The training wheels came off Miles’ bike yesterday. It was a hard sell, convincing him it was time he tried to ride without them. The trouble is that he can’t ride with the other two boys on the country roads out here, the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting. In the end we wrestled them out of his hands and he seemed almost excited to give this thing a chance. There were many wobbly moments, followed by many flat-out fall overs. He could not quite grasp the “put your feet down to keep from falling over” piece. Dave tried, using the same method he’d employed with the other kids. I tried, using my best metaphorical language and calm understanding. He was still game to keep trying after failure after failure on the level ground. I’d say he was almost excited about the learning.
Then Chet and Henry rode their bikes down the long, slopey run to the fire pit and Miles wanted to try that. All I could see in my head was the end of that run and Miles crumpled in a heap someplace. I knew it would most likely end poorly so I tried to convince him to stay on level ground. He was having none of that. He wanted to try and in the end I thought that maybe a taste of the wind in his hair and that the advantage of the hill and perpetual motion might win him over regardless of the outcome. And so, I set him on the bike, holding the back of his seat, praying for an absence of broken bones and some small bit of faith that it would end well overall and he set off down the steep grassy hill.
I could not see his face but I hoped it was a moment of exhilaration, a moment of joy, a moment of maybe. I could see the faces of Chet and Henry near the bottom, happy and excited for him to try it, jumping up and down in support, shouting their encouragement….then the swerve, the fear, the handlebars buckling, the braking instinct missing and he steered right into Chet’s bike lying on the ground. He skidded to a sideways stop face planting right into Chet’s idle tires and it was done.
When we all ran up to him he was already in full tearful howl. I checked to make sure he was intact, no ribs broken, all limbs functioning. I checked for bleeding and scrapes and held him close to me as we sat on the ground. His crying was shouting and anger and embarrassment and fear left unchecked, out of the box, full of “I told you so’s” and “why did you make me’s?”
He would not get back on the bike. He kicked it full force and screamed at it and he would not let me offer him any comfort. He would not hear any words of affirmation or encouragement anymore. I told him he needed to try again, that it takes time and practice. He would not hear it. He wanted to be alone and so I let him stay there near the bottom of the hill. When I came back a few minutes later he’d moved to the foot of the steps outside. He was drawing quietly with a rock on the slate stepping stones. I asked if he wanted me to find the sidewalk chalk but he said, “no.” He liked using that rock, he stated. I asked about his drawing and he told me it was of a boy, falling from a bike and that the boy was hurt. I asked if he needed anything and he told me he just wanted to keep drawing and so I left him alone with his work.
A few hours later I got a rejection notice for a piece I’d submitted a while back. I invented stories in my head about what might have happened, how not hearing might be a good sign, how it might mean they’d accepted it and if they accepted it, someplace in my head or heart I’d attached meaning. It meant value, for me, for my writing, for that piece. At the same time I prepared myself for the crash at the bottom of the hill. Before I’d even gotten the rejection notice I was planning for it. Disappointment sucks but planned disappointment might be worse. I’m hedging my emotional bets when I do that, planning for disappointment. I’m trying my best to keep my ego in place, to keep my expectations low so that when the crash comes, and it is bound to come if I put myself out there time after time, I won’t be too badly hurt.
The truth is that rejection hurts regardless of how well I think I might have prepared for it. I do have a choice not to show my work around. I can write all day long, sing praises for my own writing and talk about the book I’m working on but never show it to anyone. That’s safe, training wheels to keep things steady but the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting so submitting my work time after time means that for a while I may have to expect cuts and bruises and the impulse to stop trying altogether. It’s difficult in those moments just after the crash to remember the feeling of riding down that long hill, the blood pumping, the adrenaline coursing, the air in my face, on my hands and white knuckles, the possibility that with time and practice perhaps next time it will end well. I hope that Miles will get back on his bike and try again and I reckon, I may get back on mine.