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Letter to my posterity: Keep going even after you fall down
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Columnist Amy Choate-Nielsen wants her daughter to remember the lessons of learning to ride a bike. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
If I have learned anything thus far from my foray into family history research, it is that stories are humanizing.

Shared experiences, however brief, can transform a name into a person a grouping of letters into a relative, a family member. And if we don't preserve our tales, we risk losing pieces of our special heritage. We end up with people like me, looking under rocks and dusty cookbooks for stories of the past, stories of our grandmothers who died before we were born.

So, this story is for my posterity.

My daughter, you learned how to ride a bike this week.

I wasn't quite sure how to teach you. When we started, you didn't even push the bike yourself. I hauled it up the driveway, picked it up when you fell over, and held on to the seat at all times as you wobbled up and down the sidewalk. At some point, I realized I wanted you to learn a little self-sufficiency as well as how to balance on those two wheels, so I stopped chasing alongside of you. I stopped hauling your heavy bike out of the garage, and I stopped picking the handlebars up off of the ground.

And that's when you fell over.

It made me think of an experience I had when I was in college.

I lived with some of my best friends during my university days, and we loved to have a good time. Sometimes our definition of a good time was sleeping under the stars in southern Utah. Sometimes it was hosting a dance party in our little condo.

One night, we thought it would be fun to play capture the flag late at night. I dont remember how late at night it was, only that it was dark. We gathered a group of people at a nearby park with poor lighting, and we divided up the teams.

In capture the flag, both teams hide some kind of flag in their territory. Each player tries to sneak into the other team's territory to steal their flag while simultaneously defending their own flag. If you are tagged by the other team while you're in their territory, you're out of the game. If you steal the other team's flag without being caught, you win.

So this night, I was in the other team's territory. I wasn't close to grabbing their flag, but I was spotted, and someone was going to tag me if I didn't get out of there fast.

So I started to run. I started running so quickly, I felt like I'd never run faster in my life. I felt like I was actually floating, like I had a jet pack on my back and I was being propelled, I was moving so swiftly.

I specifically remember that feeling.

And then I crashed into something, and everything went black.

After that, I'm not sure what are my memories and what are the stories my roommates told me. But I remember holding frozen peas on my head. And I remember the doctor telling me they were going to remove my earrings so they wouldn't obscure the CT scan. I remember them telling me I'd broken the sinus bone in my face, in the narrow space between my cheek and my nose, and I was lucky it wasn't a millimeter to the left or right, or I could have lost my eye, and I shouldn't blow my nose until it healed.

Then my roommates took turns staying awake at my bedside all night long, until the morning, when I woke up with an enormous black eye, a concussion and the aftereffects of amnesia. To this day, the thing I remember best about that night is feeling like I was running like a gazelle. Then crash.

It occurs to me that sometimes in life, just when you are running your fastest, you hit a wall or your shorter roommate's head, as it was in my case. And sometimes it takes a while to run that fast again.

In fact, I first started teaching you how to ride your bike last July, but then I broke my ankle for four months, and it was winter before I could trot beside you. So this week, when you really started riding the bike for the first time by yourself, I couldn't have been prouder.

And when you fell over, you scraped and bruised your ankle pretty well. It took you a minute to get up and show me, but you didn't cry. We looked at your torn skin together, and I thought of that time I broke my face and I wondered how many more scrapes and broken bones you would have in your lifetime.

The next day, when we practiced again, you said to me, "But what if I fall over?" because I wasn't holding on to you.

"I don't want to fall over again," you said.

So we talked about how it's not totally fun to fall off your bike onto the grass, but it's not the worst thing, either, and you can't ride your bike if you don't get on first.

And wouldn't you know, you got right back on.

And you rode like a champion.