Julie Green: The Other Side of the Coin


The Day My Son Did the Most Ordinary, Impossible Thing

Just keep pedalling

The Day My Son Did the Most Ordinary, Impossible Thing

Later this afternoon I am headed to pick up a bike rack for the car. And I'm publicly sharing this mundane errand, why? Because if someone had told me six months ago that we'd need a bike rack fitted to our car, I would have snort-laughed. Bicycle rides - as a family? Impossible. That's something other families do. It's an activity (one of many) I had mentally scratched off as being unrealistic or unachievable for us.

Ever since my son was diagnosed with autism almost five years ago, much of my energy has been devoted to writing and rewriting my family's script. If I wanted to move forward and truly accept him and his difference, I had to take that mental image I had of what our life together would look like, and rip it to shreds. Start from scratch.

And I had pretty done just that when my son unexpectedly won the big raffle prize at his school's spring fair: a shiny new bike. I remember seeing the bike in the main office in the weeks leading up to the fair. All the kids were drooling over it. When my little guy won, they envied him.

The irony was too cruel: he couldn't even ride.

For years I watched much younger neighbour kids race up and down our street with gleeful abandon, resigned to the fact that this was not my son's fate. We had tried to teach him before, and the results were painful to watch. He lacked the coordination to pedal consistently, much less the concentration to keep the handlebars centred.

Then, on a whim (and the shiny new bike gathering dust in my basement) I signed him up to private lessons. After the previous experience, I wasn't expecting much. It probably wouldn't work out. I told myself it didn't matter, and I steeled myself against a disappointment that had come to feel almost inevitable. Any lingering hope I felt was buried deep, lest its glimmer be snuffed out by failure.

After the second lesson, the instructor took off the training wheels - a move I deemed reckless and premature. My son was already nervous; all it would take was one fall for him to swear off biking for the rest of the summer. If you don't want to fall, she told him, you'll have to keep pedalling.

Then she let go.

My heart in my throat, I leapt to my feet in the middle of the empty park. My son pedalled as he'd been told. He didn't fall and he didn't stop.

That day he did the most ordinary, impossible thing because he was ready, even if I wasn't. Although my heart felt like it would burst from pride, it also sank a little: somewhere along the line, I had stopped believing in all the things he could do and instead got hung up on all the things he couldn't do. I had written him off, my amazing, not-so-little-anymore boy.

And now I'm having a bike rack fitted to the car so we can ride together as a family because nothing is ever mundane or impossible.

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Image: Rob Bertholf