fietsen‘Mom, can we go by bike, please?’ My youngest girl has just learnt to ride her bike without side wheels and she feels like a big girl now. ‘That’s fine, sweetie, the weather is nice and it sounds like a lot of fun riding the bike with the three of us. How nice for you to be able to ride your bike into town. What a big girl you are!’ My youngest jumps around excitedly and puts on her shoes. ‘No! Not by bike. I don’t want that. Then I won’t go’, the eldest insists, this was bound to happen of course. But I will not relent, and so we leave.

‘Mom’, a small voice behind me says. Honestly speaking, I did not anticipate that riding a bike into town meant that I would be cycling next to the youngest, meaning that the eldest has to cope all by herself. This is of course a consequence of growing up, doing things more self-sufficiently, but this is a huge step to take for a frightened girl like ours.

‘Mom, my stomach is sore. Don’t we need to cross the railroad?’ The railroad crossing is 250 meters ahead, so I still have time to think this through. Ting-ting-ting, saved by the bell. ‘Look, the barriers are closing now, so we have all the time in the world to cycle over there and cross the railroad.’ ‘Then I want to walk across’, she says and I think this is a good idea. As we stand there waiting I explain to them it is a busy railroad crossing, so they should only cross over after the red light has stopped blinking. ‘So, there may be another train? I’m scared, I don’t want that, I don’t want to cross.’

‘If you have waited properly and the red light is out, then you can cross over safely.’ My youngest cross over assertively, the eldest follows hesitantly. Caught in the middle, I try to keep us together and not be a burden to other passers-by. Ting-ting-ting. Much to the dismay of my eldest sweetie pie, the barriers close once again, while she is only half way across the railroad. Damn, why now?

Why is she so unlucky each time we accost a train? Wailing she reaches the other side and we have to duck underneath the barriers to get through.

While we are in town her anxiety for the journey home grows, even though I take the time to talk her through step by step as to how we will cross the railroad on the way back. A gag order concerning this issue is the only way to break this pattern.

‘Mom, is there not another way to go home?’ She is prepared to take a twenty kilometre detour, but no, the railroad crossing is there and cross it we shall. Besides, it is important to deal with this fear – which has taken on monstrous proportions – we are not going to feed this fear by rewarding avoidance.

Next her youngest sister says: ‘If you are scared, you can cycle next to mom, if you want’ and the little angel looks up at me glowingly. The heart of my little shrimp is all good and she understands exactly what her eldest sister needs. And so it was. As we approach the railroad I gently nudge my wobbling youngest ahead of me. The protruding flag on the back of her bike sways back and forth and she hobbles over the railroad. I have the eldest next to me and I firmly lay my hand on her shoulder. As a wise Buddha, I exhume peaceful signals to her tense body. But as we near our house, my youngest bursts into tears. My brave, courageous, tiny, little girl sees her safe haven ahead of her. She had probably imagined her first independent bike ride differently. This was too much for her.

I am sorry, little girl of mine.

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