As Christmas approaches, many of us adults reflect on cherished memories of our childhood. The sights and smells of this time of year stir emotions of a simpler time when we weren’t preoccupied with gadgets and technology, deadlines and bills to pay, and the compounded commitments that squeeze any ounce of relaxation and joy out of the season.
While unpacking our Christmas stockings, I found old letters to Santa that my now 13-year-old wrote. This year when I asked her what she wanted and she told me she wanted a new cell phone and designer leggings, my heart ached for the simple days when all she wanted was a doll and a bike.
I remember waking up early Christmas morning a few years ago and tiptoeing down the stairs before the rest of the family awoke to take in the peace and stillness of the house, the calm before the wild storm of wrapping paper and bows being tossed all over our family room floor. There, cast by the glow of the tree lights and daybreak peeking through the windows was the most special gift… a bike with a big red bow attached to the handlebars. I waited in anticipation for my daughter to wake and come running down the stairs to see what Santa left for her. I will never forget her face as she caught a glimpse of her “big girl bike”. How her eyes sparkled and little body shook with excitement when she spotted her shiny new bike by the Christmas tree!
“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them how to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.” – Sloan Wilson
What is it about a bike that makes such an impact on our memory banks compared to other gifts? Bikes, and learning to ride them…a true metaphor for so much in life.
My family lived in upstate New York until I was almost four-years-old. I don’t remember much about my life there other than living in a split-level house on a gravel road in a one-street neighborhood, complete with a pond that would ice over in the winter in our backyard and cows across the street. I do, however, have a vivid recollection of my dad teaching me how to ride my first bike. I can still picture getting my balance on the two wheels on our concrete driveway, initiating my first pedal strokes to propel the bike forward toward the street and taking a sharp right turn. In other words, I remember my first crash on my bike. There is a fear that comes along with your dad letting go of the back seat and setting you off on your own, but at the same time, and exhilarating rush of confidence that you did it. The crashes came – and I am sure there were many on that old dirt road – but the road rash was worn with pride when I could tell my friends about my adventures and where the bike took me.
We moved to Georgia soon after to a town that now has over 90 miles of golf cart and bicycle paths. What a perfect place and time for a kid to grow up. My neighborhood girlfriends and I would ride our bikes about 2 miles to our school via bicycle path. On the way home, we would stop at my grandparents’ house for Pepperidge Farm cookies that my Nana always kept in the vegetable bin in her refrigerator, then we would pop over to my friend’s grandma’s house to get round two of snacks before peddling the rest of the way home. We would ride to playgrounds and cut trails in the woods to go “off-roading.” There was such freedom and adventure to be had on our old banana seat bikes.
While my oldest daughter begrudgingly agrees to go on bikes ride with me now – ahh, the joy of teenage personalities – I still catch a smile sneaking its way on to her face when I glance over my shoulder once we start peddling. No matter what age, riding a bike can bring out that child-like joy and awe that we can propel ourselves to unknown destinations and back again, even if it is for only a short period of time. Sometimes our overcommitted, technology-driven busy lives make us forget the true joy that can be found when we take the time to go for a bike ride.
My youngest daughter was gifted a Freedom Concepts adaptive bicycle for Christmas by an incredible charity when she was almost 3-years-old. She had not learned how to walk independently at that time because of neurogenetic condition limitations, but she instantly took to the three-wheeled bicycle. Her body, which prevented her from being independent due to the disorder, suddenly had the ability to move on its own accord. She experienced a freedom like never before on her bike. To this day, we are convinced she learned how to walk because of what her bike taught her, not only reciprocal movement but having the ability to move oneself without relying on others help is one of the most motivating incentives. For her, the bike truly was and still is her most precious gift.
The gift of freedom, the gift of independence, and for many, the gift of opportunity and life… that is what a bicycle can give to a child or adult. This Christmas, instead of gadgets, iPads, and phones, why not consider giving someone a bike or helping contribute to one? If you don’t have someone special to buy for, perhaps consider donating or getting involved with organizations like Trips for Kids, PeopleforBikes and •••. To learn more about these great organizations that help inspire everyone from inner-city children to women to discover a love of bikes and the opportunities that riding a bike can give, visit PEARL iZUMi’s “We Support” page.