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?