“How about we try cycling without your stabilisers?” I ask Hannah.
She peers at me over the top of her glasses and looks at me like I’m mad.
“I won’t need them when I’m SIX Dad,” she explains. That’s in six months time. But I know she’s ready now. Only it’s not me that needs to believe it.
“How about we do some riding with stabilisers first. Then, if you feel like it, we can take them off?” I plead, keen to break through months of procrastination, on her part and mine.
She eyes me with suspicion, sensing my all too obvious agenda, then lays down some conditions.
“You cannot take them off unless I say so. OK? And then you must hold onto me because I have to balance and might fall off. So you’ve got to hold on and can only take them off when I want. And you mustn’t let go. OK Dad?”
Of course it’s OK. Except for the last bit. But I can’t tell her that. Not yet.
I do tell her she can do it though. She needs to believe that. As we get her bike out I try to allay her fears and wonder if talking about falling off it makes it more likely. Hannah puts on a thick coat, trousers and gloves to protect her in what I hope is the unlikely event.
“Can you look after these Dad,” she says matter of a factly handing me her glasses.
“You’re not going to fall off,” I say, hoping to instill some self belief. But I still put her glasses in my pocket. Just in case.
Out in the school playground, with stabilisers adjusted six inches off the ground, we practice balancing, starting, steering and stopping. I can see she has great skills but I’m not sure she does; her stabilisers barely touch the ground, but she remains very attached to them. A physical manifestation of her inner uncertainty, part safety net, part restriction, protecting her and limiting her freedom.
Round and round and round the playground she whizzes.
“Who’s steering the bike?” I ask as she passes.
“I am,” she shouts.
“Who’s balancing it?” I ask as she passes again.
Third time round she glides to a beautiful stop right in front of me. “And who’s stopping it?”
“I am,” she smiles.
“So who’s in charge then?”
As she looks up at me I can almost see her wondering if she can do it now, wondering if I mean her. I’m reminded how sometimes we need someone we trust to show belief in us before we risk believing in ourselves, how hard it can be to jettison life’s stabilisers, how powerful beliefs can be in holding us back.
“You know you’re already cycling,” I tell her. “The stabilisers didn’t touch the ground.”
We stand and look at the little yellow wheels.
“I know,” she says.
“Shall we?” I ask. And wait.
She stares for a moment at the wheels spinning uselessly in the air, then looks at me.
“But you must hold me.”
Now I’m nervous. What if she does fall? And I don’t catch her. And we go back to square one. What will that do for her confidence? I’m tempted to hold the bike. Just in case. But what does that say about my belief in her? And how will that help her believe in herself?
“How about I walk beside with you with a hand under the saddle and catch you if you wobble?”
She looks nervous but to my surprise agrees, “OK”
We push the stabilisers up and out of the way but leave them attached…. just in case things don’t work out. I think it’s good she can see a way back… if we need it.
Then suddenly we’re off, my hand under the saddle, walking at first, then as the pace picks up a gentle jog; and suddenly I’m out of breath and left behind. I arrive at the other side of the playground a moment after she stops. She looks at me accusingly, “Did you let go?”
I smile, “If you want me to hold on you’ll have to go slower.”
She smiles back. “I think we can take them off now Dad.”
When I get them off, Hannah takes them and with great ceremony pretends to put them in the bin.
“Dad,” she muses as she wheels the bike home, “It’s kind of scary and exciting without stabilisers.” She wrestles to keep the now wobbly bike under control and on the pavement. “Can we go to Morecambe and do some more tomorrow?”