If ever you doubt yourself, recall first two-wheeler ride


October 28, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

Outside my office window, someone is riding a two-wheeler.

He is a new two-wheeler rider; below his helmet, his countenance is a fine blend of raw concentration and pride. Just a day ago, he was on the wobbly training wheels; now they are on a shelf in his garage, ready to frustrate his younger sister when she graduates from his hand-me-down tricycle to the wonder he now commandeers around my cul-de-sac.

To my recollection, "training wheels" made riding a two-wheel bike seem dangerous, and for a time, nearly impossible. Teetering around corners on the treacherous root-heaved sidewalks of my Long Island neighborhood, I remember thinking, "How much worse is this going to be when these training wheels are off? I can barely stomach riding this thing with them on!"

No, I did not relish the idea of riding the two-wheeler. I frankly couldn't understand the lure of it - why would anyone want to get around in this distinctly unsteady way, when you could run just as fast without fear of falling?

Surprisingly, when the training wheels came off, I discovered that the two-wheeler was fantastic: Without the hindrance of the two flimsy, purposely unbalanced appendages, I could lean smoothly into corners, I could glide, I could go fast and faster and then screech to a halt, making a really satisfying long black mark on the road. And if I fell, it was kind of a surprise; not like the torturous, slow-motion terror of knowing you're going to smack the ground that you got with a fall on training wheels. Eventually, I could bump confidently up curbs and over neighbors' lawns, sometimes ignoring small shrubs in my path. This is what we did before the invention of skate ramps.

And as I watch this boy's face, and his increasing speed as he goes round and round my cul-de-sac, I wonder, was there ever a goal so unrealistic - so darn insurmountable in the first few tries - as riding a two-wheeler?

Think back - you wanted to do it, or so you thought you did that Saturday morning when your mom or dad suggested "today's the day." For the first hour, you steadfastly refused their direction to "pedal faster," as they jogged behind you, panting, grasping the back of your bike seat while you gave a few lame turns with your legs. Finally, mom or dad got frustrated and threatened to give up. So you pedaled, and took off.

What childhood accomplishment is so grand?

And here are my thoughts as I look at this boy, about to jump my curb and mow down the junipers on his way to the potted mums.

What if we, as adults, approached learning all new, seemingly impossible, things with the same combination of initial trepidation and unshakable confidence that we would ultimately triumph?

We could learn Korean. Master Web site design. Lay tile. Play bridge. Coax bonsai. Water-ski. Make cream puffs. Sing like Luciano Pavarotti.

Well, maybe not that.

There is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Leston Havens, who wrote this in an essay in the book Letters For Our Children: "I have never seen a significant accomplishment that does not have behind it the encouragement or commitment of others. Over and over again I have found that those who claimed to make it alone had behind them parents or friends whose adoring voices were firmly planted in their heads."

So, whose voice do you hear when you try something - anything - new? I am lucky to have grown up with very positive parents, so I firmly believe I will someday be Owen Wilson's partner on Dancing with the Stars.

If you are not so fortunate as I, and the voice you hear is a critical one, supplant it with one that shouts, "You can do it!"

After all, you rode the two-wheeler. Don't you ever forget it.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com.

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