…And the Wheels Turn
4247 Maplewood Dr.
Saturday, December 17, 1994
“But why does it have to be upside down?” Jenna asked as she helped her daddy turn the bike over. The handlebars and the streamers sat on the ground now—the wheels and pedals stuck up in the air. She thought it looked kind of funny that way.
“Because that just makes it easier to take the training wheels off,” Lee explained as knelt down beside the bike. “Can you hand me the crescent wrench, munchkin?”
“But what’s a wrench?”
“It’s a tool—right in the toolbox over there,” Lee pointed to the black box a few feet away. “It has a bright red handle,” he added , seeing the confusion in her eyes.
“Umm—” A wrench. Jenna chewed her bottom lip as she walked over the box, looking down at the tools—some of them she’d seen before, but which one was a wrench? A bright red handle —finally she spotted something. This had to be it. She had to use both hands to lift it but she still managed to pick it up and carry it over.
“Is this right, Daddy?”
“It’s perfect.” He smiled at her as he took it from her hands. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome,” Jenna replied. Miss Pruss told them to say that whenever someone said ‘Thank you’. She said it was good manners. “It was heavy.”
“Well that’s what makes you a very strong helper,” Lee told her. “I’ll have these training wheels off in just a minute.”
“Okay.” Jenna put her hands in her pockets to keep them warm as she watched him. He whistled as he worked—she wished she could whistle too. Jamie had tried to teach her one time. He said that all you had to do was put your tongue behind your teeth and blow. Jenna put her tongue on her teeth but all she could do was feel her loose tooth— right next to the space where her first tooth had been. Experimentally she used her tongue to wiggle it back and forth. Getting looser, she thought. Soon it would come out all the way and the tooth fairy would come back.
Could she still whistle without her tooth? Curling her tongue up she tried to blow out air to whistle but all that came out was a hiss that sounded more like Lisa’s kitties when they got mad.
“Jenna, what are you doing?”
“Trying to whistle like you,” Jenna said.
“Well that’s nice, but just try and whistle a little quieter, munchkin,” Lee spoke from between gritted teeth as he worked the wrench. “This nut’s on—it’s just a little tight and Daddy’s trying to loosen it.”
Loosen it—like her tooth was getting looser every day. Only no one would use a wrench on it—or a brick or a door, she reminded herself. Jenna could still remember what her brothers had told her—they had said it was a joke but the thoughts were still scary. Grandma told her that she was losing her baby teeth because she wasn’t a baby any more—she was a big girl.
A big girl who would soon have a big girl bike—no more training wheels.
“Hi Jenna!” Katie Hoff waved as she zipped by on her bike—Jenna waved back. Katie was older—in second grade but she was nice—sometimes she’d come over and they’d play Candyland or Barbies. She watched enviously as Katie disappeared down the street—going so fast that her wheels were just a blur.
Would she ever be able to ride like that? She wondered. With training wheels you could ride, but you couldn’t really go that fast. But when they were off it would be different. Jenna pictured herself riding down the street just like Katie. She imagined the wind on her face; blowing her hair straight back when she went down a hill. Almost like being able to fly—that would be a lot of fun.
A clink on the pavement—one of the wheels lay on the ground. Now there was only one more wheel left.
“Daddy?” She asked.
“Hmm?” he didn’t look up from the bike.
“Can I ride down the street today?” she asked him.
Now he looked up at her. “Down the street?” he repeated. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
“But I did it before, ‘member?”
“Yes, I remember, but that was when you had training wheels,” Lee reminded her.”While you’re learning to ride without them I’d like you to stay on the driveway where it’s safe. Okay?”
“Is it a lot different with no training wheels?”
“Well the training wheels kept the bike from tipping over so you wouldn’t fall, ” Lee said. “Without the wheels you have to balance when you ride.”
“Oh,” Jenna knew that you could fall but she hadn’t really thought about it much until just now. She looked again at the bike as Daddy removed the last wheel and turned it right side up. The same bike that she had always had—blue and lavender with flowers on the seat. It wasn’t any different.
So why did it suddenly look twice as big?
‘A long way to fall…’
Jenna swallowed hard as the butterflies in her tummy began to hop and flap their wings.
“What if I do fall down?” she asked suddenly.
Lee hesitated, looking into her eyes. What should he tell her? He couldn’t say that she’d never fall; that would be a lie. “I’ll be here with you the whole time,” he told her. “And I’ll hold the bike to keep it steady.”
That sounded good. “You won’t let go?” Jenna said. “Promise?”
Lee ran his hand back through his hair. He wished that Amanda and Dotty would come back from the store—they would know exactly what to say. “I promise I won’t let go until I’m sure you’re really ready,” he replied finally. “And if you do fall I’ll be right here to help you. Okay?”
“Well—” Jenna looked down, tracing her foot in tiny circles on the pavement. Inside her the butterflies still flapped –but then she thought of Katie. She knew she wanted to ride like that.
‘I’m a big girl,’ Jenna thought. ‘I can do this.’
She looked up at Dad.
“Okay,” she said.
“Good.” Lee smiled and ruffled her hair as he stood. “Let’s just get your helmet on and then we can get started.”
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“It’s too tight,”
Jenna complained, tugging at the helmet strap under her chin. “Mommy doesn’t
make it this tight.”
“I know—just trying
to make sure it’s secure, that’s all.”
Lee loosened the strap a notch.
“Is that better?”
“It’s better,” Jenna
straightened the helmet, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. Her mouth was
open—he could see her tongue as
it wiggled the loose tooth back and forth—she did that almost constantly
now. “Don’t mess with your tooth while
you’re riding, munchkin.”
“But it’s fun.”
“Yeah, I know it’s fun,” Lee told her. “But
right now I want you to concentrate on riding.” He patted the seat. “Now hop on
up. Don’t worry—I’ll hold it steady for you.” He leaned over the bike, holding
the back of the saddle with one hand and the handlebars with the other as Jenna
“Put one foot on the
pedal,” Lee instructed.
“Either one—it doesn’t matter. Now keep the other one flat on the
ground—that’s good.” Keeping his grip on the saddle Lee adjusted the pedal
under her left foot so it was in the ‘up’ position.
“Okay, but don’t let
“No, I’m not letting
go yet,” Lee said. “Now when you push that pedal down, just use your other foot
to give yourself a push from the ground and then put that foot on the other
“Like this?” Jenna asked.
Lee watched Jenna push off with her foot—only a small push but she’d learn
that with practice. “Now just pedal—keep pedaling— keep going— ”he
ran along beside her as she pedaled down the drive. “You have to keep pedaling,
“You’re keeping a
good speed,” Lee said. “Keep pedaling—”
Now was the time. He took his
hand away from the handlebars.
“Daddy please—” Jenna twisted her head around to look at him—he could
hear the panic in her voice. “Don’t let
“I’ve still got a hold of the back,”
he assured her. “You’re doing
really well. Look straight ahead and don’t look back at me, Okay? ” For a
moment the bike wobbled as the
handlebars twisted in her grasp—he put his hand back—fighting to keep the bike
from tipping over. “You have to hold the
“I know.” Jenna continued to
pedal. Holding his breath, Lee took his
hand off the handlebars once more, releasing it in a sigh of relief as she
simply continued to pedal. From beneath
the helmet her small face wore a mask of concentration, her teeth biting down on
her lower lip. So much like her mother—
‘She’s doing it. She’s really
doing it—’ this might be easier than he’d thought. They neared the end of
“Are you ready to turn?” He
asked her. Jenna nodded. “Just turn the handlebars and the rest of
the bike will follow—it’s just like with your training wheels. You still have
to pedal—that’s very good,” he
said, guiding her as the bike began to slowly turn. “Straighten them back
out—we’re going to go
back up the drive—pedal a little faster now.”
“Okay—don’t let go!”
Almost time—he hardly had to hold the bike at all anymore—she held it
steady all by herself—the only thing he had to do was time it just right—
“Keep pedaling, munchkin,” he told her.
“Eyes straight ahead—you’re doing it—keep going—”
That was when he let go—
Daddy let go!
Jenna’s fear vanished when she
realized that she hadn’t fallen after all— that as long as she kept pedaling
she stayed upright.
‘I can do this,’ Jenna thought.
Just like Katie Hoff and the
other big girls—soon she’d be the one riding up and down the street, waving at
everyone as she went by—
“I’m riding, Daddy!”
“You’re doing great,” Lee told her.
“I need to turn,” she called out.
Riding was easy; turning would be easy too. Still going fast Jenna
turned the wheel sharply—she heard
Daddy’s voice, calling out to her as the bike tilted—
It seemed to happen in slow motion; Lee watched as the bike’s wheels
twisted and the bike fell. Jenna hit the
pavement on hands and knees—
‘I shouldn’t have let go so soon—she wasn’t ready.’ Praying she wasn’t too
badly hurt Lee ran
over to his child and knelt beside her.
She looked up at him and that’s when he saw it—the blood covering her
lips and chin—even the front of her turtleneck.
So much blood—mouth injuries could bleed a lot, he knew that firsthand. The
question was, how had this happened? Had
she hit her mouth on the handlebars somehow? Bit her lip or her tongue?
“Daddy,” Jenna whimpered. “My mouth—it hurts—” She put her hand up to
her mouth—seeing the blood on her fingers she began to cry—small shoulders
shaking with the force of her sobs.
“Shhh—” he gathered her into his arms and stood, fighting to stay calm
for her sake. “I know it does. But you’re
just fine, munchkin. Let’s get you inside where we can take a look at this,
“Not yet—wait,” Jenna wailed, squirming in his grasp. “We can’t.”
“Jenna, I need to take a look at your mouth,” Lee told her. “I promise it’ll be
“But my—my tooth. I have to—to find it—”
“Your tooth?” Lee asked
gently. “You mean your loose tooth? It fell out?”
“Uh-huh—” Jenna sniffled and
nodded, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
That made sense, Lee thought—and if she’d lost her tooth it might have
cut the inside of her mouth or even her tongue. The question was, how deep was
the cut? A small cut would be easy to deal with—a deeper one would require
“We got to find it,” Jenna repeated.
“I know—we’ll find it in a minute,” he soothed. “Right now let’s get you inside
and get you
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“Now just rinse— one more time,” Lee handed her a plastic cup. “Swish it around
in your mouth and spit it
“I know.” Jenna took a swallow
from the cup—leaning over the bathroom sink she spit the water out. Still
slightly pink, Lee noted with relief as he watched the water swirl down the
drain, but it wasn’t too bad. “Let me
look at your mouth again, munchkin—open up.”
Jenna opened her mouth and he gently pulled her lip down. “Yeah, it’s just a
tiny little cut—you’ll be fine.”
“Can we put a band-aid on it?” She
asked him. “Like on my hand?”
“No, we can’t put a band-inside your mouth,” Lee said, lifting her down off the
bathroom counter. “But
after we change your clothes you can have a popsicle—that should help your mouth
feel better, okay?”
“Okay,” Jenna replied. “But what
about my tooth?”
The tooth—he should’ve known this was coming up. Lee ran his hand back
through his hair. “Ahh—that’s an awfully
tiny tooth, munchkin,” he began. “I don’t
know if we could—”
“We got to—the Tooth Fairy—”
“The Tooth Fairy will know, trust me.”
How, indeed. His daughter looked
at him expectantly, waiting for an answer.
“We can—we can write her a letter,” he said finally. “We’ll tell her
that we really tried to find it and couldn’t. She’ll understand.”
“Daddy, that’s a lie.” She said accusingly. “We got to look.”
The expression on Jenna’s face was so like Amanda’s at that moment–he could
tell she wasn’t going to change her mind about this. Lee let out his breath in
a quiet sigh. “Okay—just get changed—I’ll
get you a popsicle and then we’ll go look.”
Jenna smiled. “I love you,
He ruffled her hair. “Love you
“You know what?” Jenna said.
“The bike was really fun before I fell down.”
“You did a really good job,”
Lee told her. “And we’ll keep
practicing so that you don’t fall down.”
“Okay—can we practice on the street next?”
“We’ll see, munchkin.”