Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why it's okay to occasionally bribe your children

For some reason, J has been completely stubborn about riding his bike this summer. We have always enjoyed family bike rides; the boys started out in an attached trailer but quickly became too big for the free ride. P transitioned when he was five. He was a quick study post training wheel removal, taking a few tentative treks around our court and then zipping away. Proud to be out of the trailer and on his own, despite a handful of rides that required some creative manipulation of children and bikes when he declared that he was simply too tired to continue.

We didn't push our youngest quite as hard. It took him longer to learn how to ride with training wheels and we wanted to make sure he was physically able to balance on his own before removing them. But over the last two summers, the wheels became a hindrance. Last year we tried taking a family bike ride along a paved trail that transitioned onto an unpaved trail. Three of us were able to maneuver through the brush. One of us got stuck, training wheels spinning, and had a mini meltdown that required intervention and resulted in two of us getting left behind. About a month ago we tried another path that ultimately led out into a neighborhood, and three of us peddled along the quiet side streets admiring the scenery while one of us freaked out because he was afraid of.... well, I'm not entirely sure. It was a long, slow return to the car after which J declared that he was never riding his bike again.

He had already been refusing to ride it before the family bike ride, with really no explanation. There were excuses:
"My training wheels are loose." Tighten training wheels.
"My seat is too high." Lower seat.
"The tires are flat." Inflate tires.

My father found a used bike to keep at his house and tried to coax J into riding it without training wheels. Nope.
With training wheels. Nope.
With the training wheels on a different bike. Nope.

Seriously? What kid doesn't love to ride bikes? It wasn't as if he had fallen off the bike and suffered serious injuries. Heck, our oldest has more bike related scars on his knees that I can count. When I was learning how to ride a bike, my brother took me to the park to practice, and despite him telling me not to put my foot down I put my foot down, crashed, and a huge rock lodged into my right knee. Bleeding down my leg into my sock, he made me ride the bike all the way back home. With the rock in my knee. And I still ride.

Nothing that tragic has happened to our boy. So what, you say. So what if he doesn't want to learn how to ride a bike. I'll tell you what. We live in the suburbs. It is a childhood requirement. Besides, older brother wants to bike to and from school while the weather is nice, and I think it would be great if they went together.

School starts Tuesday. I declared this morning that this would be the day J would learn to ride his bike without training wheels. No, he said. Hmm. I want to go buy Yu-Gi-Oh cards, he said. Hmm. How about if you can ride your bike around the court without training wheels, we'll go to the store and buy you a pack? Contemplation. Some heel dragging. Forcing mom to put his sandals on even though he could do it himself.

And then.

He did it.

Hubs held on to him about halfway around the court, let go, and whoosh! The boy was off, just like that. He never even fell. His face filled with pure joy. After a few successful stops and starts he declared, "Now I can go on family bike rides!"

Perhaps it was bad to use bribery. But there was this little voice of fear in his head that kept him from moving forward, from doing something he was perfectly capable of doing. And I guess sometimes it takes a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards to tell that voice to shove it.