Jul 9, 2010

Ode to a (Borrowed) Balance Bike

What a difference a balance bike makes! Last fall my three year old daughter pedaled to school every day, on a hand-me-down bike with streamers and training wheels. All of her friends still slumped down lazily in strollers (don't get me started...)--but not my girl...she was determined, energetic, and justifiably proud. Fast forward six months or so.

Now everyone was four, the weather was nice again, their little legs had gotten stronger (or their younger siblings had aged out of bjorns and needed the strollers themselves)--and all of these pals showed up at school on these little wooden balance bikes. It just didn't seem fair. She was still doing that terrible uphill pedal move necessary with training wheels--my open hand was never far from the small of her back, so I could give her the little jolts necessary to heave her over sidewalk cracks, curb cuts, patches of weeds--and all these little former slugs were on these lightning quick bikes, flashing by, coasting, having a ball.

I'm ashamed to admit that pick-up became a very emotional time for both of us. She'd pedal, hunched over her handlebars, crying, while teems of children swooped circles around her, saying 'helpful' things like just tell your mom to get you one of these!, or 'tactful' things like my mom told me not to make fun of you for having those things (indicating the training wheels. or maybe even the pedals).


And it brought up all sorts of feelings of inadequacy as a mother and poorness for me. I have two older kids and honestly, this was the first time I felt peer-pressure about one of my kids having some must-have item. I started to pick her up at off-times, we'd find new blocks to walk/wheel down. Anything to avoid the horror.

I had priced the bikes out and they were around $80. We just don't spend that kind of money on our children, especially on our youngest (I know, that's terrible, but it's our reality). There'd be no younger siblings to use it when she was done and if she followed in her older siblings' footsteps, she'd be on a 'real' bike by fall. We might only have it for one season. It just didn't make good fiscal sense.

So I called my pal who owns a consignment shop and asked her to be on the lookout for one of these babies, and--glory be--it turns out her own middle child was 'finished' with his, and her baby wouldn't be needing it anytime soon. She said we could have it in the meantime.

So we got ourselves a balance bike, on loan. And it's changed everything.

It makes so much sense, it's hard to believe anyone ever thought training wheels on a bike with pedals made sense for young kids. No one really needs to learn to pedal, EVERYONE needs to learn to balance. Why not tackle the balance first, then add in the pedals?

My daughter zips around the neighborhood now, lightning fast, thrilled beyond belief. If I'd known how transforming it would be I would have plunked the money down sooner. I can't recommend it enough. I should say here that we did try to 'make' a balance bike by having the cranks removed from our tiniest bike, but the seat was still too high. This thing's brilliant; the smoothest, most graceful ride around. It's one of the few 'new-and-improved' contraptions for kids these days that is an absolute improvement. It actually feels like someone invented something new for a change--rather than just adding bells and whistles to something tried and true.

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