Learning to Pedal

On an empty neighborhood street near my home a father teaches his son to ride a bike. The boy sits on a tiny two-wheeled machine wearing a helmet roughly the size of a prize-winning watermelon. The father balances the bike and offers reassuring advice.

“Keep your head up, and just keep pedaling, and…”

Scattered on the driveway are disassembled training wheels which have been removed from the kid’s bike. The nuts and bolts lie on the pavement like memories of a bygone infanthood.

This boy is about to be one of the big kids today.

The child sits on his saddle wearing the face of Neil Armstrong before blastoff. It is the same facial expression Chuck Yeager had before breaking the sound barrier. The same look I once wore when I realized my income taxes were considerably late.

“I’m scared, Dad,” says the kid.

“You’re gonna be fine.”

“What if I fall?”

“I’m here.”

“What if I can’t do it?”

“You can.”

Meantime, I’m watching from a distance. They don’t see me eavesdropping.

Right now I am having a few memories return to me. Not memories of bicycles, but of times I once sat in the proverbial saddle and asked myself similar questions.

Can I do it? Can I withstand failure? How about rejection? What about embarrassment? Or pain? Will I make a fool of myself?

There was the time I worked up the bravery to ask Dorothy Lynn to couple skate at the fifth-grade roller-rink party. I was nauseous about it. I felt as though I would vomit all over my shoes.

Dorothy was the most popular girl in fifth grade and I was a chubby redhead whose T-shirts always seemed too snug. Boys like me did not ask Dorothy Lynn to couple skate. Boys like me held the regional record for the most rice puddings consumed during a single cafeteria period.

But I asked Dorothy anyway. I ignored my nerves, I faked confidence, and it worked. Dorothy’s face lit up and much to the surprise of the entire fifth grade we held hands and skated.

I am pleased to note that Dorothy’s hand was just as cold and clammy as mine. We skated to “Only You,” by the Platters. Afterward, I went into the boy’s restroom and vomited on my skates.

There was also the time in community college when I took my math final. I had to retake a lot of college math courses because I am essentially a math-dummy. I took one particular math class three separate times and failed twice. On my third attempt I was barely scraping by with a C average.

This last exam meant the difference between earning my degree or enduring another semester beneath the tutelage of a woman with the same maternal sensitivity as Joseph Stalin.

On test day I was the last student to finish. It was only me and the teacher left in the classroom. When I turned in my work she peered over her eyeglasses with doubtful eyes. “How do you think you did?” she asked.

“I think this is turning into a long term relationship.” I said.

As it happened, I got an A minus. What a great day.

There was also the time I asked a beautiful woman to marry me—which was very difficult. I don’t care who you are, when you propose marriage you’re putting your self-worth on the line. The wrong response from a woman could kill you.

I’ve known guys whose proposals were met with bitter rejections. These men ended up spending the rest of their lives in dim rooms, weeping violently whenever George Jones came on the jukebox, claiming it was their allergies.

When I asked Jamie Martin to grow old with me, my speech didn’t come together at all. I stumbled over my words like Don Knotts reciting the Preamble to the United States Constitution. And when I placed the tiny velvet box into her hand, her first reaction was not “Yes, I’ll marry you.”

Her answer was, “Of COURSE I’ll marry you.”

We held each other and cried happy tears. My nose starts running just thinking about it.

So when I see this kid on his bicycle I relate to what he’s going through. I feel his hesitation, his fear, and his fledgling trust in himself. I relate to his doubt, apprehension, and angst.

Believe me, kid, I get it. At times during this life I’ve wondered if I could get through it. But here I am, still pedaling. One day, you’ll say the same thing about yourself, and you’ll marvel at how strong you never knew you were.

“Are you ready?” says the boy’s father, clapping his son’s shoulders.

“I’m too afraid.”

“You’re okay.”

“Will you catch me if I fall?”

“You won’t fall.”

“What if I do?”

“You won’t.”

The boy takes a steadying breath. Even he knows it’s time. His father gives him a running push-start. And suddenly the boy is off. Dad jogs behind the moving bicycle, cheering all the way. And…

Success. He’s doing it. The kid is really doing it. He is riding with the kind of tenacity you only see in movies. And when his triumph is over, the father lifts his son into his arms and kisses the boy’s cheeks.

They were both too overjoyed to notice the redheaded neighbor watching in the distance. And this is probably a good thing.

Because my allergies were acting up today.


  1. chip plyler - January 4, 2021 6:47 am

    Well put my friend … allergies

  2. Christina - January 4, 2021 6:49 am

    Oh this is so heartwarming Sean! My allergies are acting up too.

  3. Glenda Williams - January 4, 2021 7:12 am

    Oh my goodness. You are just too good. I love your thinking.

  4. Sandi. - January 4, 2021 8:21 am

    Wonderful post, Sean! Reminds me of when my little brother got his first 2-wheeled bicycle. Since it was to be a birthday surprise, Daddy tried to assemble the bike one summer afternoon when my brother was at a pal’s house playing. After reading and studying the printed instruction sheet, he ended up with several leftover parts on the ground, so summoned Lovett, the man who mowed our lawn, to ask for his assistance. “Lovett”, daddy called out, “can you assemble a kid’s bike?” Lovett walked over and Daddy handed him the instructions. Lovett waved them away, shaking his head no, and within a few minutes, had the biike put together with no leftover parts. Daddy was quite impressed when he told this story at our family dinner table that night. “How did you do that so fast”? he asked Lovett when the bike was ready to ride. Lovett replied, “I can’t read. And when you can’t read, you have to THINK.”

  5. Susan Wold - January 4, 2021 9:29 am

    My allergies were acting up just reading it. The only good thing about my blasted insomnia is that you post early and it gives me something to look forward to at 3 a.m.

  6. Becca - January 4, 2021 9:36 am

    Sean, you have a way of taking your readers into the moments you describe and experience them with you! As for the you and Jamie, I pray you will have a long, long term relationship! God bless!

  7. Tammy S. - January 4, 2021 9:37 am


  8. Joe Dorough - January 4, 2021 10:31 am

    Just precious!

  9. Muriel - January 4, 2021 11:37 am

    So needed today, just going to “keep peddling!”

  10. Bob Brenner - January 4, 2021 11:45 am

    Having six children my allergies 🤧 had a workout with each first “Big Kid” bicycle 🚴 ride without the dreaded training wheels attached. Thanks for the fond memories Sean.


  11. Margo - January 4, 2021 12:45 pm

    Absolutely award winning journalism here. Every part. Taking the reader from a common experience, relating it to other experiences all with the same hope, fear and beautiful success….you are an awesome writer. It is the way you show your heart. Who could not love you and the love you show?

  12. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - January 4, 2021 12:52 pm

    I’m with Margo.

  13. Tommy - January 4, 2021 1:44 pm

    This says volumes about the Daddy moreso than the child. Related, my firstborn couldn’t have cared less about her bike til she learned a little 👦 @ church could ride & she couldn’t. Then a week later with scabs all over she was riding.

  14. MR - January 4, 2021 2:25 pm

    Allergies seem to be contagious among you and your readers😉

  15. Randy - January 4, 2021 2:34 pm

    We can all so relate to your stories. I think we’re trying to take off the training wheels in trying to get through this awful virus pandemic

  16. Mark Daigle - January 4, 2021 2:50 pm


  17. Shirley - January 4, 2021 2:57 pm

    You make me proud to claim Northwest Florida my home! Look what we have…not only our beautiful beaches, bayous and bays…we have Sean Dietrich!!

  18. Dean - January 4, 2021 4:12 pm

    Love to read your column. Like most people i have had the worst year of my life. Your column is a bright spot in my day.
    Thank You

  19. nebraskannie - January 4, 2021 4:54 pm

    It took me 2 years and 2 tutors to get through college algebra, so I’m happy I’m not the only one. I can look back on my life now and appreciate the determination it took! I love the statement that when you can’t read, you have to THINK! I wish more people did it!

  20. Pat L - January 4, 2021 5:25 pm

    Allergy med failed this morning! Wonderful!

  21. Linda Moon - January 4, 2021 5:27 pm

    Chuck Yeager is one of my heroes. Fifth-grade skating was a mixed-bag of heroism as I waited for some boy to ask me to couple-skate and trying to maintain self-worth as a chubby girl that most boys avoided. It became easier later in life to shed pounds than to pass math exams, but I finally succeeded at self-worth. Sean, you and Jamie are valuable heroes for me. I’m watching, reading, and listening, so keep pedaling!

  22. Deborah L Blount - January 4, 2021 7:37 pm

    My allergies were acting up too. Beautiful story.

  23. MAM - January 4, 2021 8:05 pm

    I agree, MR, but I always thought allergies weren’t contagious. 🙂 I lived on a gravel road; you don’t learn to ride a bike on a gravel road. I was 25 when my husband-to-be taught me to ride a bicycle in a university parking lot. I learned to swim the next year. I was always a late bloomer!

  24. Jane Ferguson - January 4, 2021 9:27 pm

    My allergies act up nearly every time I read your work. And I am almost 70 (shy 4 months!). I have to time my reading to get back to normal before anyone hears me sniffing. Thank you….

  25. Bob Emery - January 5, 2021 1:54 pm

    Today – another gem.
    Sean, your blogs elicit a multitude of feelings in your readers as evidenced by their comments.
    Today is no exception – thanks for the warm fuzzies.

  26. David Jones - January 6, 2021 1:14 am

    You are a great writer. Period.


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