I have an embarrassing secret whose humiliation grows with every friend of mine whose son or daughter learns to ride a bicycle before or near the age of five. Such accomplishments are broadcast in Facebook pictures and congratulatory comments commence. My niece will be riding a bike soon, too. Hooray, I think. But shame lurks beneath the surface.
Well, if my hope is to offer some honest confessions as part of my 30 Thoughts on 30, then I must admit this fact: I was 10 years and 8 months old before I learned to ride a bike.
There, I said it. Finally put the fact into the open. No more running, no more hiding. I’m blushing, even now, as I type.
I avoided riding my bike as most kids avoid going to the dentist. While my friends pedaled the three blocks from my house to the swimming pool in my grandparent’s backyard, I would run alongside them, keeping pace as best I could. They rolled along on cruise control. I panted in the background, my legs working overtime. When it came time to ride bikes in the neighborhood, I made up excuses to hide out at home—I have schoolwork or a sports game, I would fib. Anything to escape the disgrace of my two-wheeled impotence.
In 4th grade, I ran a mile in nearly 6 minutes, read most of Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and piloted the nation’s first ever zone read based football offense. But I still couldn’t ride a bike. Worse, I never even tried. It took until May of that school year before I summoned the “courage” to practice in an empty parking lot near my house. Protected by sprouting weeds and empty dumpsters, I learned to ride that damn bicycle in a place where nobody could see me fail.
I think everyone has those stories he or she doesn’t want the world to know. Not the silly slips of tongue or the indiscretions of youth, either. I mean the truly, stomach twisting, make you cringe and cover your ears for mercy ones.
I have three. One involves a Wall Street Journal, Friendship Sunoco Station, and my parent’s Trailblazer. The second ropes in a final exam in college and a dishwasher.
Not being able to ride a bike until I was 10 is the third. Old friends still jab me with this one when their children do something at 6 that I couldn’t do at 10.
Now blessed with the hindsight of a 30-year old, I think that I can admit such ribbing is fair.