make way for ducklings

When my children play together they often do this goofy narrative back and forth: each building on the other’s last sentence, a storyline that weaves in and out peacefully and organically. “And then you find out that I was really a dragon, and you jump up in surpise.” “And then we go to your cave, and you find out there’s another dragon living there, and he has stinky feet!” and so on, and so forth.

Today felt like that for me: a series of wonderful, imaginative and highly-enjoyable events I didn’t necessarily know I was in for. First, after breakfast, we all cleaned the kitchen – together. I still get a bit choked up remembering getting actual, concrete help in housework from my children. We loaded up on our bikes, determined to make the best of it despite the schizophrenic weather. Yes, I say “bikes”, as my daughter rode solo for her first cross-town trip, traveling from my house all the way to the bike shop and then the Deli and back. At the shop Terry set us up with a tweener-bike: something temporary in between the very small version my in-laws just brought us (more suited for Nels, who is now attempting to ride it) and the very large, very new bike that awaits a wee bit more experience and an indiscernable amount of arm’s growth (at Terry’s, after finding us a pink Huffy and spending twenty minutes fine-tuning it to Sophie’s size, I was charged $10 to roll the new bike out the door).

At the Deli I ordered the kids corned beef and cabbage: they had to at least try it. This also felt great – the perfect balance between an irritation that my kids aren’t experiencing something different, and a dogmatic, “You must eat this!” approach. They didn’t like it, much, but at least ate some (the rest was brought home for Ralph). It looked like fierce rain was on the way: back on the bikes and home for a bit of Darby O’Gill And The Little People. At 2:30 we headed out again to sewing class, where my children and a friend of our escort each sewed a pillow case – every stitch made by the children. The instructor told me Nels was the youngest, at four, to use the serger. She almost paid for it with her fingers, too. The sewn item in question is glorious, and looks like it was crafted by an adult. All three children did a great job and it surprised me how much I enjoyed watching them do it.

Here’s the thing: it was irrelevant to feel proud of my children today, watching them do what they do, precisely because it’s them, not me, who does it. My daughter’s bicycling ability was beyond what I could have imagined; not just the mechanics of balance and steering – but her traffic knowledge. “I’d like to get off and walk now – this doesn’t feel safe,” she tells me, turning back to look at me before crossing the trecherous Riverside Bridge. Traffic signal, sidewalk, highway crossing – she was the model of cycling know-how. And I realized at once that A. this comes from the fact I bike so much, and have been, with the kids on the back of the X absorbing the ebb and flow of cycling, and B. once again, there is no stress or worry required in thinking of how we might “teach” our kids a skill. Our kids learn these skills when they’re ready – and they learn them much more quickly than we can force it on them!

I experienced the Mama-duck bike moment – far less weight to haul on the X, as well – with more freedom than I would have guessed. Today we are a biking family, in a new way! And it’s not my agenda in particular. When we got home Sophie went outside and spent another hour on the bike. I wasn’t prepared for how touched and thrilled I felt that she likes it as much as I do.

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