At four and a quarter, Idara is finding new ways to break my heart. We were at an (outdoor!) Thanksgiving gathering at a nearby campground and she and her cousins were riding their bikes around the loop. Idara can’t pedal so she was just using her feet to push herself on the uphill part and then coasting with her legs out to the sides on the downhill part. Even though her cousins were lapping her over and over, Idara’s grin was just as big as theirs. It was the kind of thing that would make you feel bad for a kid, if only they realized what was going on.
Later, Idara made clear that she knew what was going on. She asked me: “Were you ever embarrassed because everyone else knew how to pedal their bikes but you had to push?” Like I said, heartbreak. That Idara would ever look to others and think herself inadequate unearthed a sadness from my childhood that I’d long since papered over.
I’ve never wanted for my parents’ love, but I can recall an endless stream of feelings of inadequacies brought on by comparisons with my peers. Other kids were smarter, better-looking, richer, and faster. They had more girlfriends and got better grades and went to more prestigious colleges.
If one of the endless questions of childhood and adolescence is, “Am I good enough?” Then the endless answer is, “Not by a mile.” Eventually I grew out of it. I’m still not smarter or better-looking or richer or faster, but it doesn’t bother me like it used to.
Of course, Idara hasn’t grown out of it, and it’ll be years and years before she does. Thankfully the fact that she spoke up about it in this moment gave me an opportunity to try to speed up that process. I replied: “You know, you’re learning to ride a bike a lot earlier than I ever did. I’m pretty good at riding a bike now, but it took me a while. It’ll take you a while, too, and you should not feel embarrassed about that.”1
Even amidst Idara’s embarrassment, she was smiling and trying and learning. She pedaled a few stretches with her cousins that day, and the next day we hopped the fence at a nearby school so Idara could ride around in circles in their paved play area. She was really riding now, pedaling so far and fast on her tiny 12” bicycle that Rachael and I had to jog to keep up. Her grin was twice as wide as it had been the day before, and just in case there was any question, she made it clear: “I am so proud,” she said. And so am I.