A few months ago I saw a helium balloon, released into the open air, get caught in the branches of a tree. The balloon stayed there for about a minute, its string kicking furiously in the wind, while a cluster of us on the ground, too far down to do anything but stand there, wondered if it would get free. After a moment it did, and before long, it passed out of sight.
I thought of that balloon tonight while I went along with Evangeline, who was out riding her bike after dinner.
Evangeline is about 7½ years old right now, and she has a great spirit within her. She devours knowledge like grilled cheese, she loves to create, and she's always suggesting and trying new ideas of things she can make or do. And she's learning to leave her limits in the dust, whether they're limits that someone else put on her or that she imposed herself.
Last year she had a moderate interest only in riding her bike. It was something she did willingly enough when I suggested it, but it wasn't something she cared about all that tremendously. She was terrified to go downhill, even slightly, and would brake over the least provocation. She lacked either the stamina or the desire to pedal the bike up a hill, and invariably would ask me to give her a push, even to go up the cut in the sidewalk from the road. About the only time she really pedaled hard was when she was on level ground, and even then, I could keep pace with her on foot with just a little effort.
At the end of our block is one of the busier streets in our area, since it leads in just three blocks to a state highway where cars and trucks can go 55 mph with no lights for several miles. It's not a road I want the kids crossing without an adult's help, and even then they need to be extravigilant. I've generally discouraged Evangeline from riding her bike on the sidewalk that runs along this particular street, and she's always been fine with that.
Tonight, she decided she wanted to go across it. I was uncertain, but when I was unable to redirect her along another, more familiar and less trafficked road, I agreed. She went a block, and instead of turning left as I suggested, she wanted to press on another block. When she asked me what street we had reached, I realized the game she was up to: She had decided, on her own, that she was going to ride her bike to her friends' house, about a mile away.
I also realized what a putz I've been. She's asked before if she could ride her bike that far, and with premonitions of hearing "I'm tired" and "How far is it?" I've always said it was too far. (Which, in all fairness to myself, it usually was because of how dark it was getting.) Tonight, I saw the enthusiasm she had for the trip, so I cast my reservations to the wind, and we made the trip, her racing along from corner to corner on her bicycle, and me alternately walking and running to keep pace.
Her confidence at the bike is a lot better too. She zips along the sidewalk, not even slowing in her pedaling when the sidewalk is uneven or broken or when she's headed downhill. She carefully steers around people and obstacles in her way, she works her way up steep slopes without pause, and she manages to avoid falling on things that before would have been too difficult for her.
Like that balloon, she's breaking free of the tree, and she's determined to go as high in the sky as she can. I just hope that I can be the wind that carries her, and not the tree that holds her back.