Learning to Ride in a Crisis

Last Thursday, in the midst of the struggles of the COVID-19 crisis, I taught my eight-year-old son to ride a bike.

It felt like a small – make that medium-size – miracle.

Some kids and parents take to the biking milestone easily. Not us. For my son David and me, it was an emotional challenge as much as physical — an opportunity for me to practice, as a parent, our TownLake YMCA staff motto of being “hopeful and determined.” 

Back in the 1980s, I was a stubborn kid like David. When my dad tried to teach me to ride a bike, I got so upset over one fall – when my dad promised he was holding on but he wasn’t — that I refused to try again. I was too embarrassed and scared. And I ached when my classmates rode their bikes and I couldn’t.

Since becoming a mom, I promised myself I wouldn’t let my kids miss out on friend time like I did. We have also been missing our beloved YMCA youth sports, so a bike could get David some much-needed exercise and fresh air.

On the one hand, “shelter in place” seemed like a good time to make biking happen. On the other hand, as a mom, “shelter in place” is not a good time to make anything happen. 


There is zero spare time or energy in our lives right now, working full-time and schooling from home while coping with the trauma, grief, and loss of a pandemic. I am spent. The kids are slugs much of the time. My husband worried David would try to ride and end up in the ER, which we cannot afford on any level right now.

Then last Thursday, after seven weeks stuck at home, my “hopeful and determined” kicked in. I knew it was time.

Masks on, my son and I went bike shopping in a deserted superstore on my lunch hour. The pickings were slim, but David fell in love with a small bike decorated with flames. 

I skipped a Zoom happy hour with my YMCA Zumba friends to chase David and his bike around the driveway after work. There were tears. There was hollering. Thankfully, no emergency room.

The next morning, David rode around a deserted park, sans training wheels, with me running along. It wasn’t easy. Without our usual YMCA routines, David and I are both a bit out of shape at the moment. We were relying on about 1/3 excitement, 1/3 bribery, and 8/3 battle of wills. (“Hopeful and determined” can look a lot like “stubborn” sometimes.) 

But somehow, over the course of the day, David got it! We went on three more bike rides, in our neighborhood and at St. Edward’s University, his confidence building each time. By nightfall, I could sit my tired mama self down on a patch of grass and watch him cruise. 

“I’m awesome!” he called out. “I feel like a superhero!”


This is the most joy and freedom we have felt in weeks. 

I am so proud of David. I am so proud of me. And fellow YMCA families, I am so proud of YOU.

Many of us in the Y community are facing some of the biggest challenges of our lives right now. We are doing our best to love ourselves amid epic stress … to not let fear rule everything … to stay safe while also staying sane. I pray we are learning lessons for a better life, along the way.

With Mother’s Day this weekend, I should tell you, my mom was the one who finally helped me learn to ride a bike,on my 19th birthday. She ran alongside me, when she was just a few years older than I am now, so that I would know how to ride a bike at college. (Thanks, Mom!)

From that moment forward, I made up for lost time on my bike. I became a Chicago bike commuter, rode in many triathlons, century rides, and MS150s, and survived a bike accident that changed my life. I wish I rode more now. The Austin heat, hills, and humidity make it hard. But teaching David has brought the love of biking back to me again, and I have plans to go for a ride with some of my YMCA coworkers soon.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the YMCA moms, mamas, and caregivers out there. Your Y team loves you, appreciates you, and believes in you. Stay safe, and may you feel the joy and freedom of a good bike ride – of a “hopeful and determined” parenting moment – whenever you can.


Erin Walter
All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to info@austinymca.org

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