You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike?

You never forget how to ride a bike.

It’s called a procedural memory, a knowledge learned at a young age that becomes so ingrained, you don’t have to consciously think (how to walk or swim, how to write or tie your shoes, not to touch a hot stove). This information is stored in a specific area of the brain, and is always accessible, but here is a secret:

You can forget how to ride a bike.

If something happens to the brain, that information can be lost. Thankfully, aside from traumatic brain injury or early onset dementia, you don’t have to worry about losing those little gems, but as you get older, the guarantee expires.

The other night, my dad (aged 92) tried to pull a casserole out without an oven mitt. I swatted his arm away, avoiding a visit to the ER, but he seemed confused by my interference. He said it never occurred to him that the dish would be hot.

Dad struggles with word retrieval. He forgets to eat lunch. He can’t remember how to make the microwave or the television set work, and like the hot casserole dish, I’m caught off guard as each of these procedural memories expires.

My dad taught me to ride a bike. I never imagined that one day, he wouldn’t be able to ride one.

I thought convincing him to stop driving was the biggest challenge, until I had to stop him from ordering random things off the internet. I allow him as much independence as possible, exercising patience when he pushes back, but he is getting close to the point where sleeping is the only thing he is allowed to do without supervision. With each adjustment, I’m careful not to blame his limitations. Instead, I repeat that we are facing these changes together, and the new rules are not meant to punish or control him, but instead to make things easier on me.

As his world shrinks, my compassion grows. Who will pull a casserole out of the oven for me when I’m older? Will I know when it’s no longer safe to drive?  How will I react the day I hop on my bike and can’t make it go?

Middle age is like standing at the pivot point of a seesaw trying to balance memories of boundless youth against the limits of aging. Until, one day, it’s time to get down and let someone guide you home.

Virtual Reality

Significant experiences live inside us. Moments evoked by a song, a smell, or a situation often initially prompt a smile, but even the most precious pieces of the past feel bittersweet being reincarnated. The decades cast a shadow.

Photo Credit: Martino Pietropoli (courtesy of Unsplash)

Yesterday, one of those moments swept in like a summer downpour. The memory bloomed as time rewound thirty years to a flood of young love, and the joy it brings. 

I’m not currently in a relationship. All the feelings were deeply rooted in lost love, and when the rush dissolved, I felt a dull ache lingering like a hangover. 

Did I make the right choices? Could I have changed the outcome? Pushing the questions aside, I grasped for the memory again desperate to be there just a little longer, but I couldn’t hold on. 

Between the flood of tears and choking breaths, I whispered to myself, “everything happens for a reason.” For I would not be here without lessons and opportunities born of past losses.

Somedays the lure of years gone by is tempting, but I don’t want to get stuck there. It’s a virtual reality, created in my mind. I have power over it, and when I turn it off, I return to my present to create a new adventure.

Give Some to Get Some

Most days I have better conversations with my 8 year old nephew than I do with other adults. Kids are pretty easy, though. Give them a little attention and you’ve secured a captive audience. The same rules don’t always apply with adults.

Some people never give up chasing flashy things, and not being an expert in attention grabbing, I tend to end up too easily overlooked. But, if I take a stab at self promotion, I feel like an imposter.

How can you be memorable without being famous?

I had been pondering this dilemma when I ran into an old childhood friend. I had not seen much of him as an adult, but we stayed in touch on social media and began to communicate regularly over email. 

As one conversation led to the next, I teased him for being so chatty, but in truth, is he is friendly. With very little effort he demonstrated the secret for how to be memorable, in a not-at-all-flashy-or-self-promoting way. He acknowledges people rather than waiting for them to notice him.

He is simply interested, and that makes him interesting. 

Lesson learned. Just like with kids, when talking to adults, all you have to do is give some to get some.

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed, and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries. They were all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal by getting married at age 44.

The newlyweds union was born from online dating. They seemed like a really good match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but two hearts that compliment each other well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my own uncoupled conundrum.

My fatal flaw is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I let him sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, and I pay top dollar, too.  It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proven completely, and utterly false, I dismiss my own history and believe THIS one is different.

On the drive back to the airport, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. The fist that broke her face had struck not too many hours beforehand, but here she was hard at work. It looked painful, but she did not complain, a true physical abuse veteran.

I drove off wondering why anyone would stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly dropped my judgement. Who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the whim of narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but it does leave a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long debate with myself. The other half of the time, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy?

I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I want to blame the guy. I need to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Not Fade Away

On Saturday, his face, his smile, his laugh all filled my mind. I didn’t wonder about it, the approaching anniversary of his departure was a logical trigger, but today he appeared in the street, as if he’d been here all along, instead of moving six states away two years ago.

I paused. Was it a mirage? No. If I imagined it, I would visualize myself with combed hair and better clothes. Unable to fix my appearance, I walked over to say hello.

He looked great, as always, but also happier and more relaxed than when we said goodbye. His prior disposition undoubtedly being partially my fault. He came back this weekend for a wedding, and will be gone tomorrow. I rambled, of course. It can’t be helped in this kind of situation, but I’m pretty sure I avoided saying anything stupid or embarrassing.

Hours later, I’m still reeling. I had important things to do this afternoon, but instead, I went for a swim. Now it’s getting late. I should have dinner, but my mind is distracted, searching for the key that unlocks a different ending for us. I’ve missed him since the day he left, and our three minutes of idle chit chat today only served to remind me.

Two years ago, he gave me a silver pendant on a chain. One side a compass, the other an anchor. Back then, I thought he was the anchor, providing stability in an uncertain situation.      I was the compass. Later, I realized the truth. I remained anchored here while his compass pointed him somewhere else. After six months, I undid the clasp and put it away.

Today, I put the necklace on again, just for a day…or two.

A Really Good Book

Have you ever spent time with two people and found out later they are in a relationship and thought, “Hmmm, I never would have guessed!”

Some twosomes have electric energy that anyone can sense, as if they glow the same shade of purple, but for others, without the shared looks or purposeless touching, the pair seems more like buddies than bedfellows.

I recently witnessed a couple seriously lacking in chemistry. Individually, each one is fantastic-attractive, engaging, fun, but together they fall flat. Granted some relationships start off slowly as the individuals get to know each other, but after a time, for the couple I’m referencing it had been over 6 months, outsiders should be able to tell the two of you make up a “we”.

I can’t imagine being in a unidentifiable to others relationship over the long term. If I’m drawn in by the cover of the book, as I often am when it comes to men, I figure out pretty quickly whether the story holds my interest. Sure, I might stick it out for a few chapters hoping the plot improves, especially if he is really HOT, but at some point, it makes sense to close the book if it’s not enjoyable, and go find a better story.

Some determined people insist on continuing until the end, but aren’t those always the books you look back on and think, why did I bother? The end was so obvious right from the beginning!

I’ve learned to appreciate stories that seem totally not my style, but come highly recommended. They are always filled with adventure, hold my interest, teach me something, and keep me absorbed right to the end. In fact, thinking about this right now makes me want to go find myself another really good book…


I’ve been thinking a lot about fireflies. Like most children, I chased after them on warm summer nights collecting them carefully in between my cupped palms and placing them in a jar which I kept by my bed. When I woke up in the morning, they were always dead. You would think I’d figure out that trapping them in a jar makes for an unhappy ending, but I’m impulsively possessive. Logic takes a vacation when it comes to something I covet. THIS time will be different, I tell myself. THIS time the fireflies will be alive and happy to see me when I wake up.

I’m not sure exactly what age I stopped chasing fireflies, but I’d guess it was around the same time I started chasing boys. Funny how I made the same mistakes. I was pretty good at capturing them, but once they were mine, I held on too tight, and woke up disappointed. Any guesses on how long it took me to realize the problem and take steps to correct it? The light bulb came on last week. Thirty years of self sabotage. Okay, that is not fair, I’ve recognized the problem for at least ten years, but the voice in my head always offered the false assurance, THIS time will be different.

I heard that voice again last weekend as I stared into beautiful blue eyes that sparkled with light like a firefly. Instantly, I was transported to a field in early summer feeling warm, safe, and happy. I smile now thinking about the time we spent together and a familiar voice whispers in my head, THIS time might REALLY be different, but I know better. THIS time, I call out the flaws in my past logic, and tread cautiously with an eye toward survival for both of us. If this relationship gets messed up, I promise myself it won’t be because I trapped him until he couldn’t breathe. THIS one will fly freely as I calmly enjoy each moment, and if I remember correctly, when you are patient and trusting, the firefly comes to you.