Affording my son some degree of independence has been an important part of my approach to childrearing as a single parent.
Through each stage of his emotional development, I wanted Joseph to realize that despite the restrictions foisted upon him by the adults in his life, he could assert some control over his wants and needs.
And what better way to achieve this understanding in a child than through mobility.
Baby walker starts taking him places
When Joseph was less than a year old, he was carried from seat to seat be it a couch, high chair, stroller or car seat. His vantage point — indeed, his awareness of the world — were determined by where someone placed him, a reality born out of necessity.
Eventually, he began crawling and gaining strength in his arms and legs. He may not have been physically prepared to take his first steps alone, but his curious mind was.
Having been a very curious child myself, I was empathetic to his predicament, so I visited a baby store in search of something that could help him determine his own movement. I had no idea what I was looking for; I just had to trust my gut that such a thing for such a purpose did, in fact, exist.
Turning the corner toward the aisle with tricycles, bikes and wagons, I discovered a walker with a circular tray and a padded seat with holes for his legs attached with rods to plastic structure with wheels. Yes, wheels!
After purchasing it, I brought it home to assemble while my intrigued son watched. Once the walker’s assembly was completed, I cleared what amounted to a walkway from room to room as well as space within each room.
The moment of truth arrived after Joseph was carefully placed in the walker and his feet touched the floor.
Was my instinct correct? Would my son make a run for it? Oh, he did … and he loved it!
He would race across the kitchen floor to greet me and others when we came home through the door.
He would wander from room to room in search of hugs, kisses and adventure — on his own terms. And he was so happy!
Bike offers promise for adventure
The walker found a home in the basement when Joseph began walking. As you can imagine, he was powered by an energy source only children who 2, 3 and 4 possess. If only we could harness it, cities could be fueled forever!
He traversed the world with an occasional stumble and eventually with ease. His small legs moved at a jog if I walked too fast, but he kept up and then would bolt ahead at a run when the spirit moved him.
However, he wanted to go at a faster pace, which led to a discussion about purchasing his first bike, another huge step toward independence.
This time, Joseph came with me to the store where we perused the selection of bikes. He selected the ones with bold colors, thick frames and chunky tires and sat upon each to determine which one suited him. He finally found one that was the perfect fit.
At the age of 5, he learned how to ride this bike. The experience was reminiscent of his first steps: falling, getting up, falling, getting up, steadying himself, pedaling, falling, getting back on, steadying himself, pedaling and moving forward.
It took a while for him to become fully comfortable, but eventually, he had the confidence to ride his bike on paths and sidewalks.
When he got older, his cycling trips took him around our small community in Pennsylvania. He explored the borough from one end to the other, going up and down hills, some steep and some shallow, and down long streets. He knew more about the town’s landscape and buildings than I did.
Finding the best bike turned out to be the biggest challenge. He rode a Redline dirt bike I had purchased as a middle-schooler until his legs were too long for and the hard seat became entirely too uncomfortable.
Neighbors donated quite a few adult-sized bikes for Joseph to use. We appreciated their thoughtfulness, but the bikes were not what Joseph had hoped for.
For the first couple jaunts, the bikes were fine, but then the handlebars would detach, the chains would come off, the pedals would break or the bike would just not stop dead in its tracks. A cemetery of unusable bikes has taken residence in our basement.
Joseph’s grandfather has been determined to repair a couple of them, but in the meantime, my son has used my cherry red bike with its whitewall tires. I purchased this beauty years ago after I rented it for a day of cycling at the beach. It provided such a comfortable ride that I had to have it.
And this bike has yet to fail him. Fingers crossed!
Car feels like a tank
For now, Joseph has been content with the mobility his bike and legs can provide, but I know the time is fast approaching when he will want and need to drive.
As a single parent, I won’t have the time to take him places and he will need to go himself.
During the past few weeks, Joseph and I discussed taking him to a vacant parking lot and letting him try his hand at the wheel of my car. He’s 15, and driving lessons and a license are in his future by the time he turns 16.
This past weekend, we decided to go on a hike. I had not been on one for more than a year. My apologies to the wonderful people who have invited to go on one; I should have accepted your invitations. The hike was nearly two hours in the summer heat but it was great to get out and enjoy nature.
When we returned to the parking lot, Joseph suggested taking me up on my offer to drive the car around the lot, which had only a few cars parked along its edges.
I was honestly surprised that he had the energy for such an endeavor, but I indulged him. He took his seat behind the wheel and I joined him in the passenger seat.
He put the key in the ignition.
The car turned on and moved — at 5 to 9 miles per hour, a pace he was comfortable with for his first time driving as was I. Following is some of our dialogue from his first lesson of essentially driving big circles around the parking lot:
“I am driving a car.”
“Joseph is driving a car for the first time. Be careful how far over you’re moving. You don’t want to get too close to a pole.”
“It’s getting too tight.”
“Actually, you’re doing fine. You’re just getting closer to the sides of the parking lot.”
“All it takes is one touch of the gas pedal and then you go all the way around.”
“What did you say about the weight?”
“You can feel the weight of the car. Because when you put that tiny tap on the gas and don’t stop until you put your foot on the break. All that momentum. It’s kind of like driving a tank, but not a tank at all.”
“It’s like driving a little tank, a tiny tank.”
“Ohhhh … “
“Just pay attention. Pay attention.”
“I keep worrying that someone is pop out there and just crash into the car.”
“Well, this is the thing. Somebody coming into the parking lot at this stage has the right of way. You don’t. Right of way, what does that mean?”
“It means they get to go first.”
“They get to go first.”
“Now we turn, turn, turn. Should I go a little bit faster?”
“No, going less than 10 miles per hour is fine for your first time. … You’re going just a tad faster now. Slow down. Slow down. OK, let’s do a slow brake. Press slowly down on the brake. … See how nice that is?”
“OK. Wait, is there some gas moving this car? Because we are not on an incline at all.”
“I don’t know. Maybe, there is. … Go slow on the brake. We don’t have to slam on the brake unless it’s critical.”
“We are picking up some speed now. “
“You don’t need to go fast.”
“My foot’s not even on the gas pedal.”
“Now I’m wondering that it must be something automatic.”
“Maybe I should park it.”
“You want to park it?”
His first experience behind the wheel definitely revealed a caution an unpracticed driver should have. However, I expect his comfort will increase over time.
Being more mobile has helped Joseph develop the self-confidence he has needed as he matures. And overcoming the accompanying anxiety has been a challenge but one he has taken on courageously.
Sometimes we forget as single parents how much strength it takes for our children to do something on their own. They have been under our protection and guidance, reassured by our presence whether we feel confident or not in our decisions.
Eventually, they have to take their steps toward independence and it can be scary for them. The love and support we give our children on their journey are so very critical. The self-confidence we help them build will enable them to be productive and constructive members of society.
So, single parents, be strong and know how important your work is in raising the next generation.
If you are looking for some information on how to teach your child to drive and how to survive it, visit the National Safety Council.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.