Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Big Bike Debacle

Halloween is approaching, and the bogeyman comes to mind.

As a parent, my job isn’t just to protect my kid from monsters. It’s also to worry myself sick.

When my son entered kindergarten, I worried. Would he learn? Would he behave well? Would he be socially challenged, hide in his room and threaten to never come out again?

When he started playing sports, I worried. Would he have fun? Would he get hurt? Would his teammates make him the water boy?

I continue to worry about my son on the home computer.

“Wow, I won $3 million!” he said one time.

“No,” I replied. “You just got suckered into a scam.”

And although the kid is smarter now because of his computer experimentation, I still had to shell out the dough to fix the damages caused by the virus that came bundled with that $3-million prize.

My son is now 10 years old -- he’s a fifth-grader. And with all that life experience behind him, he asked if he could ride his bike to school. Alone.

No way. Would he fall? Would he get lost? Would the bogeyman get him? Maybe I’m one of those over-protective parents who “bubble wraps” his child . . .

No I’m not.

My wife and I decided to let our responsible, self-sufficient fifth-grader ride to school, so long as he rode with friends, so long as he didn’t stray, so long as he kept in contact with us throughout the ride.

We bought him his own phone, to be used to call us when he got to school in the morning, when class got out and he was heading home, and when he was safe in our house with the door locked.

Weeks before letting the boy ride, he and I rode the route together. I schooled him in escape strategies, showed him what to do if he got hurt and how to use his bike as weapon if evil showed up.

“Always aim for the eyes,” I said.

On that first ride with his friends, I played it cool so I wouldn’t embarrass the little guy.

“Ride carefully,” I said. “Stay together . . . No straying . . . Watch out for bad guys . . . Call me when you get there . . . Make sure you lock up your bike . . . Turn off your phone before you get to class . . . Do you remember your lock combination?”

My son’s friends, with their 10-speeds, left him in the dust.

“You gotta keep up,” I told him that night when he explained what happened.

“Daddy, they have speeds,” he said. “Ten of them. I have one. I can’t even make it up the hills.”

I talked to the parents of the other kids. They said their kids would wait up.

“They still didn’t wait up,” my boy reported the next day. “But one of them got karma -- he was riding so fast he crashed into a parked car.”

Before the parents of the other kids could answer the phone the next time I called, I hung up. How could I make my son’s friends wait? They’d hate him for that. I was acting like those “helicopter” parents, hovering over my child, trying to protect him forever. I couldn’t always swoop in and save the day, throw my expertise or money at the problem.

We rode the route together over the weekend to test out the new bike with speeds. I showed him how to shift gears for the hills. The next time he and his friends rode to school, my kid left them in the dust.

Twelve speeds,” I marveled. “Let’s see how they like that.”

My wife reminded me that the kids had to stay together.

“Oh, yeah, let your friends catch up every now and then,” I said.

Some parents were shocked that my wife and I let our son ride to school without an adult.

We could never let our darlings do that, they told us.

Where were all the parents who would’ve praised me for letting the kid ride, who would’ve criticized me for not letting him ride -- the parents who put their 9-year-olds on the New York subway alone?

Ah, but there was nothing that could be done by then -- worry and fear had climbed my castle walls and were taking over my mind. I couldn’t sit back and become that one case that movies are based upon, where the kid gets taken and I’m forced to become Liam Neeson and use my old CIA training to get him back.

So, brimming with fear, I secretly trailed my son and his friends to school to make sure they would be safe. Surprisingly the paths were not deadly at all. In fact, they were filled with friendly faces. My son would, no doubt, be OK, and he’d develop independence in my absence.

I turned back for home. I was no longer worried about my son. I had no fear. He was on his way to becoming a self-sufficient young adult.

The next day, the kid -- with all that life experience behind him -- asked if he could go to Europe with his friends. Alone.

“Sure,” I said. “You can use that $3 million you never won.”

-October 2013

No comments: