Monday, July 23, 2007

Milestones

a hasty, lacking post

The weather cools. Our bodies can contemplate more activity. Since Christmas, Winston has wanted a scooter. He had it all figured out in his head. He would show me again and again exactly how he would ride it. I would nod and watch him balance on one foot and sweep the other dramatically from front to back.

Years ago, when I was a dancer, I was introduced to the Feldenkrais method. What I remember of that time is that our muscles store memory. What I also remember was the idea that visualisation could reinforce muscle memory. Since Christmas brought the Great Move Home, we did not get him a scooter until his birthday in April.

We couldn’t get that scooter unpacked fast enough! His eagerness propelled his imaginary scooter all through the living room whilst we unpacked it. Delighted, we handed him his first scooter. My husband got him all “protected in helmet, knee pads and elbow protectors. We handed him his scooter. After five minutes of disappointment, he abandoned it. He had “failed.” Needless to say, we didn’t make a big deal about it.

What we did do was make the scooter available and visible. He didn’t touch it again for another two months. Whilst my husband was away on business a few weeks ago, Winston indicated interest in the scooter. I was tired that day. (Being a single parent every other week can be draining sometimes.) So, I handed him the scooter - no elbow or knee pads, no helmut. Back and forth in front of the house, he tried and tried and fell. I smiled and praised his experiments.

I recall the first time he sat up and hit his head on the floor when he was three months old. Within the hour, he had learned to fall and then roll with it. Since that monumental moment at three months, he has had an uncanny ability to figure out a way never to injure his body in that specific manner ever again. Since he has been taking capoeira regularly, his innate agility has been reinforced profoundly. He kept trying - day after day after day.

I suppose Feldenkrais was right in that way. Winston discusses his “failures” extensively. Mostly I listen and keep nagging about the way in which people have to make mistakes in order to learn anything. Regardless, I try to bear witness to his constant visualisation, self-critique and problem solving in a positive way.

About a month ago, it clicked. I think we had some help. We have a new friend. He is a five 1/2 year old boy we met through our homeschool group. Ian loves his scooter. He can do tricks. He can go fast. He loves to involve Winston in “military manoeuvres” where they have to get away fast together. At first that meant Winston on foot chasing behind Winston’s scooter. (We haven’t had a dual scooter play date recently, but I can’t wait.) But, after every meeting with Ian, Winston attacked his scooter with renewed carelessness.

He is close to stopping my heart now. He’s gotten good! He gets it going fast and then squats and wiggles the handle bars. He rides with his head back skimming along faster than the clouds. He’s trying to make the scooter hop and jump. He makes daring curves. But, he is not content in his victory.

Today, he needed a bike. Imagine my surprise. Since we moved back, I’ve been pushing a bike on him. We had bought him one of those expensive Like-Bikes in London. After the first failure, he gave up completely on bikes. But, every yard sale, every adventure to Target would find me looking wistfully at the bikes saying: “Are you sure you want a princess dress? Look at these lovely bikes!” No! Today. Today was bike day. I’m thankful I planned for this eventuality - or I’d be manoeuvring through detritus on the River Styx tonight.

So, we bring the bike home. We pull it out of the mini-van. It does not “work.” It rocks from side to side. Every tilt sends Winston into a panic. He thrusts his foot down. Then, he has to get back up on the seat. But, he wants to, “Ride!” He wants me to take the handle bars and pull him along the pavement.

“No way!” I say, “This is your bike. You have to make friends with it, just like you and your scooter got acquainted. Quietly. Slowly. Remember?”

He nods his head. But, his eyebrows are stubbornly set in a frown.

I sit on the front stoop. I ask him to remember, “Your scooter and you didn’t get along very well at first.”

He nods his head. The eyebrows disagree still. “I want to ride,” he states empathic ally.

“Well, I have an idea. Want to hear it?”

He nods his head, eyebrows sceptical.

“You remember how you spent a long time making friends with your scooter?”

He nods.

“Did I push you along on your scooter?”

“No.”

“Who taught you to ride your scooter.”

Pause. Pause. Pause.

Slowly, with hesitant humble pride he states, “Me.”

“Yeah,” I smile, “You taught yourself to ride the scooter. Who’s going to teach you to ride the bike?”

Less firm now, “Me.” Shy smile.

“That’s right! And who is going to watch and be so happy?”

“You.”

“Right, and - before you do that, can I show you something?”

“Yeah.”

“I want to show you how the training wheels work. Want to see?”

He nods. Eyes already assessing what else is available. He is suddenly not sure again.

I go inside and bring out the scales and a basket of mosaics. I reposition his bike to line up with the scales. I show him the centre wheel, the right and left training wheels. then I show him the centre of the scale, and the right and left baskets.

I put a mosaic in the right scale. “When you get on the bike, it looks like this.”

Then, I drop one mosaic into the left hand basket. The scales balance. “But as you shift your weight on the seat, it looks like this,” I say as I drop another mosaic into the left basket.

“I want to ride.” He is determined to do this tonight.

“Okay,” I say. “I think you need to spend time just sitting on your bike rocking back and forth.”

“Okay,” he acquiesces reluctantly. I feel awful.

But, he climbs up on his red, rocket flame, go-fast bike. Right as he gets “centred,” it tips. He thrusts his leg down to catch himself and I catch him.

“Have you thought about the scales?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“You know, the way they rock a lot but always end up balancing or catch themselves just before they crash?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s try that.”

“Okay,” he says with an edge of frustration and whine in his voice.

So I tip him to one side. I just barely catch him the second before the training wheel hits the ground. And then tip him to the other side. He trusts me. Eventually he feels the rhythm. I say, “go this way. Go that way!” And he rocks back and forth until I completely remove my hands. There he is, rocking back and forth, back and forth all by himself. Suddenly confidant again, he wants to ride.

I push him. He pedals and ends up in the lawn. I straighten the wheel. I push him and pedals again into the lawn. This goes on and on past dinner. But, eventually he can pedal 8 times without crashing into grass. He is tired. I am more exhausted than if I had spent an hour pushing and steering him up and down the block. He is filled with fatigue because he had to think. Feldenkrais had the right idea. He had to see himself doing it. He had to make muscle memories in order for him to relax in the balancing act.

We have reached a milestone here. We are beginning to learn about riding bikes. He is getting better at it than I ever was. This is, of course, what every teacher must always hope for.

3 comments:

Karen James said...

This was fun to read. I am so often humbled by your confidence and your courage. It was great to see you both again. Wishing you all the best.

Jax said...

I am feeling vaguely guilty about still not providing my now 7 year old with a bike (she had a training wheels bike when she was 3, but nowhere to ride it) but we still have nowhere to ride. This is a great post about why I ought to sort that out.

Christina Springer said...

Thanks for reading Jax and Karen!

K - it was so great to see you. I am always so humbled by your quiet, thoughtful, nurturing love. Next to you, I sometimes feel pushy, opinionated and forceful. I guess that's why we are friends. We compliment each other.

Jax - Don't feel vaguely guilty. You have nowhere to ride. Isn't that just what we mothers have been trained to do - feel guilty? I'm feeling guilty that we didn't buy a house where he could teach himself to ride a unicycle. There is always someone or something along the motherhood journey which pops up screaming, "Feel guilty!" I'm sure you've found a million ways for Big to teach herself something. You'll find them.