youngest is 2. I was tell my 8 year old that I am tired of changing diapers. I then complain that I have been changing diapers for 8 years...or 1/5 of my life. Now see, growing in maturity isn't all bad.

But this weekend, when I went to the Daddy/Daughter dance with my 6 year girl, I told my wife, when she gets married I am going to be a basketcase...I was sentimental just tying the corsage on her arm.

p.s. Totally with you on "No Line." I am enjoying more each time I listen. It is a better record than I first thought. Magnificant has become my favorite.

21stCenturyMom 3/10/09, 11:22 AM  

Admit it - you secretly hope she will want you with her on her first date. Dads are like that.

olga 3/10/09, 2:56 PM  

Let her go, dude! That's for sure! If she doesn't fall, she'll never learn. You can bite a pillow in a meantime:)

Annette 3/11/09, 9:25 AM  

That's a tough one! Just continue to be her support - not overprotective, then she'll be more likely to turn to you as she gets older. (said the girl whose dad was overprotective and caused her to push away hard!)

mindy 3/11/09, 6:54 PM  

(eyes full of tears)

Deene 3/12/09, 12:23 PM  

aaw! this is a lovely post.
kids are fearless and very resilient.

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