Growing up in Haiti in the late 70s through the very early 90s, it was not proper for girls to ride bikes. No decent family would allow their girls to ride a bike or have the freedom to wander around using their own transportation method. It was simply unimaginable! When my brothers would get on their bikes, I would ask to get one of my own or, at least, try theirs but my request was always denied. When I came to the United States, everyone rode a bike. Just as a child learns to use the potty, a child is expected to learn how to ride a bike. It’s a childhood rite of passage. The shocking response that I would get from friends when I would tell them that I can’t ride a bike was akin to me saying that I didn’t know how to use a computer. For almost a decade now, I resolved to learn how to ride a bike. Each time, I counted on my husband to teach me and it turned out disastrous. Friends would volunteer to teach me, but our schedules would not work. This summer was it! I was set in my resolve.
It Took a Village
One Saturday, I went to Costco and bought a bike. The following Saturday, my neighbor agreed to teach me how to ride it. Almost immediately, my bike-riding endeavor became a community commitment. Half of my entire street came out to support me. Two gentle neighbors recommended that I first learn how to balance. I didn’t have to pedal, just learn how to balance. That did not work. I was quickly growing less confident and began to feel that maybe I am too old to learn this. Realizing that my bike was too high, one neighbor brought out a shorter bike that was much more comfortable. My feet could actually reach the ground!
The commotion and combination of adults and kids in the middle of the street brought out even more people. My neighbor Ellen was the first of the spectators. She recommended that I start pedaling immediately. Everyone was skeptical, and worse scared for me, since I could not even balance. Ellen got beside me, holding me a bit and steering simultaneously, she ran down the street alongside me as I tried to pedal. I tried to pedal as my confidence continued to wane. Next, I was to try it on my own. That was the most disastrous or entertaining part, depending on whether you were me or simply enjoying the spectacle. No sooner did I start pedaling on my own did I realize that I had no control of myself, let alone the bike. To avoid crashing into another neighbor’s Cadillac, I veered off the bike, pushed it away from the car as I landed underneath the car. Luckily, the car was intact, but my legs and arms were bruised. As everyone watching asked if I was hurt, I replied that I was just fine and tried my hardest not to limp. (I limped for the next two days).
As I walked to the sidewalk, feeling defeated, Ellen put her arm around me and said to come to her backyard. “I will teach you the same way I taught each of my children,” she said. Despite my injuries, I was convinced that drillmaster Ellen would be the one to teach me how to ride. Ellen was tough, resolved, and she knew exactly what I needed. She put me atop the incline on her yard, instructed me to put my feet on the pedals and told me that she would push me and I would immediately start to pedal. Her stern voice and determination to teach me to ride that bike in that moment were all that I needed. She pushed and I pedaled. It was that simple. At the end of the first two rides I fell, but by the third, I was pedaling and even turning. I emerged from her backyard screaming with the excitement of a child that I had done it. I had finally learned how to ride a bike! With half my street now out to see the commotion, I rode my bike down the street twice and walked it back up each time.
The next day, I bought padding gear just in case if I fell again. After a few practice rounds in Ellen’s yard, I confidently took my bike to the beginning of our street and pedaled down the street and then back up a few times. Later, my neighbor who first took on the challenge of teaching me how to ride the bike said that two African women attending a party at her house watched me ride that bike and, after hearing my story, decided that they too would learn how to ride a bike. I am also proud to share that, once I learned how to ride, my daughter made it a point to prove to me that she is a superior biker compared to her mom. Attagirl!
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