Daughter conquers bike, fear of failure

Two years ago, Santa had left our daughter a sparkling two-wheeler beside the Christmas tree.

  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Two years ago, Santa had left our daughter, Aria, a sparkling two-wheeler beside the Christmas tree. It was called Little Miss Matched, painted with every bright color you can imagine. It was perfectly suited for Aria’s aesthetic and personality. Santa knocked it out of the park.

During Christmas break that year, I took Aria out to learn to ride. We didn’t have much luck — Aria puts enormous pressure on herself to do all things perfectly and can grow frustrated when that doesn’t happen right away. Whether out of embarrassment, pressure or expectations, she hates to fail. Soon, we decided to park the bike in the garage for another day.

And there it sat. Aria preferred her scooter and, over time, had honed her balancing skills there. Every once in a while, I’d tell her she probably would be better at her bike if she ever wanted to try again.

Finally, it happened — two years later.

On her unexpected days off from school in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, Aria told me she wanted to try again. So, I pumped up the tires on Little Miss Matched, strapped a helmet onto her head and rolled her out to the alley behind our home. 

It was a shaky start, with sweat raining down my face as I, hunched over, held her up and ran her up and down the alley. Whenever I let go, the bike tilted over. Aria’s frustration grew — the bike just didn’t want her to ride it, she said.

We talked about failure — that you actually learn more from failing than you do from succeeding. We talked about expectations — she never had ridden a bike, so why would she expect to be able to do it? And we talked about blocking out distractions — so what if younger kids already know how? We’re not worried about them. This isn’t a race.

This time, instead of retreating, she hopped back on. Back and forth, more sweat, more awkward tilting, more frustration. The sun set, and the mosquitoes came out. But she wanted to keep going. She failed (learned) and failed (learned) and failed (learned) … until she learned!

She started coasting by herself. Then after a few more alley lengths, she started pedaling.

The next day, we ventured out of the alley and into the neighborhood. We conquered 90-degree turns, stopping and starting, and going up and down a hill. By day three, she was zooming everywhere.

Here’s the thing: I know exactly where she got her fear of failure. In our family, the inside joke is Aria is my twin. We look alike (with our big, round heads), we’re both stubborn and take enormous pride in being excellent (read: perfect) at something. We don’t like to lose; it makes us uncomfortable when we can’t do something.

But that mentality failed Aria two years ago — paralyzing her ability to learn a new skill. She hadn’t failed at learning to ride a bike. She simply failed at failing.

I don’t know if Aria’s bike-riding journey carries the same significance as it does for me. My hope is that she understands her persistence ultimately led to her success — and that failing isn’t the same as failure.



Michael Eng

As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.

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