How my 7-year-old taught me to ride a bike... metaphorically.

Our 7 year old has a way of, let's say, amping things up. Each event has to be a bit more dangerous than others. In fact, he is the reason that the City of Salem Parks and Recreation cut all the lower branches out of the trees at Longwood Park. He is a skateboarder and a tree climber. He is, indeed, an outdoor artist.

On one particular day, again at the same park, Parker decided to take his bike for a ride around the paved area - yes, the one that now says "No bikes." This was his first solo attempt at going downhill. He never lacks in confidence and I often allow him to stretch those young "wings". I just keep reminding myself that one day he will fly from our nest, whether we have prepared him or not. On this unforgettable day, Parker convinced me that he would have not trouble rounding the curves and taking the hills on his new birthday bike.

He shot away from me in a blink, topping the hill and then pumping into the downhill slope. We had practiced this many times in his flat driveway. The turns, the bends, the pedals, no problems. The trouble came as I realized that his new "big boy" bike didn't have the back pedal brakes like his old bike. This one had the squeezy handle type of brakes. Nearly going 45 miles an hour, I had to run with all of my might to catch him, yelling the whole time, "Squeeze the brakes! Squeeze the brakes!"

Parker's triumphant lap came to an abrupt end when he slammed into a walkway sign. He realized he was out of control and swerved to crash in the grass, but someone had put up a sign right in his way. He flew over the top of the bike, hit the pole and then slid down right on top of the rubble. (BTW - I haven't told his mom this story, so don't rat me out.)

Gracefully and still in one piece, he arose from the wreckage yelling, "Papa, why didn't you tell me?" I had let him build up his confidence, I had prepared him for the fall. He knew to head to the grass. But I had not introduced him to the workings of his equipment, his new bicycle and those crazy new brakes. Yes, I know. Know your equipment. Well, he does now.

Deciding to lead a nature club for families has had me reliving this moment over and over again. I will forget the maps, the drinks, the needed materials for the craft, always something. As a family, I can't even remember how many times we lucked out that someone else had an extra diaper or an extra container of round O's cereal. Three years in, we still find that stuff happens. The kind of stuff for which you truly can't prepare: lost contacts, children who step off the path, missing parents, a broken arm.

And yet, these setbacks have not been enough to chase us away from hosting our events. The wonder in child's eyes, the excitement as a two year old and her mom trotting up a snow covered trail to arrive to the cheers of the families who have already made it to the top, the expressions of the families who say they never would have attempted a hike with their family on their own. That is why we continue. Those family enriching, confidence building, crystalline moments are what push us to continue.

Ashley and I are grateful to the understanding families who have helped us along the way. Those families who realize that we are not nature experts, but in fact just a family trying to figure it out. We want to make certain that we have these natural experiences with our family. And the best way to make it happen is to invite someone else along...or if you really want it to happen, try inviting 40 other people. We are growing in confidence. We are becoming natural leaders, and learning by experiences along the way.

This week, we are focusing our website on books that have helped us be better prepared along the way. If you have a moment, we would love to hear from other people about resources that have been a help to you. For more information, check out

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Comment by Chip Donahue on March 2, 2010 at 4:45am
Thanks, Ron. We have enjoyed doing the reviews for books, cds, and events. It is so nice to hear the feedback. I am not the best writer, but I try to pull in stories from our events or our own children's happenings. Thanks so much for mentioning it.
Comment by Ron Swaisgood on March 2, 2010 at 12:09am
Terrific story and learning metaphor, Chip. Your mini-reviews of kids in nature resources (on your KIVA website) are a labor of love too. I am impressed at how much you do and how well you do it. Keep getting on that bicycle built for two--you and Ashley may crash occasionally, but you are moving far down the path.
Comment by Suz Lipman on February 24, 2010 at 9:22am
I love revisiting places in different seasons. Thanks for reminding us of this simple pleasure and great that your experience was so rewarding.
Comment by Chip Donahue on February 24, 2010 at 5:40am
Suz and Debi,
Thank you both for your kind words. To celebrate the return to warmer weathers, we headed back to that same park. Even with snow on the ground and mud EVERYWHERE, the kids took to the rolling hill. We were splashed and thrashed, but wow! What a way to celebrate!
Comment by Suz Lipman on February 23, 2010 at 9:44am
Wow, Chip, This is just beautiful and very moving to me. You've written with so much wisdom and heart about giving kids experiences and tools, to the best of your ability, and forgiving yourself when things are (inevitably) less than perfect. That last really hits on an aspect of our culture, I think, and could be part of the reason people hold back from getting into nature. Yes, we'll forget *something*. (As a scout and group leader, I encountered missing equipment, changes of plans and, yes, broken bones.) But the triumph of the new experience, of stretching and seeing others stretch, as well as knowing the wonder and awe of nature, is so completely worth any hurdles. It's as if some parents need the wings, as well, and need just a bit of your son's spirit. Wonderful that you, and so many here, are inspiring that in others.

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