Roots and Wings: No Training Wheels Required

Part I

Feeling unsupported lately? Allow me to share a recently developing alternate theory.

Remember learning how to ride a bike? How’d that go for you? Did you take to it right away, or did it take a few days, maybe an entire summer? Did you do it on your own, or did you require help here and there?

I remember my first bike. It was a bright orange, banana-seated beauty named Sundance (and yes, I got such joy later in life when I remembered that). It sported a silver thumb-powered push bell, and it was Just The Right Size. That was important, to this story and the metaphor – because I didn’t learn to ride a bike until much later than most kids. The family theory was that I could learn to ride the wheels of those gone on – the dirt bike in dry dock from one too many adventures, that mid-sized much-coveted midnight blue three-speed, or the (insert: TERRIFYING) full-grown 10-foot-high Adult Male Bike with the baby seat on back where I used to ride behind Dad’s 6-foot-wide shoulders (with the commanding imperative DON’T LEAN, but it was hard to SEE around those shoulders).  Women reading this will understand why I specify this was a MALE bike. That high bar was not something I was up to – not to mention how inconvenient it was in the long skirts I was required to wear at all times.


I was about two foot shorter at that age, and try as I might, those grown-up bikes just weren’t happening, or, in the case of the coveted, weren’t allowed. This was a source of great personal embarrassment to me, because I knew all kids my age rode bikes. I heard about it in show and tell. Luckily, I lived far out on the countryside where I could hide my shame, and when in the company of other youngsters, could pretend that I really didn’t want to ride anyway. Such an immature, childish pursuit.

But finally, at the grand old age of 9 or 10, I don’t remember which, my parents hit a miniature windfall of sorts, and each child was faced with a decision: What did we REALLY want? I was torn. A new swingset with all the accoutrements, or a bicycle?

Sundance won.

That’s when the real adventure began. For one thing, my family didn’t believe in training wheels. Training-Wheels-5-x-5-copyWe’re from Missouri, we don’t need no stinkin’ wheels. We’ve got bandaids and first-aid spray for that (which stings like an *ahem* if I may remind you). Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect. Heck yeah, you’re gonna fall over. Probably a million times. The grown-ups only have so much time to try to help, but they’ll do their best the first day or two. I seriously considered tying on pillows – that worked so well in the funny papers – but the dynamics of pedaling and balancing and skirts and bike spokes were complicated enough without that.

The best learning spot? Down the left side of the circle driveway, below the sidewalk, toward the walnut tree, around the little building, where the gravel was not spread quite so thickly, and less cumbersome to pedal through.

First you try out the seat, leaving the kickstand down, of course. Leg up and over. Got this. Heck yeah. I am master of my domain, and I can see the headlines now. Gingerly, oh so gingerly, take those handlebars and stand her up. Adjust the seat. Perch on the edge. Hey, this isn’t too bad. I really CAN do this. And it doesn’t have to hurt the whole time. Raise one foot to that pedal, perch it there, photo-ready. Yeah, I know. I look good. Never mind the sweat pooling in my palms. No one can see that but me. A furtive wipe on the skirt, and it’s time for the first push-off. Up, up, up – and OVER. OK, that didn’t go too well. After a few attempts, the grown-up realizes it might need to get personally involved. OK, let’s do this.

Soloing didn’t happen that first evening. Well, I think it happened once. I also think I blocked out a lot of the experience, for personal trauma reasons. I can remember forsythias flying by on my left. I can remember a lot of gravel. I can remember that sting. And I can vaguely remember a slow-motion sensation of watching the world slide to a horizontal position as the sun went down and Sundancer went one way as I went another.

I can remember the safety of knowing that someone had hold of that little silver bar on the back, keeping me upright. I’m pretty sure it was Mom, because Dad was usually working (and we wonder where I get my workaholic tendencies).  Don’t pedal too fast, she can’t keep up – but it’s ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE, MOM!!!!!! Whatever you do, though, don’t try that curve at the bottom, through the grass around the walnut tree. That’s not for tonight. Just going straight is hard enough at the moment. They don’t tell you how challenging THAT can be, as the bike tilts this way and that with a mind of its own, and the gravel looms below. I remember a death grip on the handlebars – hold her straight, hold her steady. No, wait, don’t hold her too tight – she needs room to move. You have to loosen that grip, the wheel doesn’t hold straight, it needs play, that little left and right that keeps us balanced, keeps us centered. That doesn’t come naturally, you know – we have to LEARN that.

The next day, it’s back to it again… trying the other side of the circle, where the hill isn’t quite so steep. But the gravel is too deep to get started, the lesser incline too long and hard to maintain. So it’s back to the straightaway, where that 5% drop has grown to 80% in my mind. But I am determined, and I will drag Mom down that road 100 times if I have to (and if I can talk her into it). Watching from the kitchen window, she knows when it’s time, and here she comes down the sidewalk.

She asks – can she let go now? NO. NO. NO. OK…. Keep going, keep going, keep going? DON’T LET GO, DON’T LET GO. I’m not, I’m not! And the world is flying by and the bushes are a blur, and I look back – way back – to where she is standing at the top of the grade. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! And the bike goes crashing to the ground. YOU LET GO.  But you DID it!!! You did it ALL BY YOURSELF!!!! But you let GO. OK, let’s try it again…  Don’t let go this time, ok?

And finally, finally, finally, that grand and glorious moment – she lets go, and I get all the way down the driveway and have to skid into the grass (backward braking nowhere near my awareness or ability), falling to the side so I don’t go out into the road and the even scarier hill out there. I did it. I really did it. And if I did it once, I can do it again. The taste of power was palpable. Nothing could stop me now.

And so she retreated to her kitchen window, and I began the next stage. Yes, it came with plenty of bumps and bruises, plenty of that spray, plenty of those bandaids. But slowly the wobble smoothed, the teetering straightened, and I began to branch out, to attempt more, to dare to dream. Finally, that first time I made it around the curve, and each successive one, until I could take it at a 45% angle, flat out at top speed, no brakes, braids flying in the air, cats and dogs scattering, walnuts skittering, hang tight hang tight hang tight – are you kidding me? That was part of the fun – straight out normal roads were BORING. Give me lots of tight curves and high speed – I was MADE for the road.

And so the mighty steed Sundance goes down in the annals of history.

Isn’t that how we often try to go through life? With the training wheels still on? (Well, if you ever had them… mine didn’t. Mom and Dad didn’t think they were necessary. Plus they probably cost extra.) But training wheels come in all shapes and sizes – including the great big one on the back, holding on in human form. I think in life we often go around, not just with two wheels, or three, but with about fifty, extended out in every possible direction, every shape and size, guiding us, correcting us, this way and that, no tilt is too uncorrectable. For a while, they keep us safe. But the truth is, they really WILL hold us back. We never learn to do it on our own if we keep those training wheels attached. And sooner or later, we DO have to learn to walk, or drive, alone – and not just down the path of death. Not if we want to walk this journey in a good way. Yes, we needed those wheels at times – they were vital in some space, some moment.  But sooner or later, we have to let them go, let them fall away from the vehicle, like exhausted fuel tanks behind a rising space shuttle – letting the dead weight go as we build speed on our own trajectory.

Sometimes life will drop us like that – at least that’s how it may feel. It lets go of the back of our bikes, and there we are, freewheeling down the road of life, wind in our hair and bugs in our teeth. Depending on the space, the time, and the incline, we may enjoy this freedom, or we may be camped out on the side of the road, duct tape and battery-powered welder in hand, attempting fruitlessly to weld those things back on. Come back, come back, come back. I’m not ready for this. I still need you.

But just like our parents knew when to let go, when to quit hovering, when to back away, I think life does the same thing. It knows when to let us go, so we can take that final leap of faith on our own. A leap we might never take, if it doesn’t throw us out of the nest, just like a momma eagle. We really do learn to fly on the way down. Well, in most cases. That’s the intention, anyway, and there’s always the exception that proves the rule as we find our outer limits, but that’s for another story. And the truth is, while we’re still unsteady and rocking gingerly from side to side, help is never far away, whether or not we can see this, whether or not we can feel it, whether or not we can hear it over our own screams.

Yes, that’s what life does. Just like a fruit tree. When we’re ready, when we’re ripe, life will drop us. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. And when the apple is ready, the tree will let it go. When the orange is ready, the tree will release. And you know what? I don’t know the scientific facts behind this, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a lot like the birthing experience. Did you know that labor begins, not when the mother is sick and tired of lugging around this THING inside her, but when the baby’s body sends a hormonal message to the mother ship – I’m ready, let me out. It isn’t because we’ve done something wrong, or Mom needs her waistline back, or maybe even a decent night’s sleep in more than one position. It’s simply because it’s time. The fruit tree knows this. The Mother knows this. And if we can calm our beating hearts, still the anxiety inside, and reach down deep – so do we.

Until we reach that place where our helpers and supporters can let go, the training wheels come off, and we let go of our fear, and turn back to face the road, eyes steely, jaw set in determination and just enough sense of the daredevil to make us try anything – well, until we reach that place, we’ll never know what true freedom is. How it comes with a mix of joy and fear and tilting this way and that, but as we gain our balance and grow our abilities, we see ourselves begin to do amazing things.

I sit here laughing, realizing I’ve had this story waiting for a very long time. You know that black hat in so many of my photos? Can you read the graphic? It says Dew Tour. Know what that is? Google it. It’s like my hill on speed. Little bitty gravity-defying bicycles (and otherIMG_8613 things wheeled), great big ramps, high high jumps, wheels spinning, bodies flying, and delirious grins of DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID?!?!?!? A few years ago I had the pleasure of sneaking an insider’s peek into that world. My ex’s company was a major sponsor, and he got to hand out the awards, which involved spending a weekend at the event, at behind-the-scenes gatherings and the occasional late-night hotel lobby. It was INCREDIBLE. The energy was amazing. I walked away feeling younger than I had in years, with a lot of inspiration – and most importantly, with that hat. Sure, it’s showing its age now, but that just makes it better. And I DARE you to try to get it away from me.

There are no training wheels allowed on the Dew Tour. They wouldn’t work anyway – they’d only slow you down. Yes, they once served their purpose, whatever shape they took – but to get where you’re going, you have to let them go. And trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

So that’s my morning thought from under the water tower. No more training wheels. Just get out there and DO IT. Like Jack Dixon reminded us, “If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.”

Thanks for listening, and thanks for your time. Now, whatever hill you’re facing – I’ll take off my pillow, if you’ll take off yours.

Peace out – wings up. Fly.



Part II

Another story took shape as I penned this piece, which I’ll tack on here, giving credit where credit is due. My mother took me to the edge of her knowing, as best she could, in all areas of life. As I grew, and my parents decided to homeschool me, unlike my siblings, she took me to at that edge yet again, doing the best she could, the best she knew how, to equip me with the knowledge and the tools to move beyond that edge, out where the dragons are. She taught me what she thought was right, gave me a push and then at a certain point, as I struck out on my own, she let go of the back of that bike. I didn’t like it at the time. At the time, we called it shunning. And it hurt far more than that first-aid spray.

But you know what, I don’t know if I would ever have tried truly living without her doing that – living without fear, living with only love to guide me. If she had stayed close, stayed hovering, I don’t think I’d have had the strength to try life on my own. I liked those apron strings too much. But when she pushed me away, down that hill, both literally and figuratively, first on the bike, and second when I struck out on my own, to figure out what I believed and how I wanted to live my life – she gave me the greatest gift of all – my freedom. The freedom to grow my own roots. To learn from my own pain. To take steps beyond the edge, steps that she may not have felt able to take – but she knew her children could reach beyond, standing on her shoulders, the shoulders of giants.

I remember her saying a few times as we would cross paths over the years – she just didn’t see how I could do all the things I did – traveling the world, alone or in company, going to school, the work world, dealing with change, stepping away from unhealthy relationships and living on my own, things that may seem minor to most but giant to others, and more recently – learning to fly – an AIRPLANE, not just a kite. As for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, well, she chalked that up to insanity and some type of death wish. And she knew the truth, ‘cause she knew me well, her little “silent sufferer”, as she used to call me.  She knew that half the time, on the inside, I was still screaming – don’t let go, Mom, don’t let go – and looking backward, eyes wide in terror, knuckles white on whatever handlebars I was holding – where are you? Where are you? But I can do this. I can do this. I WILL do this. I’ll prove I’m not afraid of ANYTHING.

Don’t you see, Mom? You taught me that. You gave me that strength, even though neither of us realized it at the time. By forcing me to grow, as you let go and stepped away, you helped me realize I had it in me all the time. Yes, that took a while. A lot longer than I care to admit. But I guess that’s all just part of the journey, isn’t it?

I only wish I had realized this in time to tell you while you were still alive. That story I never wrote for you – about all the things you DID accomplish in life. Well, I was one of them, Mom. Even though you didn’t approve of half of what I did, and couldn’t understand most of the other half, you taught me that. You taught me to be strong, to stand on my own, to come back to center, to find and build and deepen my roots – and most importantly, you taught me to keep on going, even when those apron strings were swaying so invitingly behind me.

Sweet, sweet Little Momma. You weren’t so afraid, you know. You weren’t. You were braver than all of us, whether or not you could show that on the outside. You were the strong one. You were the one who held everyone together. And now it’s our turn to let go of those apron strings in another way. To truly walk on our own, as you watch from a distance. I know that, sure as I know the geese will return to our little pond next April. Where have we heard that before?

Thank you for helping me learn to ride my bike, Mom. And thank you for recognizing when it was time to let go – whether I wanted you to or not – and for giving me that push down the hill. I’m still learning what all this means, but one crash at a time, it’s starting to sink in.

Aloha, sweet Little Momma. I love you. Travel well. And in the words of a friend, Congratulations on your passing. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. You don’t have to be in pain anymore. You don’t have to cry anymore. You can taste, you can smell, you can hear everything again, and you can shop ‘til your feet fall off – and Mama and Jimmy can finally keep up with you. You really can fly now – wherever, whenever, however you want. “All in the very same second, maybe.”  You’re free, Mom. You’re finally free. So I’ll do my part now. I’ll let go of that extension cord I’ve been hanging onto all these years. Just like you let go, and taught me to do the same.

Fly on, beautiful dreamer, White Fawn, Dead Shot Johnnie. Keep that grip loose, let the handlebars play as they will. You’ve got this – and there’s blue sky ahead.

“You find your horizon and you put one foot in front of the other,
even if you’re limping.” – Unknown

(C) 2016 Mary Batson,
All rights reserved, especially the one to grow.


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