My Neighbor Teaching Her Daughter to Ride a Bike on Memorial Day

A ten-minute frolic, a morning interlude of
squeals and wobbles, mother and daughter
pursuing an age-old quest of mastery on
the day we remember our war dead.

I pause in my yard work, lean on my pushbroom,
this snapshot in time collapsing into time past,
me with a firm grip on my daughter’s tiny seat
leading and guiding from behind, ever forward.

And the cascade continues, in free-fall now to
my own father, setting me free and thinking me able
as I glide toward a parked car, failing the turn and
bound for the emergency room with a broken arm.

Not everything works out as hoped, a lesson
etched into the very brows of parents grieving
still on this day, their children lost to war, the
triumph of their first bike ride now unto dust.

Balance in all things, goes the old maxim,
body and brain a holy first essential, the
child from sitting to standing, walking to
running to wheeling, set forth upon the world.

And when that world gives the child back,
its parents numb and stunned in their grief,
what then of balance and natural order,
sweetness of memory and the stories it recalls?

And still I smile, broadly, at this mother on this day,
as I would on any day, her helmeted daughter precious
and enfolded in her arms, the palpitations of the child’s heart
a precursor, I fervently hope, of joys and gladness yet to come.


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Balancing stones by Simona

Fun version of this well-aged classic…

10 comments to My Neighbor Teaching Her Daughter to Ride a Bike on Memorial Day

  • Angela  says:

    Lisa Alther’s 1984 novel “Other Women” depicts a moving scene that parallels this one, with all the human connection, daily oversight, love and loss. One of the main characters, Hannah Burke, is a mother who has lost two of her children to a furnace failure one freezing winter night that resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning. Hannah is tormented by a recurring dream/actual memory of helping her 4 yr old daughter learn, just weeks before, to ride a bicycle. She remembers with vivid clarity the actual moment her hand left the bicycle seat for the last time, pushing her daughter off into proud, independent motion, watching her pedal away, away, away, knowing even in the dream that she was gone forever, waking with her face streaked with tears.

    I read that story as a new mother, rocked to my very core by the thought of such tragedy and at the realization of how vulnerable this new and overwhelming love had rendered me. My heart was now completely on the line. I was more than ready to give my life for my baby, I knew that, but…have my baby taken from me? There would be no life worth living after that.

    So many, far too many, have had to find that way forward, into the “after that”.

    Lets celebrate today and each day these small rituals of life we hold so dear and give thanks, to all who have given their very lives and to those who loved them so well.

    In memory and in gratitude.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Angela, that memory of letting go, of releasing my hand from the seat because I knew she “got it,” had made the exquisite neural connections that total up to a newly acquired form of balance, is acutely burned into my memory; I can almost feel the whole sensation of it here as I think about it. It’s such a rich scene, chock-full of import and joy, and every time I witness it on a neighborhood street I relive my own experience and feel a kind of privilege and good fortune to get to celebrate another child’s (and parent’s) accomplishment. (I cheer every time.)

      So it’s just like a novelist to turn everything about that event on its head and have it underpin a recurring sort of nightmare/memory. But that’s the nature of any powerful image when paired with unspeakable loss. Memory is our friend bearing riches—but in the case of losing a child, it is a dark intruder that threatens to occupy a corner of the house for the rest of one’s life. That’s why I always have mixed feelings about “celebrating” Memorial Day. Too many of our fellow humans spend it hosting that intruder yet again, even more present than usual.

  • mary graves  says:

    beautifully written my friend. thx for sharing.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks for sharing your response, Mary!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Integrating teaching a child to ride a bike, a wonderful memory most of us have never forgotten, and the death of a child in some battle in some far away country, a moment most of us have thankfully never faced, is chilling; the contrast captures the essence of our experiences. It’s like “goulash” –a stew of the mundane, tragic, trivial, loving, hilarious all mixed together to create this wonderful thing we call life.

    Drew, your poem really works! By the way, I just finished writing a poem on D-Day (June 6th marks its 75th year anniversary). When I wrote it, I was thinking about my dad (just 23 years old) aboard some merchant ship in the Pacific dropping supplies off to our troops making their way toward Okinawa. So young…

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Lovely poem my friend ! Memorial Day is so fraught with contradictions going back to our national “original sin” of slavery and the horrific civil war … personalizing the joys and far too often sorrows of letting go in your poetic afternoon reflection connects at many levels… thanks!!

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    What you say is true, Robert: “the mundane, tragic, trivial, loving, hilarious all mixed together…” Quite the remarkable banquet, laid out before us every day…

    It strikes me, Kevin, that at some level most every darn holiday—Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, et al—is “fraught with contradiction.” And there are still those among us, unfortunately, who sneer at or actively disavow MLK Day. And though Thanksgiving is usually one holiday whose essentials—food, drink, family and other beloved guests all committed to their best behavior—can agree, even then, there is the matter of what we subsequently did to those Native Americans we broke bread with on that hallowed day. It’s complicated!

    Thanks to both of you for sharing your reflections. Helps keep the goulash warm.

  • Al  says:

    Lovely poem, Andrew. Knowing better now the tragedies that can befall our children, it feels braver than ever to have released our children on their bikes and then into the world. The best thing we can do is send our love with them (and occasionally a little money).

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    What a tender and lovely poem. Thank you so much. I felt unable to really grasp the (holi)day yesterday but you have helped me today. The comments are also beauty unto themselves. I love what Angela wrote. A good gathering of souls here, on this rainy cold night (in Boston anyway).

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Yes, Al, let us not discount the good joojoo provided by a little money now & again—it is the marvie indulgent dessert atop the steady diet of our love!

    Jeanette, I’m glad you seem to enjoy the conversation here almost as much as I do. So much more interesting & fulfilling than a monologue into the night! (Sorry yours is raining…)

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