When I was a kid, I had a Big Wheel that I roared across the sidewalk. I pedaled with all of my might as the plastic tires angrily scraped against the cement. On the side was a lever and if I yanked it just right, the three wheeler arced into a spin. I could entertain myself for hours on that trike.
Around the time the tread on my Big Wheel started to wear bare, Leslie outgrew her first two-wheeler. My parents upgraded her to a purple metallic Schwinn adorned with a flower basket and silver ribbons. Since Leslie had advanced in the coordination department, I was expected to as well.
“Hop on,” my dad urged as he held the handlebars of Leslie’s old bike.
“Mmmm, no,” I answered, shaking my head back and forth.
“PJ, look,” my dad said as he nodded to the rear tire. “I put training wheels on. I know it looks rocky but it isn’t. See?”
I watched him rattle the frame. And no matter how hard he pushed, the bike curiously remained upright. I hesitantly approached the two-wheeler and saddled the seat, but I kept my tippy-toes firmly glued to the macadam.
“Now pedal,” my dad instructed.
“Well you can start by lifting your feet off the ground.”
The orange and brown bike was a different kind of fun from my Big Wheel. It didn’t have the same roar but I could pedal so fast that my hair lifted off my face, my stringy tresses blowing like streamers in the breeze. As I toured the neighborhood, the rusty squeal of the training wheels both announced my approach and calmed my nerves, reminding me I’d never fall.
The next spring, I found my dad in the driveway with a screwdriver and my bike.
“Hey, what’re you doing?” I inquired, my brow furrowing into a quizzical pinch.
“Today you’re gonna to learn how to ride this thing the way you’re supposed to,” he said as he released the bolts.
“Why? I like it just the way it is,” I reasoned.
My dad tossed the training wheels on the grassy hill just beyond reach, stood up, walked the bike out to the street and told me to get on.
“But I like the training wheels,” I argued as I folded my arms across my chest.
“You won’t fall,” my dad said. “Because I’ll be holding onto the seat the entire way. I promise.”
My sweaty palms gripped the handlebars as my toes kissed the pavement.
“Ready?” my dad prepped.
I placed both feet on the pedals and started doing what I always did. All the while, my dad screamed accolades in my ear.
“You got it,” he cheered. “Look at you go! PJ, you’re riding a bike!”
That last part, the acknowledgment of my action, that was a little quieter than the previous few comments. Because by now my dad had let go of the seat and sent me off on my own. I never looked back. With my knuckles white and my jaw clenched tight, I zigzagged my way down the street.
I’ll admit that upgrading to a full blown two-wheeler made my stomach churn. There were so many things I had to keep track of, like balancing my weight, keeping the front tire straight and finessing the pedal brakes as I avoided tree branches and potholes. But I kept at it and eventually everything became second nature. The only thing I thought about as I raced down the street was if I could go any faster.
From the Big Wheel to the training wheels, right on up to a straight two-wheeler, I never could have appreciated each step without the one before it. And trust me, I wasn’t always ready to take that step. To be honest, if it were socially acceptable, I’d probably still be cruising the neighborhood on my Big Wheel. It certainly would have been more reliable than Papa Sven. But sometimes you need to be pushed out of the nest in order to see that you can fly.
In my evolution as a writer, this blog has been my training wheels. It’s helped me work out the kinks and get comfortable with my craft. This public forum has afforded me feedback and criticism, commentary and praise, all of which has contributed to my growth. Some of you have been reading since the start and some just found me yesterday. No matter what, each and every one of you has played a role in helping me become the writer I am today.
After much contemplation and extensive internal debate, I’ve decided to unscrew the bolts and let my writing ride. Meaning, this blog, this public space filled with stories about me and the people who have passed through my life, is ready to be retired. It’s a tough decision and one that I would never note as permanent. But for the time being, I know in my gut it’s the right next step. Keeping the blog around might soothe my ego and fill some holes, but I fear it might also hinder my growth in more ways than one.
Sometimes in life you have to unbolt the rusty training wheels, bite your lip and pedal as fast as you can.
To all of my readers, thanks for one heck of a ride!