I recently learned that Biff (whose name is changed to protect the innocent and well intentioned), an affable 12 year-old neighbour and occasional touch football teammate was sentenced to a speed reading course this summer because his parents believe it takes him too long to get through his homework. Biff readily admits a certain fondness for instant messages and computer games, and this may have something to do with his present predicament.
When I was teaching English, I would often try to encourage my scholars to read slowly, to think deeply, to look for elements of tone, to appreciate nuance, style, and character development. I am not sure I had much success. When I heard of Biff’s situation, I was reminded of Woody Allen’s line: “I just took a speed reading course, and then I read “War and Peace.” It’s about Russia.”
We are all in a hurry. There is so much to do. One of the gifts of summer, though, is the subtle change of pace. Because there are fewer events in the haze of July and August, we’re given the chance to pause and, if we are lucky, to occasionally savour what might pass for the ordinary during another time of year.
Which brings me to my younger son, and his learning how to ride a bike. With his older siblings, my wife and I were keenly aware of the “proper age” for learning how to negotiate a two-wheeler. Because the other children in the neighbourhood apparently passed this rite of passage by the age of six, we made sure our progeny did, too. Like it or not. Lord knows, we wouldn’t want to have been held responsible for enabling a developmentally delayed cyclist!
By the time my younger son rolled around (ouch) though, we had run out of steam. Instead of conforming to the push of peers, we comforted ourselves with the thought that he would learn to ride when he was good and ready. That he hadn’t mastered this task by the age of six — or even appeared interested in trying for that matter — didn’t bother him in the least. So why should it bother us? And of course, it comes as no surprise that, when he did finally show an interest in his Schwinn, (almost an entire year after the peer approved and prescribed age!), he took to the task with great gusto.
Because it was summer, I had the chance to watch this uneven stop-go-tilt-weave and fall (just a few times!) process come about. And I had the chance to experience, for perhaps one last time, the magical moment of letting go, of freeing my son from my own grip, my own control. I don’t want to read too much into this, but there is something in that moment, when a youngster asserts himself like this, that is downright extraordinary. And what it suggests, the apparently innate desire for independence and motion and direction away from us, is as uplifting as it is sobering.