Sojourner turned 7 a week ago. Everyone calls her “Soji.” And on Saturday evening, about an hour before sunset, the kid turned to me in the driveway and asked the question I’d been waiting for.
“Dad,” she said, “will you take the training wheels off my bike?”
I have three daughters. Mom reads them books, assists with their artwork, volunteers in their classrooms and packs their lunches. But when it comes to running alongside the kids as they ride a wobbling bicycle for the first time, that’s my thing.
I still watch the video of my oldest daughter’s first solo bike ride. Dakota is in college now. I’d ruptured my patellar tendon six months before and was still recovering from the knee surgery. I limped along, wincing with every step. My right hand gripped the back of her coat, my left held a cell phone, filming.
That moment when you let go — it’s magic isn’t it?
Years later, when she passed her driver’s license test, I thought about that first bike ride. And when we dropped her off at her college dorm a couple of years after that, it crossed my mind on the quiet ride home. I’ll never forget accelerating a few steps ahead, darting across an intersection to check for cross traffic as she pedaled on her own.
“Keep going,” I told her, “you got this.”
I’m fascinated by how different those three daughters are. I ran into one of Dakota’s high school classmates on Saturday, for example. She told me, “Dakota knows everyone.” I’ve often remarked that she’s the kindest, most socially gifted person I know.
My middle kid, Zia, is thoughtful, focused, artist and cautious. She insisted on learning to ride a bicycle on a playground one quiet Sunday afternoon a few years ago. No cars to worry about. I jogged beside her, holding the back of the bike seat until the kid realized I wasn’t there anymore.
“Daaaad… how do I stop?” she asked, pedaling off.
Some things have changed over the years. Bikes cost more. I’m older. And advances in training-wheel technology have made it less cumbersome to remove them. But I can tell you that I always get the same glassy eyes when I see my children make that first solo ride.
Saturday was an unusual day. We had no youth soccer game. And CYO track ended a week ago. I woke, filed my weekly mailbag, and took the girls to breakfast. Their mother is out of the country, in Taiwan, visiting her own father.
His wife, Anna’s stepmother, died earlier this month after an extended and difficult bout with cancer. We’ve been worried about him. He woke us in the middle of the night last week, panicked and confused. Anna expedited her passport, hopped a couple of planes and flew 17 hours through Seattle to Taipei. Then, she rode a bus and took a train to Kaohsiung — just so she could give him a hug.
“Keep going, she told him, “you got this.”
Funny how things come full circle.
Soji lost a tooth earlier on Saturday. She placed it in a tiny purple box and set it on her dresser. Then, she insisted I take a photo of her smiling with that missing front tooth and text it to her mother. Mom shot back a video message telling her how amazing it was.
Hours later, that same kid chased another milestone. I removed the training wheels and set them on the curb. Her older sister, Zia, pedaled in a circle around the cul-de-sac, explaining how the next 20 minutes would unfold.
“You’re going to feel wobbly,” she said.
“Dad won’t let you fall,” she added.
“Pretty soon,” she continued, “you won’t even remember what it was like to not ride a bike without training wheels.”
Soji is a fighter. Literally. You may recall I wrote about her taking up boxing last year. She likes to get in her stance and shadow box. Jab, cross. Jab, jab, cross. Her skills have proven problematic in spats with her nearest sibling.
I’m fascinated by birth order. I’ve talked with a number of college coaches about it over the years. I noted while watching my oldest daughter play club volleyball years ago that the girls with older siblings appeared to be more competitive.
Scott Rueck, the Oregon State women’s basketball coach told me once that he pays attention to family dynamics when he’s recruiting players.
“I like brothers,” Rueck said. “An older brother is gold. You know she’s probably wrestled around the house forever, and been roughed up. I can watch an AAU game and tell you if she has an older brother by how physical she plays.”
Kelly Graves, who coaches the same sport at Oregon, told me years ago that younger daughters are rebounders. Sabrina Ionescu is a twin, incidentally. So maybe give her brother, Eddy, an assist there.
I thought about some of that on Saturday as I gave Soji her pre-ride pep talk. She’s determined. She learns fast. I half expected when I finished our 60-second chat that she’d nod, start pedaling and ride off without me.
A few minutes later, I was in a familiar sweat.
Soji pedaled as we moved up and down the street. I ran alongside, gripping the back of her seat. I’d let go for a moment, then grab it again as the bike started to veer off or fall over. We repeated this for maybe a dozen passes. A neighbor walking her dog stopped to watch, smiling at the scene. Another neighbor looked out a window and gave a ‘thumbs up’ sign.
A bike ride.
The first day of kindergarten.
It’s everything you hope for as a parent, to be there for your children until they gain the confidence to do it on their own.
You know how this column ends. Daughters eventually ride off, leaving their proud parents behind. Kids grow up. Life moves fast, doesn’t it? On Saturday, I had Soji’s sister stand down the street and hold my phone, filming a video I’ll probably watch a hundred times today.
I let go.
She pedaled by herself.
“Am I doing it?” she asked in disbelief.
“You’re doing it,” I answered, with tears in my eyes.
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Probably my favorite piece you have written.. 1a or 1b to the Shonz piece
Oh my my you really touched my heartstrings today. My baby girl (30 years old) got married last Saturday and according to her, it was “magical”. Last year her brother got married too. Love every moment with your girls! It goes fast. Keep being the great Dad you are…there will be so many more treasured moments!