In Praise of the Boy


Today was a fun day. I got a taste of the fun Steven & I had together before Ava and Sam were born. Years ago, when we were both young and in much better shape, Steven & I enjoyed biking, hiking, kayaking and white-water rafting. Now that the kids are ages 11 & 14, they’re finally old enough and capable enough to enjoy those activities with us. But we’re not so young anymore.

Regardless of that, we set off this morning on our bikes to ride the loop road around the lake. The ride was between 6 & 7 miles, but it wasn’t flat like the rail trails we normally ride at home. This road had some hills, some turns, and lots of potholes. I was worried as we drove to the day-use area that the hills might prove too much for me and I wouldn’t enjoy it the way I remembered. Indeed, the first 10 or 15 minutes were a bit uncomfortable – I should have stretched. But once I pushed through that initial wall, I was amazed that my body seemed to remember what it was supposed to do. My legs were still strong and remembered how to push their way up hills, and my hands remembered when to shift up and down at the appropriate times. It was like . . . well, riding a bike. I was amazed, and all I could think was “I love this!”

The Boy, however, was not having the same experience. For a kid who has boundless energy, who visibly vibrates with the protons and neutrons whizzing around his body, biking challenges him more than I’d expect. He complained a few times as we drove over, and it was clear there were other things he’d rather be doing.

Let me take a break here for a moment to address another obvious challenge. I’m aware that this is Day #2 of our 35-ish day journey. Those of you who know our family are well aware that I’m not a naturally sympathetic mama. However, because this is only Day #2 I am trying very hard not to fall into my normal mothering MO – which would be to say “Suck it up, soldier!” and move on. Also, because this is the beginning of a year of home-education for our family, I thought it wise to try a different tactic.

Back to our story . . . As I found myself remembering everything I had learned and practiced years ago, I tried to encourage the Boy by passing on some tips.

“When on flat road, try to ride in the highest gear possible – this helps you to go father and pedal less.”

“When going downhill, stay in a higher gear and try to pedal whenever possible – help carry that momentum into the next uphill.”

“When you’re shifting, only shift one gear at a time and pedal a few times in between.”

“Instead of resting with your feet/pedals in the 12 and 6 positions, try keeping them in the 3 and 9 positions. This allows you to stand up slightly when going over bumps (it helps protect the softer bits).”

“When going over bumpy parts, stand a little and shift your weight back over the back tire – it gives you stability.”

Steven & I both shared our collective wisdom as we pedaled on over the first three miles. The Girl was doing just fine. The Boy seemed a little tired and hung towards the back of the line. At one point, after we crested a hill, I suggested we pull over and take a break. When I asked the Boy how he felt, he didn’t give a good report. “Sick,” he said. “Shaky, my legs are shaky.” I knew how he felt. He was the last to get out of bed that morning, and therefore had eaten late. Not enough time had passed between his breakfast and his biking, and his body wasn’t able to digest his scrambled eggs properly because it was expending so much energy pedaling the bike. This can lead to nausea, and all the shakes and chills that come with it. Poor kid. We all edged further off the road and he sat down to rest. He sipped some water, and I poured some cold water down his back and over the insides of his elbows and wrists: the blood vessels are closer to the skin’s surface there, and the water helps cool the blood faster. All told, we probably rested 15-20 minutes. The Boy regained his composure and we set off again, a little slower this time.

As we continued the second half of our ride this morning, I hung back in the rear of our little line to keep an eye on him. A breeze had picked up and the Boy mentioned how good it felt and how grateful he was for it. We rode up some additional hills and I noticed that he was shifting at all the right times, being careful to maximize his momentum. The last leg of our ride has some pretty crazy potholes, and I saw him balance on his pedals and stand slightly, shifting his weight back. On the final half-mile we had the pleasure of going off-road onto some gravelly single-track (it’s been years since Steven & I rode single-track!) and I noticed the Boy smiling and pedaling happily uphill as we finally arrived back in the grass at the day-use area. Despite all his discomfort during the first half of the ride, I knew that he had been listening and thinking about our instructions, taking them to heart and putting them into practice.

Noticing this gives me comfort. Parenting is hard, and I’m grateful that the Lord gives us little glimmers of hope while we’re in the midst of it that we’re getting somewhere. Someone in our past once compared parenting to rinsing vegetables in a colander – most of the water rinsing over those dirty veggies falls right on through the holes and goes down the drain, but we just hope that some of it sticks long enough to do its job. However I think parenting is more like sprinkling sugar over Christmas cookies – you spend all that time and effort mixing and rolling out the dough, cutting it into pretty shapes and getting those little cookies transferred to the baking sheet. Then you sprinkle that beautiful sugar over those lovely shapes – and most of it bounces right off and melts onto the cookie sheet. Sigh. Most days feel like this for me in our house: we talk and teach and train but it seems as though so much is just bouncing off. I’m grateful today that our words didn’t bounce off – they sank in. May the Lord continue in His mercy to give me a soft heart and words of encouragement, and may He open the hearts of our children to hear.

[Admin Note – The image was taken from a moving bike, sorry for the blurry shot!]

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