03/11/2016 04:45 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2017

Of Letting Go, And Learning To Ride A Bike At 49


My son, about 8 years old, came over from playing with our neighbors' kids and told me about the funnel-web spiders they had found in their backyard. Being an arachnophobe, it was a challenge not to let my fears show. I told him I'd have a word with our neighbor to make sure it was safe, and he went back to playing.

I had not realized that there was a battle going on in his mind between wanting to be a protected little boy and the macho, big, superhero he thought he was on his way to becoming, until he came back a couple of days later.

"Guess what mom, we found more funnel-web spiders in the Beavers' backyard."

"Oh yeah? Does Mrs. Beaver know?"

He rushed on, without answering me "so should I stop playing in their backyard?"

I was not used to hearing "stop" and "playing" in the same sentence from him. This spider business must be serious. I told him he could play as long as he stayed away from the spiders and watched out for them.
"But, there are hundreds of them! So should I not play there?"

His body language was screaming for me to use all my mommy powers to forbid him from playing where dangerous creatures abound, but he wanted that to be MY decision. HE was brave enough but his "nervous-wreck, paranoid mom" would not let him.

I told him strictly that he was to go nowhere near the Beavers' backyard until the spiders were gone. He went away, grimacing--but not protesting. I could tell the metaphorical cord was stretched to its limit.

Flash forward to 2013. I got a bicycle for my birthday. It should be noted here that my history with bikes has been a sporadic one, at best. I first learned to ride a bike when I was about 11, in India. "Riding" would be an exaggeration for what I could do on a bike. I would get on, and wobble along a short distance.

Then my dad moved out of the country for employment, and the lessons stopped. They resumed when my dad came back from Nigeria when I was 21, and this time, I made some progress. Getting on--check! Getting off was another story, and don't even talk about turns! The lessons stopped again, as I had a demanding job, and life happened.

Lately, things have been bothering me--things that any 8 year old could do and I could not. Like ride a bike. Or swim. So, off we went one Saturday to the bike store, and came back with a shiny new one.

My son, the one from the spider story, wanted me to ride it as soon we got home. But I hadn't thought through the logistics of actually learning to ride, again, in public.

I suggested midnight lessons. Vetoed.

I decided that I would ride it in the garage, closed, in the 90-degree heat, until I knew I wouldn't humiliate myself. The first day all I managed to do was get up on it, on its stand. There were some jokes made about training wheels. Then my husband went out of town.

My son decided to take matters in his hands.

"Come on, mom, I'll teach you. We're going to do it."

And thus began two days of learning to ride a bike again, from my 19 year old son.

He patiently talked me through the best way to balance. He held on to the seat as I rode in the sweltering garage. He said he had once seen my husband fall trying to skate. He said it was scary watching one of his parents fall and wasn't going to let me fall. He cheered when I managed a left turn (still in the garage) without stopping.

I remembered when I taught him how to ride a bike when he was three. There are conflicting opinions about who really taught him to ride, (he says it was my sister), but I prefer my version.

The next day, he convinced me to go on a real road. We found a cul-de-sac with a traffic circle at the end that was perfect. He followed me on his own bike. He watched out for cars and strange dogs, which he knows I'm terrified of. He warned me in a calm voice when he spotted one: "Amma*, don't panic, but I see our neighbor walking his dog--he's at the end of the street. If we slow down, he'll be gone by the time we get there."

I thought: "He is going to make a terrific dad" as I rode back home with my son, my teacher.

*Amma - mother in Tamil language