Notes on freedom for a 6 year old boy

My new years resolution, perhaps the new years resolution, is to get a job. That pays money. As of mid January this hasn’t occurred, so moving quickly onto other options it would also be resolute to contribute to Coburghagen once again.

My posts fell away, as many a progressive cause or much loved celebrity in 2016, but in my case due to a falling out of love with writing. The fall can be directly attributed to committing the most productive hours of the day writing cover letters and responding to key selection criteria. In time the lack of reward for effort begins to wear you down, and before you know it you have stopped writing altogether.

Slapping that kind of negativity in the face is step 1, along with being prescribed thyroxine by my Endocrinologist, before sticking my head up and observing the wonders that have been occurring right in front of my eyes. To wit, my 6 year old known as ‘Breaker’, not as a nod of respect to Mr Morant and his horse skills, but to his propensity to bugger up anything his incredibly strong fingers can get a hold of. Prophetically though, this story is about his ability to break in the saddle of a 20 inch Avanti Shadow, or in layman terms, learn to ride a bike.

For a child in 2016, there are limited opportunities for a meaningful rite of passage. My definition would broadly encapsulate experiences that engender self-belief and worth, and provide a child with a greater perspective of their world. In observing Breaker and his older brother ‘Moaner’ (another literal explanation) the only comparable experience has been watching them learn to swim. In this case young Breaker was slowly convinced by his enlightened and insightful parents that what he really wanted for his birthday was a bike. Forget the iPad and nerf gun, the bike was the biz. Heeding this advice, the first stage in encouraging his love affair was to let him pick the bike he wanted. Having done the basic research and visited the local stores Breaker fell in love with the most expensive option (we’ve all been there). Figuring it was money well spent if he was encouraged to ride, we handed over the credit card, or as explained by Breaker at the till “you’ve got to risk it for the biscuit”, and rode off into the sunset (our local park, with a decent gravel path winding its way in and around the trees and play equipment).

As a parent we all do the “just listen to me” routine. We tell our children exactly what they need to do and they choose to do something else. Day 1 of learning to ride involved me giving intense levels of instruction and feedback before Breaker requested in a pleading voice that I stop shouting at him. Taking that on board, I shut up and just pushed when pushing was requested. This was frequently. The target on day 1 was to complete one lap of the park without stopping, falling or colliding. It was a wobbly, anxiety inducing lap but it was achieved. As a parent I saw Breaker with fresh eyes. So long in the shadow of his older brother, he was far more determined than I had given him credit for. He was simply not going home until a confirmed lap was under the belt. Secondly, he got great personal satisfaction out of his accomplishment, walking at least a foot taller on the way home.

Day 2 was considered by me as an opportunity to consolidate on lap 1, and maybe work on the art of starting and stopping. The end of day 2 saw thirty consecutive laps without a break and a look of pure joy beaming on the face of Breaker. And thats it, 2 days to to learn to ride a bike. Mind boggling. Mind boggling because Breaker immediately saw the potential. A child of small to medium motivation when it came to a suggested walk to the shops was now actively canvassing expeditions to pick up a litre of milk, or the daily ride to school. Looking through his eyes I could revisit what we all appreciate about riding a bike but tend to forget. It’s efficient, it’s fun, it puts you on a level playing field with your big brother, it is the freedom to go wherever you want to go under your own steam, to push beyond your known horizons. And so on the streets of Coburg in 2016, a 6 year old boy discovers the concept of freedom.

The uncomfortable reality is that less and less children are receiving access to an opportunity like this in our car heavy suburbs. Parents are likely too busy or worried to allow their children to ride to school or cruise the streets on the weekend or a warm summer evening. If you can’t experientially encounter a core concept such as freedom in your developing years, how do you grow up to value, advocate and protect it when the world is going pear shaped? In years such as 2016, which throw up more questions than they answer, expanding access to these concepts and experiences for future generations becomes increasingly vital.