The Working Waterfront

A taste of independence

Two wheels open a wider world for a child

Posted 2023-08-22
Last Modified 2023-08-22

Not to give any credit to a global pandemic, but one positive result of spending months at home is that at the age of six, Pen learned to ride a bike. She started on one of those little pedal-less balance bikes, couldn’t go seamlessly to riding with no training wheels like we’d hoped, and then enjoyed short jaunts up and down the road with the training wheels on her pink single-speed.

With time on our hands to spare, the training wheels came off and most of the fall was spent chasing Pen around the yard as she wobbled and fell, then miraculously got her foot on a pedal and succumbed to centripetal force. Away she went.

I am not a bike rider, or a fan of any wheeled conveyance, so Bill was the one to ride with her. I sometimes trailed behind walking the dog, yelling instructions in an unnecessary and paranoid fashion.

I sometimes trailed behind, yelling instructions in an unnecessary and paranoid fashion.

From the one-mile trip to and from the corner, Pen expanded her repertoire to visit the beloved Middle Road cows. Last year, she began biking to and from a nearby friend’s house, close enough that we let her do it herself, but far enough away that she got a first taste of independence.

North Haven is full of kids on bikes. In fall and spring, they bike to and from school; in summer they fly downtown, lifejackets on or flapping from their handlebars, to and from sailing, golf, and tennis.

The roads are hilly and prone to blind turns but are smoothly paved in most spots. Helmet-wearing is consistent, at least among the elementary school set. Even a bike skeptic like me can get behind the importance of kids on bikes.

Pen had been casting longing glances at the kids lining their bikes up on the school bike rack for a few weeks when I got the courage to ask her if she wanted to bike to school. Not that I was going to bike with her, but it felt like a major step.

Three-and-a-half miles, no adults biking with her, just a few other uptown kids as companions. Of course she said yes, and the next day my big little nine-year-old leapt out of bed (usually I have to scrape her out), called her neighbor to find out the rendezvous place and time, and said goodbye to me before I had eaten my banana.

At school I watched the front door nervously. Would she make it the whole way? Would she be on time? Overheated? Dehydrated? Injured? She rolled up before eight in a little procession with her neighbor and the school principal, grinning and triumphant.

After school she biked downtown with most of her classmates to play at the ballfield. When I came to pick her up, she decided she wanted to bike home instead, which she did, all four miles, accompanied by a friend who stayed for a while.

Like Eliot in E.T., or really any kid from any ’80s movie, with the ability to safely bike around, Pen’s loosened the first tether. Now, at times, she can come and go on her blue and white seven-speed, a little less reliant on us, and a little more at home in the world.

Courtney Naliboff teaches music and theater on North Haven. She may be contacted at