Like Riding A Bike
My first bike was hot pink with purple specks and no training wheels. I was decked out in protective gear and refused to use the brakes. My dad had a bucket of sidewalk chalk he'd use to draw paths for me to follow in empty parking lots at the park. My mom had a moment of panic each time I began to slow down (or not), wobble a bit, then throw myself off the seat, body and bike landing on the ground, typically -miraculously- without major harm.
I'd have another go and survive another desperate leap. Sometimes my dad would bring me to the top of a grass hill, and I'd ride down, feeling equally thrilled and terrified, picking up speed and contemplating how the journey would end, hopping off in some type of panic at the last possible moment. And I'd pick up my bike, fix the twisted handlebars and head back up the hill. My dad would ask why I refused to brake and would repeatedly try to explain why and how I should dismount in a safer way. I guess he didn't get too mad because I don't remember crying in these situations, and he continued to snap on the helmet that made preschool me resemble a mushroom. (He used to say he'd teach me to rollerblade using the same method, but fortunately for both of us, that never happened).
• • •
Looking back, I'm surprised by how confident I was when I was young. While I was scared of bizarre stuff like getting locked in the mall after closing time, overall, I was pretty self-assured. The world (mean preschool teachers, heights, etc.) was often scary, but fear didn't cause me to doubt myself; Young Me had incredible self-esteem. I didn't worry about what other kids were doing- I'd smoosh myself up by the window with my Little House books on the bus home from school and read because that's what I wanted to do. I didn't really care about the games the other kids played, or feel obligated to join - I don't recall a pressing desire to fit in, maybe due to being shy.
I did my own thing, and was immersed in the stuff I found important or really liked (namely reading, soccer, and Crayola crayons). I wanted to get better at these things and learn more about them. I even did the stuff I didn't want to do (like multiplication flashcards) because it was supposed to help me, in the long run, be the best that I could be. Much of this is due to the guidance of my parents. They told me how important learning was, and how important it was to be a kind person. That I should care about reading and writing, and every morning as I headed to school, my mom said "Be good," so I didn't really worry. I knew I was trying my best to be good. And I expected "good" of myself.
I had (and still have) this little figurine from my grandfather's house of a young girl standing atop a podium, hands on hips, a look of poised smugness on her face, medal around her neck. I loved that. She'd won. Confident, satisfied, kinda sassy, on top of the world. I wanted to be that. I was going to be that.
Young me had no fashion sense, was (sometimes painfully) quiet, and was certainly a stubborn brat at times, but I often think of that young girl with admiration. Sure she was innocent and life was simple and easy, but I think she was on to something.
It's not that she was never scared, it's that her belief that she was capable of anything and that everything in the world was hers if she dared to take it was bigger than those fears.
(weird) (logic flawed, but sentiment maybe not?)
• • •
I had become a bonafide bike pro by second grade, so when my mom asked if I should be wearing knee pads as my dad and I headed out for a ride on Easter Sunday, he responded: "Don't worry, she never falls."
...Obviously, I wiped out fantastically a few hours later.
As in, flipped over the handlebars, busted lip, scraped up nose, knee, and elbow bleeding, a lot of literal blubbering, a guardian angel of a park ranger provided us with a ride back in a golf cart. I got home, freaked out my mom by my appearance (blood and tears, probably lots of snot), and cried curled up on the floor for many hours- not really sure why, but probably because I was convinced I was experiencing the worst and most scary thing ever, so sobbing on the ground seemed right. It was terrifying and confusing and painful.
A girl at school told me it looked like my healing, bright pink nose was on fire. Scabs grace my face and limbs in my First Communion photos. I proudly rode eight miles with my dad just a week or two after the worst and most scary thing ever - and I wasn't even scared!!! I was basically a hero. Disaster couldn't keep me down. I had guts.
• • •
Now, dealing with fear, setbacks, self-doubt, and various forms of heartbreak in the months after graduating from college, it seems like this moment in time for me is the worst and most scary thing ever. And as much as I don't want to admit to it, I've done my fair share of curled up crying, because sometimes I don't know what else to do, and sometimes it's hard not to indulge in that drama when you're scared and confused and hurting. Sometimes I feel like my bravery reserves have seeped out of me- perhaps through tears? I find myself longing for the spunk of the girl with the choppy bangs and enough reckless persistence to get back on the bike after meeting the concrete, and am convinced she's gone, probably because I've let her down, even referring to her as "her," because she feels far away and separate from my current self. She wouldn't look up to current me.
Yet when I find myself getting outside for a run when I'd rather wallow, or publish a post I'm nervous to share, or editing my resume for the thirtieth time, or taking a quiet moment to contemplate what I want and need, and I realize that that brave girl is still there. Here. She's still here, tackling fears slightly different than stopping a bike, but still jumping into the unknown on her own terms, still returning to those things that challenge and try her, still hoping to be better, still trying to be good.
I was never gone, I just grew a bit, so courage and confidence look and feel different now. It's a little quieter, the slightest bit wiser, but understanding of the value of maintaining a bit of youthful optimism in a world that's increasingly complex, upsetting, and at times seemingly hopeless.
It's still about channeling genuine self-love, believing the best of yourself and the universe, and getting up to give it another go.
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