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Dan Conradt: Removal of training wheels is ticket to ride

June 17, 2018 GMT

I’d made the suggestion a few weeks earlier, and was relieved when he said “no.” This time it was his idea: “Dad, can you take the training wheels off my bike?”

“If you really want me to …”

I noticed that mine was the only voice that included a hint of concern.

“Yeah!”

“Well, OK,” I said. “Let me get the tools out of …”

He’d already run to the kitchen window and was calling through the screen, “Mom! Dad’s gonna take the training wheels off my bike!”

I was hoping it was the kind of job I could stretch out either until it got dark or Steven turned 17.

The outriggers were off in two minutes.

“I’m gonna try it!” Steven said. He swung a leg into the saddle of a little red and white Schwinn, adjusted his helmet and pushed off. I walked a step behind the tiny bicycle, ready to catch him when he fell. He didn’t.

The wobbly little circles quickly smoothed out, and our driveway was big enough to turn a beginner into an expert in half an hour. After five minutes, I stopped walking behind him; after 15 minutes I had him reverse direction because all those clockwise circles were giving me vertigo. After 20 minutes I stepped into the house for a Coke and sat on the front step to drink it.

The phrase “I’m going to try riding on the road!” nearly caused an inelegant cola geyser.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said, jumping off the step. “You’re NOT going to ride on the road!”

Traffic is sparse in our rural neighborhood, but the gravel road is sometimes challenging even for those of us with a little more two-wheel experience. For someone who still had training wheels on his bike 45 minutes ago? I was suddenly glad it was getting dark.

“But I’m a safe driver!” he insisted.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “This week I want you to practice in the driveway. If the weather is nice on Sunday, we’ll put our bikes in the van and drive to the kindergarten center and ride in the big parking lot …”

He was already calling through the screen: “Mom! Dad’s gonna take me into town so I can ride my bike!”

I think I did a pretty good job filling in the details he neglected to mention.

Steven spent the week perfecting circles in the driveway, even adding figure 8s to his repertoire. And while the day of the week probably doesn’t matter much when you’re a preschooler, he never lost sight of Sunday … with some help, I suspected, from Carla. The robins had barely started singing when Steven came into the room: “Happy Father’s Day!” he said, dragging a teddy bear by one paw as he climbed onto the bed. “Can we go ride our bikes?”

“Church first,” I said. “Then lunch … THEN we’ll take the bikes into town.”

“Awwww … can’t we go BEFORE church?” The clock radio on my nightstand said it was 5:22 a.m.

“Nope. Here, crawl under the covers … let’s get a little more sleep.” I did, but I’m not sure about him.

Eight hours later we had an acre of parking lot to ourselves. I’d lifted our bicycles out of the back of the van, tightened the chin strap of his helmet and offered some fatherly advice: “don’t go too fast … stay in the parking lot … don’t get too close to that pothole … stay away from loose gravel …”

I was glad we weren’t near the kitchen window: I could just hear him yelling “Mom! Dad’s taking all the fun out of this!”

“Are you ready?” I asked.

“Uh-huh!”

“Alright,” I said. And with apologies to the guys with the BIG bikes: “Let’s ride!”

And we did … an hour of circles, loops, figure 8s, something Steven called a figure 7 (a straight line with a right turn) zig-zags, follow-the-leader, two-handed, one-handed and … don’t tell Carla this … a nanosecond of no hands.

We paused briefly for juice boxes, then rode for another hour.

Steven reluctantly agreed when I said it was time to leave; he was eager to keep riding, but my legs weren’t.

“That was so much fun!” Steven said as I loaded the bicycles into the back of the van. “Did you have a good Father’s Day?”

“Best Father’s Day ever!” I said.

“Really?”

“Really!”

“Can we come back again some time?” he asked as I buckled him into his car seat.

“Maybe next Sunday.”

“Before church?”

“After.”

At the end of the block I eased the van into the right-hand turn lane.

“Don’t we live this way?” Steven asked. In the rearview mirror I could see he was pointing to the left.

“We do,” I said. “But Dairy Queen is THIS way!”

Best Father’s Day ever.