For Christmas I got a BICYCLE! Yup, it’s just like when you up when you were a little kid and there was a shiny new bike, complete with training wheels and, if you were a girl, pink pom-pom things off the handlebars, and a basket.
For my tenth birthday [if I recall the age correctly], the usual ‘wake up and find presents at the foot of my bed’ was replaced with being told to walk down the hallway to the kitchen to go see my present. It was a bicycle. I had never, ever mentioned wanting one. I had never expressed the desire to have one, or do anything with a bicycle. I felt so guilty, feigning excitement, while on the inside I was going “Why on earth did you guys get me a bicycle?” I suppose the reason was that it was just the done thing: Kids learnt to ride a bicycle at a certain age, and kids wanted a bicycle at some point in their lives.
The problem was that I wasn’t overly excited about- or interested in learning to ride the thing. The bigger problem was that I turned my nose up at what I wasn’t naturally very good at. I got through music exams and school exams without opening a book, and with very impressive results. I did horse riding every day, a combination of enjoying it and being good at it. But things I didn’t take to with ease did not interest me, especially having a fair amount of “things” at which I was naturally, effortlessly good.
I’m sounding very braggy right now- I promise this all has a point.
Even less appealing than having to actually practice something just to get the gist of it, was the idea that, in the process, I would be repeatedly humiliated. Falling off was one thing. Having my mother run next to me holding the handlebars of my bicycle steady was quite another. Of course the best place to try learn was in the street [completely flat and mostly very quiet in the small Mpumalanga town where I grew up], meaning having to endure all of this in plain view of others, well aware of their puzzled head-scratching, wondering how it was that a child of ten had not yet learned to ride a bike, and seemed to be unable to do it.
I lost interest fairly quickly, and traded that humiliation for having my siblings tease me for the next fourteen years about my disability.
And then, SC bought me the most beautiful Johnny Loco for Christmas! Her name is Vivienne, and she has a bell and she is the fairest bicycle in the land.
I had been dreaming of cycling around Cape Town with its oh-so-trendy cycling culture. A woven basket in front, I would cycle to work, to the market to get vegetables and flowers, up and down the Company’s Garden- it was all very chic in my head. But now I had to learn to ride the thing. The hours leading up the lesson were spent rationalising that perhaps some people are just genetically incapable of riding a bike! This was met firmly with “You can stand upright, you can ride a bike”. SC was gobsmacked that I could ride horses without falling off, yet not ride a bicycle. But, as I pointed out, my horses didn’t just randomly fall over!
It took about 40 minutes or so. At first I was snappy and on edge. At some point, I think I just got over myself and pedaled off. It’s embarrassing, really, that it happened like that and that it was as simple as telling a very stubborn mind to just shut up and sit down.
Now, this joyous occasion has not only robbed my siblings of their favourite joke, but also got me thinking to the other gaps in my childhood. There are many things I didn’t do! I grew up in a depressing mining town full of racists and kids who I found infinitely unrelatable and in general I preferred the company of myself to anyone else. So things like tennis, which involved other people, didn’t seem appealing. Plus, I didn’t need other sports: I had horse riding. Things like ice skating were far too exotic for Standerton, and the nearest rink was a good three hours away.
But I feel this lesson [in balance, and my own character] has brought about the time to tackle these vast expanses of my formative years, and fill them up. I feel I need to:
- Play tennis: I have never ever so much as picked up a racquet and hit a tennis ball with it, but I actually think tennis would suit me because Lacoste
- Learn how to do a cartwheel
- Learn how to whistle
- Learn how to ice skate: I was actually recently taken skating by a friend and made huge steps [as in, actually let go of the railing]
- Watch Cinderella and Snow White [other than that my Disney education is quite complete, and I regularly indulge in my favourites]
- Dive into a swimming pool: I don’t mean from a diving board, even. I have never dived head-first into a swimming pool. This, however, results from two very bad drowning experiences when I was 2, and then 3. Nonetheless, it must be tackled!
- Go fishing. Sure I will hate it, but at least I will be able to have an informed opinion of it.
- Climb a tree [you're reading this thinking I'm a freak, aren't you? I have pulled myself up and sat in the low branches of trees, but I've never actually climbed one, I feel.]
Another thing most children experience is getting stitches or breaking something. Besides for being born, I’ve never needed to go to a hospital. Besides for my wisdom teeth, which I had removed under local anesthetic , I have all my body parts including tonsils and appendix. Look, I did once suffer a kick from a horse which just about split my ear in half, but it wasn’t stitch-able. But still, it seems another childhood rite I skipped over. Although I could do with keeping it that way.
So there you have it. My chilhood project for 2013! If you’re an expert in any of these things and feel like giving advice, or maybe even teaching me something, let me know. And feel free to add other things that are must-do childhood activities- who knows what I’ve left out!