Monday, March 11, 2013

learning to ride.

Well I started out down a dirty road

Started out all alone

And the sun went down as I crossed the hill

And the town lit up, the world got still

I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Coming down is the hardest thing.

yesterday had an unusual moment in it.  a moment where ben and i were able to look at each other over a blonde, fuzzy little head of hair and know that we did something right as parents.

we've been working with caleb on riding his bike for over a year now, and it has been a battle of both physical and emotional wills.  ben has taken the brunt of these, because he's been the main trainer, though i've gone out a handful of times with him.

one of the hardest things i've found being a mother--especially caleb's mother--is knowing when to push, and when to ease up.  teaching a child with disabilities has tested ben and i, at times causing tension between us.  we've been forced to look inwardly most often, humbling ourselves to see what is ours, and what is his.

ben is the pusher; coming from a place of wanting his only son to know he can do anything he puts his mind to.  i am more cautious; concerned that if we push too hard, we will not only break his fragile body but his fragile self-confidence along with it.  there have been countless conversations, going back and forth about crying it out as a baby, nursery at 18 months, bedtimes, half-day kindergarten, diet, tying his shoes, physical therapy, which sports to sign him up for, and many others.  we start out the same way; stubborn, both believing we are doing what is right and best while believing the other has no clue.  sitting on opposite sides of the see-saw, going up and down as the conversation begins.

where we end is what is most important.

sometimes the resolution is found after a few minutes....sometimes it's found after more than a few minutes, and it only comes when our fears are laid to rest.  ben letting go of his fear of caleb always being viewed as smaller, weaker and incapable.  me letting go of my fear that i am not protecting the child who actually was born smaller, weaker and less capable.

we have to work within caleb's limits, his reality.  a place without the fear and insecurities of his parents.  it isn't easy to find this reality, though it sounds like it should be.  luckily we're finding it much faster than we used to, working together instead of against each other.

when it came to teaching him to ride a bike, we assumed it would be more simple than it's been.  we have heard friends tell us of their own children, self-taught without training wheels, who just take off and never look back.  we knew it wouldn't be this easy with our boy, the boy who needs us to break each thing down for him into small pieces.  the whole package overwhelms him physically, which causes his emotions to spike and creates mental barriers.  and once those mental barriers are set, heaven help us all... caleb has a really difficult time breaking through.

we pushed too hard, initially, and caleb's fears of failure came to the forefront of our teaching.  it became a mental game, full of motivational techniques and a lot of affirmations.  we scaled back the pushing, but kept trying.  the focus of our family walks became less relaxing, and instead were filled with his cries of resistance.  we would turn another corner, me pulling the wagon with the two girls, ben jogging alongside caleb as he yelled and sobbed and tried to convince us to turn around.  after each walk, ben and i would re-evaluate.  is this too much?

a couple of months ago, we decided the bike was working against him--even though it was practically brand new, it was from walmart and we realized while watching him that his legs just didn't have the strength to pedal for long periods of time with it.  so we took him to an actual bike store and bought a legit one, after watching him test it, pedaling with ease.

we took him out that day, crossing our fingers that this new bike would help build his confidence and ease his physical burden.  and it did, but the mental barriers were still there.  so each sunday night we went back out on our family walks, disrupting peaceful neighborhoods with his bouts of frustration.  ben would tell him affirmations he needed to say, and as the girls and i would notice the flowers and stray animals crossing the road in front of us, i could hear caleb behind us, yelling these affirmations through his tears.




as we would end each walk, caleb would completely melt down.  one specific time, ben let caleb release all of his frustration on him, giving him permission to scream and yell and even punch him.  i was in the kitchen making spaghetti when i heard what sounded like a mini-exorcism take place, with guttural yells and tiny fists hitting against a father's chest.  after he had let it out, all that followed were the sobs of a 7-yr-old and ben's soft words of praise for his son and his hard work.  i peeked around the corner to see ben holding caleb in his arms as he cried.

i'll admit, there have been times when i've felt a little hopeless because it looked like we weren't making much progress.  we both knew caleb was capable of this, we knew what we were pushing him for wasn't because of our deep-down insecurities to have a son who couldn't ride a bike.  but fighting these emotional battles with him each time made me weary, wondering when {or if} we would see the day that he believed in himself enough for him to push physically to accomplish it.

last night as i stepped into my walking shoes, i felt dread.  i admitted this to ben, silently mouthing over caleb's head "i don't think this is a good idea tonight," because i was not in the mood to have what had been a mostly-pleasant and peaceful sunday interrupted again with yelling and frustration.  caleb clearly did not want to go, whining and pleading before strapping on his helmet.  but ben held firm, so the rest of us got ready.

before starting off, ben gave him some affirmations and i motivated him with the green gatorade he'd been asking for, telling him it was his if he could work as hard as he could with a good attitude.

i began walking, going ahead with the girls around the cul-de-sac and nearing the park.  normally within a minute or two i would hear caleb approaching me with his yelling about how he was going to fall or run into the curb.  but this time, there was silence.  i kept going, assuming they had gone the opposite way down the street and we would meet in the middle.  after passing the park and rounding the corner of another block, i heard them.  but instead of crying and frustration, i heard ben's encouraging shouts.



then suddenly, zoom!  caleb passed us on the left, yelling an excited, "HI, MOM!" with a smile on his face.  i watched him pass, widening my eyes, looking at ben jog next to him.  he smiled at me too as they kept going down the street.  they circled back around, and i took pictures, feeling warmth hit my toes and work its way up and over my body, knowing tears would soon fill my eyes.

as i watched him go, tom petty's "learning to fly" came to my mind, and has been stuck in my head all day today.

when we got home, there were no screams and fists, only hugs and congratulations.  ben pulled me aside as caleb chugged down his green gatorade.  he told me that caleb started saying his own affirmations as he pedaled, and ben said when caleb yelled the words, "THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!" he had to hold back his own tears.

this parenting stuff is hard work, full of constant re-evaluations and prioritizing and checking our egos at the front door.  most of the time i have to fight the feeling that what i do here is mundane and meaningless.  i know it's not, but it's easy for me to get caught up in trying to find the meaning in the daily little things, fighting feelings of discouragement.

but sometimes we see rewards like the one we saw last night, and it reminds us to keep going, to not stop trying.  that what we're doing is making a difference for the better, helping a little person build self-confidence and overcome a challenge that would have been so much easier to just give up on.

i'm glad we didn't give up.


Rachel Chick said...

Gosh, I love you, Lyns. Thank you for sharing your mom experiences - they build me so much. This might be one of my favorite posts ever. I love it so much and I love Tom Petty and I love that song.

WaHoooooooo!!!! Caleb!!!! Seriously, watching my kids overcome their fear in riding their bikes has been some of my favorite parenting moments ---- some of the hardest teaching, but SO rewarding. I'm so thankful that it was such a beautiful day for your boy. WaHoo!!! What a great climax for such a strenuous struggle. That boy is going to turn out to be such an awesome reflection of the strength he has and the amazing parents that he has been blessed with. Love you guys so much!

Alex K Hulme said...

you guys were able to hold back tears? cuuuuuz i wasnt. especially when i could hear his little voice raspy with frustration screaming those affirmations against his will. at least, thats how i envisioned it, because i know i was just like that at different periods in life. sometimes, i still do it. and i have the hardest time saying those affirmations without wanting to punch the person who made me say them. you guys are stellar. and stellar parents. im sure he is beyond happy that you never stopped pushing him, even though it was a long hard road. and i promise, he will always remember that you guys never gave up on him.

Nana said...

You and Ben are AWESOME parents. Please feel free to she'd tears, because I am! What a choice experience. And I'm glad you've expressed all those feelings. As you've said and know, being a parent is the hardest thing you'll ever do. But it's also the most rewarding. Sometimes you don't see those rewards until many years later. You had a glimpse of that reward and it was sweet! Thanks for reminding me of good things in this world, that happen to people I care about.

Charlotte said...

Thanks for sharing, Lynsey.

Rachel Holloway said...

SOOOO EXCITING! I am so, so happy for him and for you both! What an exhilerating moment!

Now may I ask--did you like that little hand-holding guide on the back of the bike? Because none of my children (no, NONE) can ride. They are too afraid. And I just don't know how to keep trying--when there is so much fear--desperate for something to help--so I was curious if it really did work...thoughts?