I had a flashback to the Summer of 1976 while riding my bike the other day. The rubber on my back tire had split, and the damaged tire was slowing me down.
Instead of recognizing the problem, I blamed myself. I thought I wasn’t pedaling hard enough, which is the same accusation I made of myself during the Bicentennial Parade on the Fourth of July in 1976. That parade provided some of the hardest, but most meaningful, lessons of my childhood.
I grew up in a small town in Central Oregon where summer meant two things: being outside and celebrating the Fourth of July.
Being outside involved building forts in Juniper trees, capturing tadpoles in irrigation ditches, swimming lessons at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and riding our bikes everywhere. Bike helmets weren’t even a consideration back in those days. We only worried about skinned knees, and, when the temperatures were cooler, getting our bell bottom pants caught in the chains of our bikes. But during the warm days of summer, we were wearing shorts, and our greatest concern was how to decorate our bikes for the Fourth of July parade.
Everyone in Madras Oregon participated in the parade. Adults and children planned and prepared for months, and the anticipation of the annual event increased dramatically for America’s Bicentennial. As soon as the calendar turned to January 1976, the planning was on. Every activity and event highlighted America’s 200th birthday.
During Girl Scout events, all the girls wore Betsy Ross inspired outfits.
During school programs, we sang patriotic songs.
And almost all the clothes in stores that year were red, white and blue.
But, in the eyes of the kids, nothing was more important than how we decorated our bikes for the Fourth of July Parade. As I recall, there was a prize for the best decorated bike, which only partly explains why we took the task so seriously. Prize or not, kids on bikes led the parade and finished in time to catch a ride on the fire engines that wrapped it up.
With all that at stake, we took decorating our bikes in theme very seriously. We had always woven streamers through the spokes and threaded them through our handle bars, but the Bicentennial parade was something special and required extra effort.
My friend Shannon and I had a plan for how to make a statement. Instead of riding bicycles, we decided to ride tricycles with signs that said “Ready for the Tricentennial.” I don’t remember where we got the trikes. Perhaps they were from her brother Kip or perhaps they were sitting around my parents’ garage.
All I know is that my nine-year old knees and legs were much too long to ride a small tricycle with any efficiency. On the day of the parade, I gathered with all of my peers at the start of the parade. When everyone else sped off, I didn’t. I could barely pedal the well-decorated but much-too-small trike. Before long, I was trying to keep up with the antique cars. And by the time I realized I’d be faster if I simply pushed the trike, I was with the floats. When the fire truck with all my peers on board passed by, I felt completely defeated. Despite that, I didn’t quit. But I was extremely embarrassed by my poor showing.
Thirty-eight years later I’m not embarrassed at all. Instead, I proud of that little girl and her perseverance.
Life has a way of encouraging us to re-think our memories and identify how they can help in the future. As a mom, I appreciate the benefit of of perspective and a life time of experience. I’ve learned a great deal from both.
I’ve learned being embarrassed does not equate to failure. In fact, being embarrassed simply means you went outside your comfort zone, which is something winners always do.
I’ve learned that finishing what you start means more than a first place ribbon.
I’ve learned that blaming ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned is pointless. Sometimes, the circumstances are beyond our control: the tire is flat or the distance to the pedals too short. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources we need, like a bigger or faster bike. And sometimes we are simply out of our element.
I’ve also learned that life can’t be truly enjoyed if we try to measure it in terms of success or failure. Life requires that we cheer on those who are ahead on the parade route and encourage those who never have a chance to ride the fire engines.
Most of all, I’ve learned to appreciate having the freedom to make mistakes, the luxury of having the independence to talk about those mistakes, the opportunity to fix the flat tires that life sometimes delivers and the importance of recognizing that we can’t control every aspect of our lives.
This Fourth of July, neither of my children will be participating in or attending a parade as I did when I was young. Despite that, I have no doubt they will be turning to me for ideas about how to celebrate. And I’m almost positive, I’ll suggest we take a family bike ride.