I remember when I was learning to ride my bike without training wheels, and it did not go well.
I didn’t have your freakish natural athleticism, none of that strength and balance that you have, let alone the fearlessness. So when my dad was pushing the 5-year-old version of me down the sidewalk in front of our house that day in Grand Forks, I panicked and crashed right into a rosebush about two seconds after he let me go.
I looked like I’d just lost a fight with two panthers and of course was a sobbing mess. I don’t know how much longer after that day it took me to get right on two wheels, but I can assure you it wasn’t the same day.
But you are so different. It took us exactly two passes up and down the sidewalk yesterday before you’d mastered it, leaving training wheels in the dust. No falls, no rosebushes, no whining. On the third pass, I was just hobbling along next to you with nothing left to do.
That alone was pretty shocking to me, but even crazier was that your next words were, “OK, I got it. I’m going for a ride now.”
I — I don’t know, I just kind of assumed you’d want, that you’d need more practice than five minutes before adopting a two-wheeler as your new form of neighborhood transport and whipping off down the street.
Nope. You’ve got it, then you’re gone.
I often wonder how you became the way you are, because honestly, I was a sniveling ninny of a mama’s boy at your age. I was scared of new things. I would never have had the guts to show up for even one jiu-jitsu class, let alone travel to tournaments and maul competitors from bigger cities.
Maybe it’s because I was an only child and wasn’t constantly pushed, prodded and pecked at by siblings to toughen me up. If so, then that’s one reason I can be grateful for the chaos that you guys fuel around here.
We have worried about you as you’ve grown up, more so than Mia & Ezra, simply because your early years have been different. Your mom and I split before you were two years old; you’ll never remember a time when we all lived under the same roof, when both your mom and dad tucked you into bed at night.
Part of me (the rationalizing optimist) thinks that’s good: you can’t miss what you don’t remember, and that insulates you from the post-divorce melancholy that’s sometimes afflicted your brother and sister.
But the sad fact is, as a little boy, you simply didn’t get all that they got. You didn’t get read to as much. You have jack shit for a college fund. Most of the clothes you wear used to be Ezra’s. When you were tiny, you didn’t know whose bed you’d be sleeping in on any given night.
It’s an entirely different experience from what Mia and Ez had.
So you’re a wild card. How will the lack of the classic “stable two-parent home” that your siblings enjoyed — even for a little while — make you different? What are you missing out on, and how will it change the kid, and eventually man, you become?
I do not know. No one does.
What I do know is that whatever’s inside you is strong, stronger than any of us thought, and you keep driving a stake through our restive expectations. You may explode around my house like a hyena on PCP, but the teachers and other parents assure us that you’re a sweet, mannered boy around them (this is possibly more shocking than the two-wheeler business).
Blurting out the occasional, entirely inappropriate curse word is apparently something that only happens at home — which I’ll take.
One month it’s a report card, another month it’s a jiu-jitsu tournament, and yesterday it was your bike. Tomorrow it’ll be something else. But you seem to keep finding ways to tell us, “Hey, I’m fine. Better than fine. Now quit worrying and get outta my way.”
At least that’s what I like to think.
And sure, it’s early — you’re only six, NOT SEVEN, btw, like you tell everybody who asks.
But so far, so good.