What I Failed to Teach

I had failed to teach my son a basic life skill.

Watercolor a bicycle leaning against a brick building
Image created via Midjourney

Yesterday afternoon, the doorbell rang.  It was in the middle of "quiet time" in our house, so Autumn was napping and Theo was down in his basement bedroom.  Ger and Quentin were out spending some time together at an arcade.  I figured that it was an Amazon delivery, but when I looked at the live camera from our Ring, I saw that it was a neighbor kid with his bike.  I went down to answer the door.

He asked if Theo could go ride bikes around the neighborhood with him.  I quickly told him that we have Quiet Time in our house, and that I was not sure if Theo was taking a nap, and then later in the afternoon Theo and I had plans (which we did, with another friend).  I suggested that maybe the following weekend they could get together to play, and thanked him for the invitation.

After closing the door, I started crying.  Because Theo is going to be ten years old in a few weeks, and he doesn't know how to ride a bike.

In the summer of 2015, he was five-going-on-six, but I was in my second trimester of pregnancy with Nelle.  I still was nauseous for a good portion of the day, so I had no interest in teaching him to ride a bike.  The following summer, I was wrapped up in grief after losing Nelle and Iris and couldn't focus on anyone other than myself.  In the summer of 2017, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with Autumn, and helping Theo by holding the back of his bike to balance was out of the question.  It crossed my mind that year that he was nearing eight years old and still had no clue how to ride a bike, but I pushed it out of my mind, telling myself "there's still time..."  And the summer after that, in 2018, Ger was dealing with anxiety and the impacts were far reaching in our household, so my energy was put back into "one day at a time..."

As a result, here we are in 2019, and I have two kids that do not know how to ride bikes.  At 7 years old, it is a bit more understandable for Quentin.  But we had bought Theo a bike several years ago and he had outgrown it without ever learning to ride it.  That one was passed to Quentin and we got a larger one for Theo.

The summer started out rainy, with most afternoons ill-suited for bike riding.  By July the days were bright and hot, and I made both of the kids spend a few minutes outside after dinner, practicing.  Our driveway has an incline, so I would send them down trying to get them to balance.  I stood behind Theo and tried to give him momentum to push off, counting out loud each rotation he made with his feet before falling over.  We made a little progress.

Then the city decided to re-do the sidewalks in front of our house and good portions were completely torn up.  Both kids announced that they did not want to ride bikes until everything was fixed.  Then our family vacation, then school starting....

And now here we are.  The end of another summer, and Theo still doesn't know how to ride a bike.

I texted the mom of the neighbor kid that came over and told her, trying to brush it off with "parent fail!" but I didn't want Theo to be embarrassed if he were asked again.  I was hoping that maybe the invitation would be motivation for him to want to practice more.

But in my heart, I knew that I was to blame.  I had several chances to work with him in the summer, and I didn't.  In our house, I am the driver that makes those kinds of things happen.  I am the motivation behind signing the homework sheets, making the beds, signing up for swimming lessons, and tying the shoes.  That's just always been the dynamic of the house.  It's me.

I felt SO guilty, like I had failed my son.  I had failed to teach him one of those basic life skills.

I texted another friend, another loss mom.  She gave me an analogy of juggling, and some balls are glass and some are rubber.  I kept the precious glass ones going and some, like learning to ride a bike, were rubber and not critical at the time.  That may have been the case, but it didn't take away from how much I felt like I had missed out on something that I needed to do as a parent.

Theo, being the oldest, didn't get all of my focus on helping him learn organization skills for school during a few of those years either, and I remember the guilt I felt at that time.  We eventually got through it, but the several months into his second- and third-grade years were rough and I felt like there were things I should have been doing to help him that I wasn't.  Because each morning was going through the motions, a bare minimum, to get ready for school.  And he was frustrated and he felt like he was doing something wrong, that he couldn't keep track of all of his school stuff.

It is what it is.  The school year this year has gotten off to a great start, because I finally have a clear head in the morning.  Make your beds, check off everything on your charts, get everything into your backpack.  Afternoons, we will be spending some time outside, learning to ride those bikes.

But not today, because it is raining.