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  • Writer's pictureEmily Echols

Just Like Riding a Bike (in Middle School)

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

Photo by Tiffany Nutt on Unsplash

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike as a kid. People always ask me how that’s possible. I did have a bike when I was a kid. It was pink. I remember riding it around with the training wheels when we brought it home from the store. I didn’t show much interest in it until a little boy on the cul-de-sac was riding around without his training wheels. He was younger than me and I wasn’t a baby. So I asked my dad to take my training wheels off. He did, then asked if I wanted to ride. I tried to but didn’t get it instantly, didn’t show much interest in practicing, and then everyone forgot I never actually learned.

When I was a little older, friends started asking me to go for bike rides. I always got inexplicable stomachaches or said I just didn’t like to ride bikes. When I was in middle school, my brother figured it out and offered to help me learn how to ride but by then it was mortifying to admit I couldn’t ride a bike. So I lied. I can ride a bike. I just don’t like to and my stomach hurts.

Briefly in college, I dated a guy who tried to teach me how to ride. I fell a lot, once badly enough that I decided to walk my bike all the way back home. Someone pulled over in their car to ask me if I had crashed. Was my bike OK? Was I? I wasn’t bleeding badly but I felt dumb and afraid of falling again. I hated the look on the driver’s face when I explained I was just learning how to ride. I stopped dating the guy and lost interest in trying to ride a bike. I thought I’d missed my chance and my experience seemed to confirm it. I couldn’t learn to ride a bike as an adult. I would always be the girl who never learned to ride a bike.

For a while now, my husband has been suggesting I get an adult tricycle so we can go on family bike rides. I said I was interested in trying to learn again. We bought a bike and by my second time practicing I was riding on my own. I’m not sure what’s different than when I was twenty-two years old but it felt a lot easier this time.

When we went out to practice recently, the middle school was letting out and all the middle school students were walking home to the towers. I was having trouble getting balanced to start and, briefly, for just a moment, my stomach dropped and I felt stared at. I was in middle school again. Someone threw gum in my hair and I wasn’t cool enough to wear my overalls to school. I didn’t want the middle schoolers to see me trying to ride a bike, to see me fall down. They might laugh at me.

It lasted just a moment. I had to remind myself that I was a grown-ass woman and I didn’t care what middle schoolers thought of me. I’m not the girl people are throwing gum at anymore. I don’t have to be the girl who can’t ride a bike. Nothing was keeping me there but me.

A while back, someone at PWOC was giving a talk about friendship and she said inside all of us is a scared middle school girl. We try so hard to get rid of her but in the core of ourselves there is a middle school girl who is still scared of what people think of her, afraid no one will invite her to the party, worried someone is making rude comments about her hair. I know I’m too old and married and mom-ed (totally a word) to feel that insecure and dumb about something but there it is. There are times I still feel like that lost sixth grader standing against the wall at the dance, worried that her denim skort is too short and not short enough.

I’m convinced that the shame of not being able to ride a bike is what kept me from riding a bike for all those years. I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t ride and I didn’t want anyone to see me trying to learn. There’s no reason either of those things should have felt shameful but they did. I got stuck in middle school, not letting go of that feeling way past the point where it made any sense at all.

Is there something keeping you in middle school? You don’t have to stay there. You don’t have to continue to define yourself in a way that makes you feel stuck. You can wear the overalls that you think are too cool for you because, honestly, nothing is too cool for you. You can try to ride a bike and fall down and get back up again. No one is throwing gum at you, friend. We’re all going to cheer your progress and celebrate your successes. You are not who you were in middle school and thank God, no one else is either. You don’t have to stay stuck.

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