It’s okay that no one has ever ridden the unicycle hanging from the ceiling in our garage. Really it is.
We bought it for Randy’s 9th birthday for about 75 bucks. He gave it a try, spending a total of maybe six or eight hours goofing with it. His brothers and sister also spent varying amounts of time experimenting with the one-wheeled contraption. Isaac probably stayed up the longest – eight or ten seconds. None of them ever really got the hang of it and the unicycle now hangs in the corner of the garage as a memorial to “druthers.”
Now, I am absolutely sure that out of my five children, one or two had the physical agility and mental acuity to become an expert unicyclist. Again it’s not easy. It would have taken hours of practice, perhaps an entire summer. I certainly am not going to blame any of my kids for not following through. The mental gyroscope required for mastering the unicycle cannot be detected by visual inspection. Plus, I don’t think any of them ever caught the vision of how cool it would be to ride down the street on one wheel.
So whether they knew it or not, each of them did a cost-benefit analyst of the time it would take, the amount of frustration they might endure, dad’s expectations, the reality that it might not even be possible, and the immediate and long-term usefulness of having that particular skill. Any of them had the legitimate option to go for it and master it. But each of them chose not to. There was stuff that – at the time – seemed like a better option.
In those pivotal magic summers, during which maturing pre-teens have few responsibilities and many options, they each decided they would “druther” do something else. Their choices were the same choices made by generations of young people: playing catch, swimming, riding two-wheeled bikes, tree-climbing, inventing backyard games, watching the Cubs lose on WGN, tormenting their siblings, hanging out with friends, and maybe even reading a book or two. All reasonable, typical, healthy choices.
In the meantime, the unicycle got pulled out of the garage every once in a while. A garage-exploring neighbor boy would see it and want to give it a try. One or two kids from down the street claimed to be experts, but failed to impress. Now it hangs from the ceiling, just low enough that I bump my head on it once or twice each season.
No regrets. Except that I always wanted to ride a unicycle myself. Yes, in this case, I am guilty of seeking vicarious satisfaction living by proxy through one of my progeny. But no such luck.
And, again, no regrets. Without hesitation, my recommendation to any dad of a nine-year-old is “buy them a unicycle.” The very worst that happens is they are forced to make a choice. Not a failure. Just a choice.
And who knows? Your kid might just master the one-wheeled beast, run away and join the circus.
All we can do is open doors for our children. They are going to choose to walk through them or not. And that’s okay.
“There is much to be said for failure. It is much more interesting than success.”
-- Max Beerbohm (1872 - 1956)