Sunday, December 10, 2006

Overcoming Childhood Fears

Some childhood fears persevere into adulthood. Mine did, but I wanted to save my children from “inheriting” those fears.

The house where I grew up in was just a couple of houses away from the river, and three or four blocks away from the sea. Since my own mother did not know how to swim, she always worried that we might drown, so we were never allowed to play in or near the river or sea. We also lived along the town’s only avenue, so biking was out of the question. My mother's voice, though not loud, was clear - "Keep off the street. No biking."

Now, fast forward to the time more than 20 years later: At one point, my husband, John, tried to teach me how to ride a bike, but I was afraid that it was something I was to old to learn. I was afraid of falling or of hurting myself, and I could almost hear my mother’s voice in my head warning me that a bus or jeepney might hit me.

It was at that time that I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, and I found a convenient excuse not to continue with the biking lessons. After the baby was born, he would ask again from time to time, but I would make up all sorts of excuses and after some time, he gave up asking.

When our eldest daughter, Ching Ching, was 5, John taught her how to ride a bicycle. She learned quickly and John and she would ride together and leave me with my younger daughter, Kathy, then 1-1/2. When Kathy was five, she also learned how to ride a proper bicycle. A third daughter, Sacha, was born, and following tradition, learned to ride a bike at 5 (Ching Ching was then 12, while Kathy was 8-1/2). So it came to be that all three daughters and their dad would ride their bikes to go as far as Fort Santiago and leave me behind at the Cultural Center Complex to watch over their bags of food, water and towels.

Even with a book to keep me company, it was getting lonely and boring being alone while they biked around town the whole morning. They would return with exciting stories about what happened to them or what they saw and I felt bad that I was not there to share the experience first hand with my children.

It was then that I resolved that I would learn how to bike. I told myself that anyone can learn how to bike – why, I even see chimpanzees ride bicycles in circuses. If a chimpanzee can do it, hmmm, so can I.

There I was, in my early 40’s and my goal was to ride a bike (of course, without trainer-wheels) ; ) . I told my husband about my intention and he was very encouraging. I was determined to learn and went practically every day at the Cultural Center Complex where I could rent a bike. As I mount the bike, I would see that there would be at least 5 others – between the ages of 5 and 10, learning how to ride bicycles. Some were even younger, but their bikes had trainer wheels.

One of the bike-rental stall owners assigned a young boy to teach me. As to be expected, I fell a few, no, many times, but each time I fell, I would get up again and again and ride my bicycle, determined to outgrow my childhood fear. Eventually, I did learn. John taught me how to do figure 8’s, and was very patient in encouraging me to venture a little beyond the square where bikes were being rented out.

I was proud of myself, but still afraid to try biking on the main street. To this day, I still cannot get myself to ride a bike and compete for street space among buses, jeepneys and pedestrians. I may never fully outgrow my childhood fears, but I am grateful that my children- who ride bicycles confidently - have done better than I.