Monday, August 31, 2009

A Four Letter Word

Sarah achieved a (somewhat) important milestone today. She rode her bike to school and back by herself.

This is something that I've been advocating for and trying to see happen for many months now and I know it is something that Sarah herself has been wanting to try. But timing, preparation, and parental fear has put roadblocks in the way before now. But, Lynda was coming around to the idea as summer ended and so it was resolved that we would let Sarah do this.

But, you can't just throw a kid on a bike and let them go, right? It's never quite that simple. Oh no. There were many different things to consider and prepare for before Monday morning came around and everyone set off.

Over the preceding weekend, we had to review Sarah's bicycle kit and make sure that she had everything she needed for successful biking. After further review, the bike was in good shape and the tires were properly inflated. But she didn't have a bike lock. So, off we went to find a suitable lock. But once we got to the store, which variety should we get? The u-shaped bolt locks that were all the rage when I was biking around my college campus were not longer available. (Something about the ease of picking the lock with a Bic as the story went.) And besides, Sarah's bike would probably tip over if she tried to hang one of those steel horseshoes off of her petite bike frame. So, it was a cable type lock.

But there are still choices to be made within the cable lock genre. Is the lock opened with a standard key? Or maybe just joined together with a regular old combination lock with a spinning number wheel? Or perhaps you could use the number key type that is popular on suitcase clasps? Those are all fine, but I worried that putting an additional burden of making Sarah learn a combination number or something like that would stress her out on her first attempt at this and, alone at the school, she'd freeze and not lock her bike properly.

Luckily, there was another cable lock option--a code based on letters rather than numbers. Given Sarah's comfort with reading, we both agreed that this was the best option. We chose a cable lock with a rotating 4-letter code mechanism (think the Dan Brown codex thingy that was in the Tom Hanks version of The DaVinci Code). But WHAT four-letter word to choose?

Predictably, after a bit of discussion, we chose something from the Harry Potter universe. In deference to overall security, I won't be revealing the word here, but I will reveal something funny about the word experience later.

So, now we've got a lock and I mounted the lock on the bike. But all was not still right. She and I had to practice getting to the school, because the route we normally take on the weekends would not be an option on school mornings. We wanted to make sure she had access to the crossing guards at the busy intersections. So I let her lead the way, watching her quietly from behind. I was happy to see that she rode cautiously, slowing down as she approached driveways, making sure to stop at neighborhood street crossings, and all the right moves. When we got to the school, I let her lock up the bike without my help to see if she knew how to position the tire and maneuver the cable through the wheel, connecting it to the rack. But . . . what about her helmet? Was she going to carry that in her bookbag with her? NO! So, how to lock that to the cable as well?

Again, I stayed quiet and let her figure it out. When she was locked, I inspected her work and made sure that she passed the cable though the helmet strap such that unclasping the chin strap kept the helmet locked in place. Finally she had it all figured out and I declared it a success. But before we turned for home, she noticed a funny thing. When she had scrambled her combination, it had landed on the word FAIL. She thought that was so funny, she pledged to turn her lock to FAIL ever time she locked it, as a verbal deterrent to would-be thieves.


This morning, at the appropriate time, Grace and Hannah loaded in the van and Sarah jumped on her bike. She set off along the route that we had traced out the previous day. The morning traffic was suitably light and I let her get a bit ahead. Then the rest of us followed a bit behind, driving slowly in the van and trying to remain unobtrusive. By necessity, we got ahead of her at one point, but I turned onto a side street and waited to see her pass on the other side of the street. Even the loud siren of an ambulance didn't put her off her stride and she arrived at the crosswalk at the corner of the school property, when the crossing guard was there and waiting. She parked, locked, and got ready while I dropped Grace off at the sidewalk.

She did great and I was glad. I heard from Lynda that she also made it home with no incident this afternoon and was even there a bit before Lynda arrived with Grace from 1st grade and Hannah from the daycare. (Sarah also has a house key to let herself in. And she even remembered to lock the door behind her when she got in.) I'm happy that she's getting time to do this before the weather turns cold and the biking is no longer an option.

It's the first step of independence and away from us. But she handled the first day well.


The Tea Lady said...

Congratulations to all of you! This is a very exciting time and I am so happy it went well!

Papa said...

Such a grown up girl!