Almanac Life: Eloise Learns to Ride


I bought Eloise’s first bike two Christmases ago. A cute, pink-frame, white-tyre mini-BMX, with training wheels and Barbie helmet.


She wasn’t too keen at first.


The bike spent the summer leaning against the garage wall, alongside the boogie board she did want but was always left on the sand or in the car boot during trips to Nanny and Grandfather’s in Warrnambool.


Grade Prep started and eventually we got into a routine of alternate weekends in Reservoir, with Sunday mornings given to sleep-ins, pancakes and bike riding lessons.


Eloise bumped and wobbled back and forth along the drive-way, nervous at first, in time growing in confidence.


But progress stalled. Watching cousins zoom devil-may-care around on their bikes made her self-conscious.


For a while, Eloise refused to ride and the bike stayed in the garage again. No manner of Saturday night pizza or movies and ice-cream bribes could seduce her.


I let the issue sit.


But when I ran over the back wheel resulting in expensive repairs, I put the heavy word on: Get back on the bike or it goes.


We were back out on the driveway. The training wheels came off. And here I was shuffling along behind her, holding the seat and handlebars, lower back and hip screaming.


Pedal faster and you won’t fall off, Bub!


And for a while it looked like we were going to make it. But progress stalled again with Eloise refusing to ride without me hanging on.


I sought advice.


Sister Rebecca, she who knows all, said riding on grass worked for her girls. However, the ground at Edwardes Lake was too bumpy. Chris from the local cyclery suggested I take the pedals off and for a few weeks Eloise propelled herself along with her feet.


But we were no closer to her gaining confidence and balance and riding without assistance. I had a few Bad Father moments and she chucked the odd tantrum.


But we persisted.


And a few Sunday mornings ago, unexpectedly, without thinking, or calling for me to watch her, or hold the back of her seat, Eloise quietly walked to her bike, popped her little bum on the saddle and rode for five metres. She would’ve managed further if I hadn’t screamed in surprise and triumph, breaking her focus.


No matter how we tried, she couldn’t repeat the effort. Even banning myself from watching didn’t help. The moment was lost. It was infuriating.  We were like frustrated climbers trapped at base camp by bad weather.


But hope springs eternal, as the saying goes.


One night last week, I was cooking dinner when Eloise called from outside.


Daddy! Look at me!


I stood at the front door as she rode back and forth up the driveway, beaming proudly.


I can do it, Daddy!


Like her first breath and first day of school, this was a deeper water moment. A little victory.

You’re a legend, Bub.


Now I can’t get her off it.


When I was a kid, we road our bikes everywhere. To school, footy training, the beach. I can still feel my thighs and throat burning as I struggled for home against God’s wrath, Ash Wednesday 1983, Year 7.


Like learning to swim, mowing the lawns, washing the car, scrubbing the butcher shop floor, learning to ride was part of my childhood journey. As it is for Eloise.




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  1. John Butler says

    Starkers, Eloise is a long way ahead of me. I never really learnt to ride until my 40’s.

    But it is good fun when you do. :)

  2. Brilliant!
    Most parents will readily identify with this piece, Starkers.
    And the eternal question is: who is the most joyous/relieved/proud when the young one is finally away…the parent or the child?

  3. Fantastic words.
    Persistence and determination , especially once the spotlight had dimmed.

    You’ve reminded me of one of mine who was a touch slower than his siblings… bribery worked. He was desperate for a particular Batman costume (I hate paying for dressup costumes!!) And so the exchange was made , He mastered the two wheeler and the costume was bought.

    I’m in hilly Balmain at the moment and I’ve noticed kids everywhere on bikes off to school.. conquering some really steep inclines too!!! It’s great to see

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Not surprised, JB. Not surprised.

    Smoke, she loves the bike now. So good to see her confident, having fun and doing exercise. Swimming lessons are another story for another day. She has my swimming talent. None.

    Thanks Kate, hope you’re safe up there.

  5. Wait until Eloise gets behind the steering wheel of a car for the first time…and you are the instructor in the passenger seat. I assure you, no manual has ever been written to help you with that particular step.

  6. Starkers, if you know us Butlers, we’re not inclined to rush into things. :)

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Love the story, Andrew, especially the eventual triumph – it’s analogous to the old quote “more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than ninety-nine who have no need of repentance.”
    I’m reliving the experience at present, as we have grandsons aged 6 (almost 7) and 5 living with us temporarily. The delight of my week is hauling master six’s bike on my handle bars to the school so that we can ride home together. The younger fellow who is fearless in most respects can’t be persuaded to remove the trainer wheels yet, even though he’ll happily ride two kilometres with an impressive awareness of traffic and cars reversing out of driveways.

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