On our own

`LET'S find the wrench, Megan. I think it's time to take the training wheels off of your bike.'' For close to a year, my five-year-old has relied on the support and assurance that the wheels supply. But now, the time has come to take away this crutch and move on to more independence. ``I changed my mind, Mom. I don't think I want to do it anymore. I can just ride it like this. OK?''

I vacillate, knowing my own resolve is weak. After all, she is only 5 and not even in kindergarten yet. Intuitively I know that turning back at this point could mean we will never take the wheels off. So, with resignation, I fish out the wrench and we watch as they clatter to the ground.

Neither of us has considered that the training wheels have been the bike's sole support for one entire summer. Denuded of these, the red two-wheeler topples in slow motion. We grab but are too late. Metal scraping cement assaults our ears.

We right the bike, ready to pursue the task of learning to ride. Perched tentatively on the seat, a ``Will-you-really-hold-on-and-not-let-me-fall?'' look betrays her fears. I answer the unasked with, ``Don't worry. I'll be right here.'' The bicycle stirs into motion, steel underedge of the leathered seat biting into my palm.

Running beside her, I am surprised at how quickly she learns. A light touch is all that is needed, until the turn to go back home. We end at the driveway to a ``Let's do it again!''

Mom needs a rest, but we are soon at the routine again. ``This can't be just her second ride, can it?'' I wonder in amazement. ``I'm barely holding on.''

I gradually sneak my supporting hand from the seat. She glides with ease down the blacktopped street, singing a little song, unaware of her accomplishment. Up past one, two, three houses. We use the entire width of the neighborhood street for the slow turnaround. As we approach home, she finally notices my hands are free. A panicked look precedes a jerky, tipping motion. I catch and upright the bike as we make the final turn into our drive.

I brace myself, expecting anger at my betrayal. But she hops off her bike, her eyes filled with wonder. ``I really did it all by myself, didn't I?'' I hug her, breathing with relief and pride.

Each day, the red Schwinn comes from the garage for several two-minute practice runs. The ride up the block and back to our driveway improves with each trial. Offering moral support, I simply jog beside her; yet, she is not willing to try it on her own. Nor am I.

I keep telling myself it's because I need the exercise, knowing all the while that it is my final link to an age of dependence and innocence. Once she can do this on her own, I won't have the control I once had. So we practice on, neither of us quite ready to face this new stage that is beckoning.

We each pretend in our own way, but as with all things that respond to the pressures of progress, the time comes to make the final break. ``I'm going to do something different, honey. I'll get you started. Then you're going to have to go by yourself. I'll stand here on the driveway and watch you, but I am not going with you.''

``I can't do it, Mom. Just once more and then I promise I won't ask anymore. Please? Pretty please?''

I waver but respond with, ``No. It's time for you to do it on your own. You've really been riding along by yourself, you know.''

``But what if I fall?''

``Remember how we talked about steering over to the grass? It's a lot softer than the road. And I'll run right over. I think, though, that you'll do just fine.''

Reluctantly, she lines up the pedal and pushes off. I assist with the initial balancing and then merely watch as she inches her way onto the street. At the foot of the hill, she makes the slow, wide turn and heads back. A triumphant shout of ``I can do it!'' fills the air.

I get ready for her return but catch myself in surprise as she whizzes past. As she continues down the street, an older friend joins her. The towheaded figure grows steadily smaller as she approaches the opposite end of the street. She has finally allowed herself a risk and is experiencing the joy that only this type of success can bring.

I start slowly toward the door, emptiness competing with the pride I feel. At the sound of laughter coming from the street, I glance back and glimpse my little girl, now part of a group of four riders. Again, I face the door, this time opening it and entering. It gently whooshes closed behind me as I let go for good.

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