The first buds of spring pop open and here we go — the unfurling of leaves! the burst of flowers! Most palpable is that resurrection/birth buzz in the air that fills us with a sense of urgency to scrub, to plant, to do.
A big part of the fun is seeing the Moms and Dads stream into the park with their aspirations, sporting gear, and kids in tow.
“Let me show you something,” they say. Kids are lucky when they have parents who teach them how to do things.
This weekend, I saw one man trying to teach his son how to catch with a mitt. (Dad also needs to help the poor kid learn to throw.) A father of red-haired twins demonstrated soccer ball passing techniques that were way beyond his kids’ abilities, but they were having the time of their lives.
One cool mom ran around with a kite, her young ones chasing after her, sharing a collective groan when the kite nose-dived to the ground, hurrahing in a collective cheer when the wind swept up the kite so far and fast that it became only a speck against the blue sky.
And then I saw a young dad teaching his daughter how to ride a bicycle.
My dad was one of those dads willing to take the time and effort to show and share. Over the years, he taught me how to ice skate, swim, read a map, play horseshoes, drive a car, love books, hit a baseball, do crosswords, laugh at the Marx Brothers, polish shoes, mow the grass, put up a Christmas tree, make people feel welcome. He taught me to sing out loud with abandon and ignore the people who might squelch your enthusiasm with their critical looks.
But the day he taught me how to ride a bike? That was especially magical.
We were in the park across the street from our house. My sister, reluctantly, let us use her dark blue Schwinn. Perched on the seat, I could barely reach the pedals.
My dad said, “Don’t worry. I got ya.” He held the back of the bike seat with one hand, the handlebar with the other.
“Ready?” he asked.
I nodded, but not ready at all.
“Go!” he said, still holding the bike while he ran alongside of me.
I tried to stay steady but the bike was tippy and out of control. I felt helpless. I wanted to cry and quit. My dad laughed and rubbed my back. “That’s OK,” he said. “You’ll get it.”
He would buoy my spirit, take a deep breath, and do it again. And again.
At last, in a surprising momentous second, a miraculous moment in time, I felt some kind of internal trigger kick in and connect me to a weird power of the universe. Balance!
As soon as this shocking awareness of balance hit me, I felt the sudden rush of another sensation. Trust! A giddy, I-can-do-this belief in myself that filled me with unbridled Hallelujah joy.
Wide-eyed, I looked over at my dad. “Don’t look at me!” he said. “Keep going!”
I looked away from him and set my sights straight ahead. “Atta girl!” he kept saying, running next to me. “Atta girl,” he said, clapping. Clapping? I realized he had let go of the bike. I was on my own.
Freedom! Exhilaration! Independence! With the wind in my face, hair blowing behind me, I pedaled that bicycle for all I was worth, full speed ahead.
“Atta girl,” I heard my dad shout from somewhere behind me.
I felt like I could fly.
Learning to ride a bike may be one of the greatest moments in any kid’s life.
And that little girl in the park. I had to stop and watch. She was about 10, sitting on an adult-sized bicycle, barely able to reach the pedals. She wore a brand new bike helmet on her head.
Her dad steadied her, talked her through it. Over and over. Finally, she got it. I saw her dad let go of the bike while he kept jogging alongside of her.
I’m not sure she noticed he had let go.
When she passed me, I shot her a big smile. She gave me a sideways glance and smiled back, then quickly refocused her eyes on the path ahead. In that split second of our shared smiles, I saw in her eyes a combination of fear, triumph, surprise, optimism, and what-the-hell-just-happened? That jubilant moment of balance and trust when you realize you can believe in yourself. And with that bit of knowledge, you can do almost anything.
So spring bursts open for us about this time every year. If we’re lucky, we can be transformed.