Have you ever felt proud? Do you have a clear -- or any -- memory of what being proud feels like? What emotions do you experience when you feel proud?
When my child was about 2 years old I bought this great bicycle seat which attaches in front of my bike, between my seat and the handle bar. It was one of the best purchases I have ever made. It allowed me to travel with my little boy around the town in a healthy, silent and efficient way. He would sit there cozy and happy, often covered with a green chenille blanket to keep away the cold wind coming from the San Francisco Bay. We would pedal like this together, singing (it's a small world after-all, it's a small world after all, it's a small, small world), listening to the birds chirping, looking at trees and flowers and often stopping to watch an excavator digging a hole, workers replacing underground pipes or the garbage trucks lifting the bins (blue is for recycling, green for compost and black for landfill).
It was a feeling of communion like I rarely felt before, me and my boy riding the same bike, him right between my arms, asking me to let him put his tiny hands on the handle bar, under my hands so that he can be the one in charge of the bicycle's direction. He would sometimes push down my knees with his hands to help me pedal uphill or to gain speed and catch a green traffic light. And other times, on our way from the Sunday Market, he would just let himself be rocked by the ride, put his head on the special flat area attached to his seat, and fall soundly asleep.
Three years have passed and a few days ago my (now) 5-year-old just learned to ride his own bicycle. As I was watching him pedaling further and further away, keeping his balance on two wheels, I experienced a deep sense of pride, which brought tears to my eyes. My first (consultant/coach/psychotherapist) thought was "What are you proud of?! It's not you, it's him who managed to learn to ride the bike so fast! Are you so enmeshed with your child that you attribute his success to you?"
Copyright Cosmin Gheorghe, Alejandro Gheorghe.
But it was just an automatic, temporary and useless thought, coming from an exaggeration generated by my profession. I realized immediately that the pride I felt for being the father of a boy who just learned to ride his bike had nothing to do with enmeshment. It simply had to do with the realization that the little crying baby that I was carrying in my arms just three short years ago, is becoming more and more his own Self. The pride that my child had just began to pedal deeper away into his own life, keeping his balance without my hand on his shoulder. Without the need to feel his parents' hands on his shoulders.
Or maybe not that fast? It turns out that the bicycle learning episode has curiously coincided with an increased reluctance of my son to go to bed on his own. Not only that these days he wants us with him when he falls asleep, but he also wants to be in our bed.
And who in the world would not want to seek back the reassurance of the big, warm, entity of parents? Who wouldn't feel even more intensely the need for company right before entering the nightly travel into the dream world?
For pedaling deeper into life on your own, especially when realizing that you are able to keep your balance without the help of the arms that have been holding you all of your life, must also entail a tremendous fear. And probably sometimes a terrible feeling of loneliness.
The child -at least some of the time- lives with an inner sense of chaos that other animals are immune to. [...] - terror of the world, the horror of one's own wishes, the fear of vengeance by the parents, the disappearance of things, one's lack of control over anything, really. It is too much for any animal to take, but the child has to take it, and so he wakes up screaming with almost punctual regularity during the period when his weak ego is in the process of consolidating things. -- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death