Polly Greeks’ Blog: Pedaling forward

Polly needs a few breathers when teaching her daughter to ride a bike.

It was the bike’s fault. Crashed in a ditch, eight-year-old Vita scowled ferociously. The stupid road was also to blame, she declared minutes later, after ploughing into a bank. “Just go straight,” said Zen, her five-year-old brother helpfully, whizzing past.

“I literally hate that boy,” she retorted. Clearly, my daughter hadn’t advanced as much as I’d thought with her bicycling skills. Thundery of face and foul of cuss, she zigzagged along our bush road, crashing into tree trunks and culverts with such wincing regularity, I wondered if pinball or dodgem cars might be more her sport. Was she deliberately steering into obstacles? Why wasn’t she using brakes?

“I can’t,” she bellowed, crashing again. “It’s all your fault.” Lying on the road, she refused to proceed, wiping away angry tears and eyeing me venomously. Cars are rare on our dead-end track. Gladly, I biked around a bend before she drove me round it.

If there’s one thing I’m learning from the stickier moments of parenting, it’s that it’s okay taking time to respond. When exasperation’s rising like a hot tsunami, it’s better I do. “Mum, she might be dying.” My son had pedalled back at the sound of his sister’s noisy sobbing. On cue, the howls increased in volume. “You have to do something,” he urged. I was trying to think.

How do you change a mindset when somebody’s trapped in a negative loop? Vita’s frustration and fear were perpetuating a horrible time that threatened to be contagious. How could I remind her she had a choice about who to be? If I were a Mary Poppins kind of mother, I’d have broken into song about the need to shift one’s perspective to have fun. But Vita’s current contempt would’ve likely reduced even Mary’s dulcet tones to a withered croak.

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“Listen to the birds,” I lamely suggested instead as the child wheeled her bike into view.

“They’re laughing at me,” she wept.

When I breathed, the air smelt of a damp forest’s exhalations; there’s a reason nature’s therapeutic. Somehow the natural world draws us out from the smallness of personal suffering and connects us with something altogether mightier and more enduring. We expand in the process.

It’s only our minds that separate us from the endless potential of our larger self. Negativity shrinks us, making us cling to the banks or flounder habitually in stagnant shallows while the river of life surges past, carrying the courageous in its current. Frightened of being out of control, my daughter would rather crash into trees than embrace the unfamiliar feeling of rolling freely.

Actively seeking out beauty carries us beyond our separation, softening rigid handholds and outlooks as we reconnect with a larger life force. “Look for three things that are beautiful,” I instructed my startled daughter. Right here. Now.

As she grudgingly named them aloud, something shifted. When I next spoke, she’d become receptive enough to hear me. “You’re in control of your experience,” I reminded her. “You can go on being unhappy or you can choose to make this bike ride fun. It’s up to you.”

When we set off again, Vita immediately wobbled into a bank. For a moment her facial features couldn’t decide which way to arrange. Then she flashed me a little grin. Finally, she started using the bicycle’s brakes.

By the time we headed home, both children were whooping as they sped along the track. The bike ride had taken much longer than expected, but that was okay. There’s an increasing looseness to our home-schooling days as we become familiar with our children’s rhythms. Their learning doesn’t occur at a slow, steady incline, nor is it limited to book work at a desk. I’m becoming confident in their ability to absorb what they need.

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“What have you learnt from today?” I asked Vita as we pushed our bikes up the steep final hill. “To never give up,” she answered promptly. “And who I am is up to me.”

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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