Wonder all mixed up with dread, F got a new bike over the holiday weekend. Great trepidation spun into sincere pride, it’s been a big step. For me. For F, it’s just another joy, another leap into the chapters of requisite or quintessential childhood. To F, I think this feels fresh and cool like dipping his toes into a new stream. Although I’ve seen fear in his eyes for small moments while on the bike, most of the time his face is lit with exhilaration. When he’s spinning his pedals it really looks as if he feels he’s flying. And allowing those wings to unfold is the privilege and pleasure of parenting. It’s just that:
The new bike comes with dread (for me mostly, a little bit for F). Although he’s been puttering around on a balance bike for over a year now, this new bike affords an enormous transition. We’re talking hard metal, big wheels, shimmering blue paint, and pop-a-wheelie-potential. This is the real deal bicycle, the kind that goes on roads with lines down the middle and can take him to the park. It turns out my little boy is growing up. Enter dread, stomach drop, and delight all over again, all at once.
Sometimes I think my worry comes from my work. I have, and continue to see, many children with injuries from bicycles. I suppose seeing them, caring for them, and hurting for them alongside their parents colors my sense of vulnerability. Did you/do you feel the same about this transition? I must say, I simply didn’t expect this. When we headed to the bike store late on Saturday afternoon, I had no idea we were crossing a little line in the sand.
This feels like a new era. All of the sudden I’ve got this big kid, this big road, and this big opportunity. Yes in my brain I’m certain this is good for F and O, it’s my heart that is catching up. I adore the fact that since Saturday, each day begins with begging for time on the bike. And I’m certain this is good for me as evidenced by last night. After clinic, the boys and I spent the evening at a local park cruising around on the trails and peddling under a big blue sky (see photo). As Mount Rainier loomed over us and the sun cast its sideways light, we found ourselves sneezing amidst the shrubs and vegetation. We played hide and seek and tumbled on the ground after laying our bikes along the path. This wasn’t our typical Tuesday. And as my fondness grows for the bike I am reassured that this new chapter (Boys with Bikes) is a luxurious one–one that stretches our margins, expands our boundaries, and creates profound potential. New places await us.
But to keep this life-chapter from turning into a page-turner, I’ll steady myself and talk about helmets. Layering safety protection often dampens my fear and helicopter-Mama-anxieties. Even writing it down here helps. And the helmet is the perfect accessory for my panic-like first-time-mom-with-two-sons-on-bikes transition.
Since children are severely injured on bicycles every year, one thing we all know to do is go out and get a helmet for our kids. More important may be making sure the helmet fits. It’s not as easy as you would imagine. Poorly fit helmets are biking around you all the time. So don’t use your neighbors as an example. After getting O a new helmet this weekend, I had to check my facts. And it dawned on me, think of fitting a helmet like finding a perfect bra, it has to fit in all directions and all the straps should be snug, but not too snug. You know what I mean?
Fitting A Bike Helmet
- Timing: Fit the helmet before you pull out the bike. The toe tapping, tugging to get out the door, and true sense of urgency won’t be there and you’ll find time to get it fit properly. Better yet, fit it with your child inside and then show the results.
- Eyes(1): Your child should be able to see the helmet without a mirror! Have them confirm this by looking up when the helmet is on. The helmet has to be squarely situated on the forehead, about 2 finger-widths above their eyebrows. You really want it to rest down on their forehead, fitting more like a helmet and less like a ball cap or a yamaka. If the helmet isn’t snug on the forehead when a child falls on the pavement forwards for example, it won’t protect their skull from the front when they hit (negating the point of wearing it altogether).
- Ears(2): Your child’s ears should be framed by a Y strap (look at the illustration). I think this may be the most difficult part when adjusting a helmet because you often have to pull the straps from all directions. Take your time. Try again when necessary. Make sure the ear rests just above the “Y” and that the straps are snug against the side of your child’s face.
- Mouth/Jaw(3): Although mastering the Y strap may be most difficult for you, the chin strap may be most difficult for your child. You want the chin trap to be snug enough to help keep the helmet in place in case of a crash on the ground. You want about 1 finger width space between their chin and the strap with their mouth closed. When they open their jaw to scream, yell, or chew, it should tug on the helmet from above. The strap should be snug but never so snug that it leaves a mark on their skin after wearing it.
Lastly, remember bike helmets with the CPSC sticker are certified and safe for biking, but not for roller blading, roller skating or skateboarding (ASTM1492 sticker). Look for the dual-certified safety stickers if your child is going to use it for all both types of activities.
Thoughts? How was it for you during the first weekend of big boy-big girl biking? Did you feel like I did — tug of war between dread and delight?
Came to your website to search for your old article on pink eye and came across this rather timely blog for me. My girl number 1 upgraded on the weekend to a bike with gears (!) so my anxiety starts all over again. Just when you get used to the status quo (like no training wheels) they – or at least dad – ups the ante. Girl number 2 gets the old bike, albeit with training wheels reattached, but it becomes pretty clear that those bike helmets need to be adjusted; they’re no longer just for show…
I meant to ask if you could share the name of the park in the photo. It is exactly the ‘training ground’ we’re looking for.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Good biking for Kids in NE Seattle:
Green Lake: but watch for speedy bikers/bladers
Magnuson Park: lots of trails!
School playgrounds are often a safe bet
I can definitely relate to this post. I have 3 young sons, the oldest of which is 6. He received a bike two years ago on Easter and when he got on it, away raced my heart. It is so exciting to see our children grow and learn and grasp new things. But along with each milestone, in the recesses of my heart, I think Tevye is singing “Sunrise, Sunset.” Truly, swifly fly the years with little ones in tow. On birthdays, I am reminded that I only have so many years to be with these boys. Those hours, days, weeks, months, years, are numbered, and that’s a heavy hit on my heart. But I’m grateful to be able to take the journey, and a helmet is definitely required, so thank you for the instructions on how to fasten it the correct way.
Cheers to motherhood!
Dr. Alanna says
My husband bought the kids new bikes last week ‘with gears’ and ever since they have been riding every day. I worked all week and weekend so I didn’t have time to ride with them until Sunday evening when C pleaded with me to go for a ride. He was so cute and proud explaining all of the bends on the trail and always updating me on what gear he was in. Until… a dog off leash ran right in front of him. He hit the brakes hard and avoided running over the little guy but fell over sideways. I watched it all in slow motion. He managed to get scrapes on his elbows and knees, bend both of the bike’s wheels and the handle bar. The plastic fin on the front of his helmet broke off but the rest did the trick because he was able to stand up and ride home.
He was upset with the bleeding so we biked to a local Mexican restaurant we frequent to ask for bandaids. They gave us cool blue bandaids for his knees. On the way home he said, “Mom, I think I need two more bandaids for my elbows. Now I will have some Mexican ones and some American ones”. That comment made the whole experience better for me-there’s always a bright side. I was so worried his spirit had been crushed, but kids are so resilient. His bike is getting fixed now and he plans to get right back on. Much more traumatizing for his mother but a reminder of the importance of wearing a helmet correctly.
On an related note on bike safety, when I ask patients in the office if they wear a helmet when riding, I frequently get the response that they wear it for long rides, but not if they are just playing around in the driveway or in front of the house. Kids can fall off a bike anywhere. I counsel parents that no child should be allowed on the bike seat without a helmet on the head. And the best way to teach your child is to lead by example!
It’s so funny how these milestones can make our hearts swell with pride and yet shrink in terror all at once! I think they are all just exercises building up to the day when we really have to let them go for real. . .
We JUST transitioned Will to a toddler bed a couple of months ago. He was sleeping wonderfully in his crib, so I wasn’t in a hurry to fix what wasn’t broken. Then he potty trained and we needed to give him his freedom, so off the front rail came. He was so excited! I thought I was too. . . until I watched from the doorway, as his daddy unscrewed the bolts of the rails. I surprised myself with tears in my eyes. I just remembered a time, not THAT long ago, when I had stood in that same doorway, eight months pregnant, watching him put the crib together. It seemed as if it was only a blink later, and it was coming apart. Yet, Will was SO excited, literally dancing around and talking about his BIG! BOY! BED! So, I plastered a smile on my face and got all excited with him, even though a tiny part of me wanted to put the rail back on and keep him a baby for longer.
I’m sure we are in for many of these transitions in the future, ones that will be unexpected tugs on the heartstrings and potential dangers to their physical and emotional safety. . . I don’t think any of us really knew how hard this parenting (and letting go) would be.
We are still in the trike stage, but thanks to Children’s Hospital and Kohls our whole family is outfitted with properly fitting helmets! And yes, the helmet is ALWAYS worn with the trike. Even when you’re going slow, you can still get hurt. Plus, I figured if I started training him to wear a helmet at 2, there won’t be as much of a fight when he’s 12. I hope.
Thank you for stressing the importance of wearing a helmet properly and on that fits. It’s amazing to me the number of people (adults and kids) that don’t wear a helmet correctly. Helmets only work if work correctly.
Denise Shushan says
I’m a huge fan of nutcase brand helmets personally. They have magnetic chin clasps so no more of those horrible pinchy moments as you buckle your kiddo into the helmet (and they hold fast – I was so doubtful at first). Plus they have great forehead and back of head coverage, much more so than the usual bike helmet. My kids loved them as little kids and they still wear that brand as teenagers (and I wear one as an adult).
And, Wendy Sue, if you think your boys riding bikes is scary, wait until they start driving cars. Yikes! Every time Macy drives away, I’m still terrified.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Denise, I bet!!!!!!
Bikes don’t freak me out like they did when I originally wrote this post. And I’m certainly bracing for the driving but thankfully I have about 5-6 years before we’ll even consider it.
Miss you, thanks for leaving a comment!