My 4-year-old is learning how to ride her bike. She’s completely fearless when it comes to the world which takes me, a more risk-adverse individual, to the edge of freaking out daily.
Last week, our two life philosophies collided when I took her out on a bike ride. At first, everything was going great. She was making safe turns and going up and down tiny, friendly looking hills. I was successfully acting like a normal mom, stifling all of my urges to say, “Careful!” and “Watch out!” and “How are you riding a bike when I still think you’re an infant!”
I knew that there was a big hill coming up soon. She had never wanted to ride her bike down that hill before so I had nothing in the world to worry about. She pedaled her little stick legs round and round, right to the very top of the hill, and then she peered over the side. I walked behind her, completely oblivious to the new thoughts swirling in my demon child’s mind.
She must have decided at the very last moment that this was the day. This was the day when she would fling her 4-year-old, 33-pound self off of a cliff (or a slightly steeper grade hill) and then successfully kill me off by stopping my own heart.
With a fierce determination set on her face, she pushed off.
I saw her decision, and I panicked.
This whole next part isn’t one of my proudest parenting moments. All I could think about (the blades of my dormant helicopter tearing holes in the ground as I ran) was the jagged gravel and the mental images of my sweet child sailing over her handlebars, landing in a bloody pulped heap on the ground.
It was like I couldn’t even control myself. In a second, I had decided that she could not make this decision for herself. I had decided that I couldn’t handle this particular thing and so I flew down the hill after her, my fingertips just grasping the back edge of her seat. She slid to a stop.
She looked at me, her eyes flashing angrily, as I held onto the seat of her bike and said, “Mommy! You can’t hold people when they are biking!”
But you’re not people! I thought stubbornly, the hand that had surely saved her life slowly releasing its grip. You’re my little girl!
She jumped off and pushed her bike back to the top, stomping the whole way.
I had a choice then. I could make her stop. I mean, I am bigger and stronger than her. I could forbid her. I could let all of my fears worm their way into her heart and make her scared. I could teach her that she couldn’t trust herself. I could teach her everything that we have been teaching girls for hundreds of years. It would be so easy to do — too easy.
Or I could choose to let her go.
I actually had to cover my face with my hands so I wouldn’t have to see the disaster that was sure to come as she started to pick up speed. I managed to look up just in time to see her, flying down the hill in a blaze of pigtails, pink tutu streaming behind her, going at least 100 miles per hour. She got to the bottom and whooped with the joy of accomplishing something new.
I watched her and thought, holy crap, this was something I was going to take away from her.
And then I zipped my helicopter blades tightly back into my body and watched my fearless daughter bike home.