In her own sweet time

When it all starts out and you’re holding your tiny new baby in your arms, you think you have all the time in the world.

All the time in the world to teach her to sing and to read, to meander down the trail and name the wildflowers and the birds, to discover opera together, to watch the grass grow.

And, yes, it all goes by in a rush and suddenly the tiny baby is nearly thirteen and is accomplished and funny and smart and writes a better sentence than you can and sings arias and makes movies with her friends and swims like a dolphin and bakes brownies and reads whole books in a day and makes you laugh and cry all within an hour.

But the work isn’t done. Because you know something you didn’t do, you loving, goofy parents? You didn’t teach her to ride a bike.

I know!


We should have our parenting licenses revoked.

We, who grew up on our bikes, navigating the small town and suburban streets as our highways on sunny spring days and late into dusky summer evenings. We, who called our bikes our horses and raced against our friends. We, who rode out the miles to meet friends at school yards and playgrounds and parks. We, who knew the power and freedom that our own pair of spoked wheels provided.

We didn’t teach her to ride a bike.

It’s not entirely our fault. We tried. We did get her a wee bike with training wheels. And a wee helmet. And a wee alligator horn for the wee handlebars. And we taught her to pedal that wee bike on our deck and she did it and it was grand. So there. We tried. Sort of.

But we live in the country, off a short, sloped, gravel driveway, that empties onto a road marked with a post speed limit of 40 mph but where people rarely whiz by going slower than 45. There’s no way she could practice riding her bike on her own. It would take us loading the bikes onto the car and driving somewhere miles away. It would take intention. And there were so many other things to do and she didn’t seem anxious to learn to ride and, of course, there was plenty of time.

We got her a new bike last year two years ago. No more training wheels. We took her to a nearby park with sloping roads that would help her get started. She sort of got it. She rode, but without the confidence you get from riding your bike daily when you’re seven years old and you learn how to take corners no-handed because you’ve got a Slush Puppie in one hand and are waving to a friend with the other.

Which is how we arrived at this beautiful spring break week, me and H, our bikes, and her desire to ride the nearby Rail Trail.

When we arrived at the trail head, I optimistically put her bike next to an island in the parking lot, one with a high curb so she could rest her right foot there and give a good push off and told her to give it a try. She pushed off, lifted her foot from the curb to the pedal, wobbled, put her foot back down on the curb.

I encouraged her to try again, and she did and she did, and I felt small and bad. How had I put her in this position? Shouldn’t I have taught her this years ago?

Then the very bad thought came to me: What else haven’t we taught her?

I pushed that thought out quickly. No time for that.

We can do this!

It was her idea to abandon the parking lot where the hard pavement and the passing cars made her feel unsure. “Let’s just go to the trail.”

Good idea.

We talked about different methods for starting off. I showed her how I did it. She tried. She really really tried. She just didn’t trust herself. Putting one foot on the pedal was one thing. Lifting the other from the safe ground to balance on two wheels was quite another. She seemed to trust me that it was possible, but she was scared, and I was angry at myself, and frustrated for her sake.

How had I put her in this position?

Okay, push the “bad mom” thoughts aside. We can do this.

I showed her how I put my left pedal up about 3/4 of the way, put my right foot on the ground, then pushed hard with the left foot onto the pedal to get some speed, then swung my right foot up onto the other pedal. She did that, but didn’t trust it, and put her right foot back down.

Okay, I didn’t want to do this, but how about I push her a little bit, just enough to get her rolling?

Now she’s rolling, steering a bit unsteadily, but balancing. Then she puts a foot down and stops. I get off my bike, steady her, and push off again.

She can ride. She just doesn’t trust it. And she can’t start herself off.

I imagine biking the whole trail with my having to get off the bike every time she stops so that I can give her a push.

This is not going to work.

We try the left pedal trick again. She’s game, even though she must be frustrated and tired. I wonder if she’s thinking, “What ELSE haven’t you taught me, Mom?”

She tries again, and she does it! She’s up and rolling under her own power. It only lasts a little while before she feels unsteady and stops again. But the beautiful part is that she starts again. And again. And again. Without my help.

We make intermittent but steady progress down the trail. Sometimes the sloping sides of the trail scare her; she’s afraid she might steer right off and end up in a ditch. I try to reassure her, tell her to just look way down the path and “steer into the future”, which makes her laugh. Which makes me laugh.

Hey! How about that? We’re biking. And we’re laughing.

Soon, the stops are getting further and further apart.

She spies a dark object far down the trail and names that as our goal. “When we get to that black box thing, we can stop.”

“Sounds good.”

We bike down the trail. I follow her. She aims for that black box, which is actually a little shed off the side of the trail, just past the bridge where we stop for a snack and water. She takes out her iPod, which she’s carried in a tiny backpack, and listens to a song while I watch the water flow under the bridge we’re sitting on. We wave to the joggers and the bikers and dog walkers who pass us while we sit in the sunlight.

After a bit, she says, “Let’s go!”

She gets on her bike, and starts off before I even get rolling. There’s no wobbling now. She’s got it.

On our way back to the trail head, we pass a mother and her kids, biking in the opposite direction. One of the kids, who looks to be about eight or nine, is having a hard time. Unsteady, stopping suddenly to put a foot down. The mother is encouraging her, with the same big smile and worried eyes that I was wearing an hour earlier. The kid tries again and gets a decent wobbly roll going.

H rides slowly, calmly, confidently, nearly gracefully past the kid. “Good job!” she says to the kid. And the kid’s mother looks at H and says, gratefully, “Thank you.”

Maybe I’ve been agonizing over the wrong question. Maybe what I should be wondering is, “What else hasn’t she taught me?”

Going strong

Guest Post: Stop Motion to Treadmills to Rube Goldberg

Hi All, It’s Hyla, and I’m here to show you a few of the very coolest music videos I know of. In order of 1 to 4, 1 being my favorite.

4. All right, let’s kick it off with number 4. I really love this video, just because it’s so fun to watch and look at the choreography. JUST THINK OF ALL THE TAKES!

3. Next, by Ok Go (again), “This Too Shall Pass”.

2. Off the Ok Go track, we’re on to Hesta Prynn with “Can We Go Wrong”. From this point on we have stop-motion.


Now you’ve seen my favorite four music videos. Come back soon!


52 Weeks ~ Laughter (8/52)

RSiegel_Week8 - Lyndell Laugh

Modeling a Placemat Hat

Flamenco Mall Man

When a Poodle Licks Your Hand for Five Minutes Straight

Donna "Donner Duck"

A Girls’ Weekend in Boston is full of unexpected laughs:

:: The baker on the sign at Lyndell’s bakery is cheerful in spite of the dreary weather. He lures you in with his slightly crazed laugh. “Come in! Come in! There are cupcakes inside….!” You really dare not refuse. Unless you don’t want a cupcake. Now that’s a laugh.

:: Who knew that a placemat made such a lovely hat? Who knew that H’s mother could take an infocus picture when she was giggling so hard?

:: When you catch the Flamenco Mall Man dancing on film, he is not laughing. Oh no. He is a bit startled. But you are laughing as you run to the escalator, hoping he doesn’t chase you.

:: When a poodle licks the palm of your hand, for five minutes straight, you can’t help but laugh. And then everyone else in the house starts laughing. And the only one who isn’t laughing is the poodle, because he’s got an important job to do: lick lick lick lick.

:: Sure, we could have requested a sweet, serious quote like all the other families who placed a paver in memory or honor of their mothers on the Rose Kennedy Mother’s Walk, but that’s not how you raised us, Mom. Instead, we like to think about a family strolling down the path, reading the sweetly phrased pavers (“Our Cherished Mother”, “We’ll Never Forget You Mother”, “From Your Loving Children”), maybe feeling a bit melancholy, and then coming to this one, and cracking a smile. And when they do, they can thank you, Mom.

December arrives with bared teeth

After more than two years of braces and various other dental “appliances,” today’s the day that Hyla gets her braces off!

Accordingly, on the menu tonight: bubble gum, WHOLE apples, caramels (and possibly a caramel apple), and corn ON the cob.

If you want to know what this evening will be like at our house, this video might give you some idea:

How To Feed: NaBloPoMo Guest Blog #1

Hello everyone! Welcome to a new and exciting HOW TO FEED BY HYLA! This time we’ll be learning HOW TO FEED A WHITE TIGER!


Step 1. Dress up like an antelope.

Step 2. Get real close.

To Feed the Tiger

I wrote the note above and stuck it on my wall when we went away, so the very nice person taking care of our house could see it. It may have worked, since when we got back, Bastet (the tiger) was looking mighty pleased with herself. And a little full-looking, I might add.

Hope you’re having a great November 5,

Remember, remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot
Was Guy Fawkes a devil?
The Stuarts all saints?
Are we glad that they stopped him,
Or not?

Keep those bonfires a-burnin’!

The joy of being seen

On the drive home from school today, Hyla told me she’d borrowed a book from her English teacher.

Her English teacher gives the students some time to do their own reading every day (how jealous I am of that; “You must sit here now and read a book you enjoy.”), but Hyla’d forgotten to pack her own book this morning, so she selected one from her teacher’s classroom library.

In the car, she told me about the book. “The first chapter is about weasels. And the second chapter is about the south pole. I really think you’d like this book, Mom.”

When we got home, she dug the book out of her heavy backpack. I smiled with recognition. She had picked out Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, a book of essays by one of my favorite authors. A book I’d read and loved years ago, then shelved and half-forgotten, until I saw it my twelve-year-old’s hands.

How well this girl knows us, her parents.

We’ve studied her all these years, since the very first hours, when we stared and stared and stared, trying to memorize every feature, knowing how soon she’d grow and change, and how soon we’d forget the things we told ourselves we could never ever forget.

It never occurred to me that she has been studying us, too. But of course she has.

She knows more than she ever lets on, the beautiful and the embarrassing. She knows the foods I loathe and the books I love, the things that make me cry and the things that make me angry, that ducklings make me happy and cold weather makes me impatient.

I suddenly feel exposed, in the nicest way.

Seen. Known. Loved.