Like riding a bike


Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I just start typing. And often I don't even know how I feel until I see it typed on the screen. The words fly out faster than my fingers can keep up. I rarely take the time to capitalize letters or spell things correctly. I just type. Because  somehow everything seems to make more sense when I do.

My son on the other hand, seems to be physically in pain any time he has to write something that comes from his head rather than from the passage. If you ask him to write 10 things about spiders --he would write 20, but If you ask him to write about his day or favorite food he gets a stomach ache, breaks his pencil, and just stares at the blank page. I try to help him offering topics, ideas, even leading sentences.
He tells me that they won't work.
They they are no good.
That he can't write about that.
That I don't know what a "hook" is. Or that it isn't "expository" writing.
These are the nights of homework I dread.
Not that I like any of them. but give me math problems or spelling words or reading logs anyday over a simple paragraph.

The first few weeks of school my son kept missing recess. He had to stay inside and finish coloring and filling out all those ridiculous beginning of the year papers. I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing. He makes top grades. He can multiply and divide and tell me the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise. He aces spelling tests, he flies through his math homework I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing his work. I assumed he was socializing and horsing around.
Eventually I got it out of him. Those papers all asked things like "what do you want to do when you grow up" ...and my son was still thinking about it.

Please for the love of four square just make something up so you can go outside and play already. No one will hold you to it when you are 22. You can figure out your life later, just fill in your blanks and go to recess.

The school year has flown by and we haven't had homework since field day. And  frankly that is fine by me. I even stopped checking his binder. Which apparently was a big mistake because with only 6 days of school left his class is writing essays. Expository and narrative essays to go in his file for the next year's teachers. and my son. my usually compliant rule following teacher's pet of a son didn't bother to write a single line in two whole school days. His teacher begged, pleaded, bribed him, punished him, gave him ideas and still his paper remained blank.

The prompt was to describe something that he had struggled with but was eventually successful at.

I got home from a long day of school and was already used to this new no homework policy and wanted nothing more than to melt into  the couch and watch TV or read a book.
Instead, my TV watching was interupted by what sounded like a small animal being slaughtered at the kitchen table.
Long horrid sighs. Whimpers. Belly aches. Sore throats. Broken pencils. Death throws.
So I walked in there and tried to help with a few ideas.
They were all shot down.
He sighed even bigger sighs and told me he just didn't know what to write. Despite the 50 ideas I had just given him. If I could master his messy 7 year old boy hand writing I would have taken his chewed up pencil and written the ridiculous thing myself.

I was starting to think that maybe the topic of his big struggle that he overcame could be about writing this very essay.
Again, he said no.

But. The topic was really an obvious one.
He needed to write about learning to ride his bike.

Owen rides his bike about as well as he experesses his ideas with the written word.
Terribly.

Because he won't get started.
He is afraid of looking bad.
He makes excuses.
We live in a cul de sac that is filled with boys. When I drive down my street I usually have to dodge the bike ramps, cones, go-karts, obstacle courses and the occasional kickball game. Our neighbors, all younger are pros on the bike. They can hop curbs take jumps and race down the street.
Owen's feet still barely reach the pedals.

He knows they are better.
So he always rides his scooter, or races them on foot.

He will not get on his bike if there are kids out front.
He is embarrassed. He wobbles and struggles up hills and can't stop the thing without hopping awkwardly off. So the thing mostly stays parked in the garage.
I try to encourage him to ride and practice when no one is around...but  am always met with an incredible amount of resistance.
I've seen him ride up and down the street dozens of times. He can do it. He just lacks the confidence and the practice to do it without being forced. That and it would help if he grew just one more inch. Every time I get out the bike out I struggle to find the balance between encouraging him and pushing him. I don't know if he needs tough love or an enormous amount of patience. It is a beating for all of us.

Just like this essay he is supposed to write.

So despite the fact that it sprinkling outside and because it is unusually quiet in the culdesac. I open the garage door and tell my son to go outside.

He thinks he is off the hook and all but runs out the door.
Until I tell him we are outside to ride his bike.
Tess hops on her pink Barbie one with streamers down the handlebars but Owen is again full of excuses. And sighs.

I assure him that no one can see. That he needs to practice. That he has grown a little since the last time and that it will be easier. He is still shaking. I hold the bike steady while he gets on and he takes off. Wobbly at first but then with ease down the driveway and down the street. And then of course he panicked and bailed. The fall has him reluctant to get back on. It starts raining a little bit harder but I refuse to call it a day.  We make him get back on. By himself and cruise up and down the street a few times. He never got comfortable or confident but he did get at least a tiny bit better.

Eventually, we parked the bike back in the garage and headed back into the kitchen.

His paper was still there.  Blank.

I told him to write about that. What just happened. Everything he felt and remembered about the last 15 minutes. Being scared. Being wobbly. The wind in his hair. The rain starting to come down. Struggling to find his balance and to reach the peddles. Hoping none of his friends came out and saw him. Falling off. Getting back on. Making slow progress.

He still sighed and whimpered and had a half dozen excuses but eventually the pencil started moving.
It was painful. and took a million times longer than it should have and will never win him a Pulitzer. but. It got done.

I have no trouble riding a bike. And most days I have no trouble finding words.

Still, occasionally, I get my own version of writer's block. I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing worth sharing.
Maybe I have found the solution to that.

Sometimes you have to put the pencil down. Or the keyboard. And go outside and live.
To write what you know. You have to know.
You have to get on the bike.
 

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