Birdie, Buggy and the family bicycle gang

Apr 29, 2020 By Clair McFarland

The twins can teach you how to ride a bike without training wheels.

In September I would pick my four boys up from school and drive them to the Central Wyoming College campus, where, with Houdinian maneuvering I pulled the identical twins' fraternal red bikes from the back of my car and placed them gingerly on the parking lot's searing stovetop surface.

"Oh-KAY. I'm gonna rock it!" came the little twin's battle cry.

His iron will uncreased, briefly, the pale untanned trails leading from his nostrils to the corners of his mouth; the ones that never see the sun because when he's outside, he's always smiling.

"Hollld on there, little britches," I said, grabbing the atom-plume-shaped seat. "Let me run with you a while."

It took him eight revolutions to find that I needed to do more than run with him: I needed to clutch his waist with both hands while stooping over his back wheel and chasing him in a dead sprint.

If you've ever wondered the origin of scoliosis, that's it.

"I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die."

"You are NOT going to die," I said. "Well, not from this anyway."


"There's these things" - here the clop-clup of my sandals on sidewalk gave way to a squelched rhythm through wet grass - "called brakes. It's that lever" - plash-glunk through the ditch - "on the handlebarrrr!"

"Oh, this lever?" he asked, mashing the brake lever.

I careened into his taut, bladed back and lost forever one of my seven breeds of smile.

"Yup," I grunted. "It was that lever."

The bigger twin was more moderate in his approach, but he was also, well, bigger.

"Ready, Mommy?" asked he in his piping and perpetual gentleness.

"Yes, Birdie, I'm ready."

I call him Birdie because of his sweet, clear voice.


The bigger twin started off slow, determined, unaware that in his legs thrummed the concentrated might of an army tank. He pedaled on with that same measured obedience, but his balance was off. Being 5, he had the coordination of a 5-year-old, but at 20 pounds heavier and several inches taller than the average kindergartener, he was just too big for his bike.

I've spawned giants.

He tipped this way, then that way. With my hands an inch away from each side of his torso and my hair streaming all around him, he sort of... waddled the bike along.

It was not unlike his in-utero ambulation's former effect on me.

After a dozen of these rendezvouses and a couple of snow storms, we gave up. I thought about putting their training wheels back on, but autumn and winter gave us sledding, and we forgot about the bikes altogether.

On March 16, Wyoming schools shut down due to coronavirus concerns, and every siblinghood became a bicycle gang.

My two older sons - aged 10 and 8 - have learned that they can see the neighborhood and follow the canal, if they just have the gumption to pedal. With their bikes they've chased scolding geese, skimmed the packed ruts of a dwindling dirt road, and captured a hundred freckles along the way.

"Mommy, can I go with my brothers?" asked the bigger twin.

"No, dear. You know the gravel around here trips up training wheels. And we haven't gotten you to bike without them," I said.

He didn't say anything. He followed his unblinking silver eyes outside, sat his sturdy little rump on the bicycle seat, and pedaled. Within three tries he was biking - all by himself.

"WHAT! Birdie, you are doing it!"

"I know Mom, I know," said he from the end of the driveway.

He used one of his seven breeds of smile: the one that stretches his lips in a straight, compressed line and deepens his dimples - a smile of unspeaking pride.

The smaller twin wasn't convinced.

"I don't think I can do it," he said, drawing his eyebrows together.

"That's fine, honey, you don't have to do it."

"OK, then, I'm not gonna do it."

"OK, then," I concluded, or so I thought, the one-sided argument against the advent of full-family biker-gang membership.

I looked down from the potato I was peeling, and he was gone.

Outside, the little twin sat his narrow bottom down on his seat and started to pedal. His Superman cape glided, rippling, behind him, turning sunbeams into fleeting red boomerangs on its satin surface.

Four tries, and he was off.

"BA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAA, I'm FLYING!" he bellowed from halfway down the driveway.

"The little dark one takes the LEAD!" added he when he rode past his twin. Then, at the very end of the driveway, he insisted "THAT'S how you TRAVEL, at the speed of LIGHT, folks!"

I bit my fingernails, grinned; covered my eyes and uncovered them.

"Buggy, you are doing it!" I yelled.

I call him Buggy because he's as tough and resourceful as a beetle.

"And NOW for the GRAAAAND-FINALE," roared my Bug, "WE DO IT AGAIN!"

And that's how you learn to ride a bike, I guess.

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