There’s an old saying that goes: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
I don’t know if that’s true, having never skinned a cat, or seen the need to do so. I’m sure my friends in West Virginia would beg to differ.
Translated into civilized society, the phrase basically means there are numerous ways to do something. My case in point: My children learning how to ride bicycles without training wheels.
The other day, I witnessed a guy – I assume a father – teaching a kid to ride a bike, and caught myself remembering how disparate my experiences were in this matter.
Having only been taught to ride a bicycle once – by my father as a child – I thought his method was the only way. This belief was reinforced when I saw a child being taught how to ride a bike on television – I think it was in a Mentos commercial – using the very same approach.
This apparently popular method includes the following: Put child on bicycle, holding back of the seat. Jog lightly behind them as they pedal, helping to balance the bike by holding the seat steady, all the while promising them you won’t let go. When they start to get the hang of it, you discreetly release your hold of the seat, and they unknowingly ride off by themselves.
When they realize you’ve abandoned them, they then panic and wreck into a mailbox.
That’s precisely how it went when we taught our oldest child how to ride a bike by herself. At that point, I thought that was the only teaching approach that worked.
My youngest two children, though, – to quote my friends in West Virginia – “learned me.”
Our middle child learned to ride a bike in a different, more obstinate manner. He refused to let me help him, despite my insistence for a Mentosesque parenting moment.
“I want to do it myself,” he stubbornly announced after we took the training wheels off. After I tried to reason with him by threatening to spank him if he didn’t let me help, I relented and sidled up to the window to watch him go at it alone. For hours, he got on, fell, then got back on the bike, all the while muttering to himself.
I tried to intervene numerous times only to get his “I want to do it myself” mantra. I respected that – to a point. I sneaked out and watched and listened from behind a nearby car. He wasn’t muttering to himself, I found. He was talking to God.
“God, if you help me ride this bike, I swear I won’t try to flush any more jackets down the toilet,” he said through a trembling voice as he once again lifted his leg as high as he could to straddle the bike.
As daylight disappeared over the treetops, God answered, and he peddled successfully down the driveway. Overjoyed by his accomplishment, he turned back, screamed, “Daddy, I did it! I can ride a bike by myself!,” then careened into the mailbox.
Our youngest child also took a different route. After seeing his older brother gleefully riding a bike by himself, this tiny guy grabbed the smallest bike we have – a miniature chopper that appears mechanically impossible to maneuver – and just started riding it. He struggled for about three minutes at most. The kid couldn’t pronounce his middle name but could instantly ride a bike without training wheels.
It happened so fast, I didn’t even have an opportunity to insert myself into the process for a father/son Mentos moment. Until, that is, he crashed into the mailbox.
Different approaches – yes. But same results. I was “learned.”