Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Molly and Her Bike

As shared previously, my wife and I adopted twin girls from Russia in the Fall of 2011. We were told by multiple doctors, both in Russia and via Skype, that while the girls were a good bit behind having been institutionalized in an orphanage for 16 months, they would surely catch up to their peers in three, maybe four, definitely no more than five years down the road.

My wife and I, blinded by our future daughters' adorable faces coupled with our own strong desire to build a family, ignored the obvious signs and moved ahead with the adoption process. Little did we know that our adoption agency would be investigated a few years later by the FBI and eventually close their doors after similar investigative pieces about their adoption practices. It turns out that the adoption agency we trusted may have been withholding medical information regarding our daughters. Looking back, we are stunned we didn't see all of the signs.

Neither Molly or Kenna could crawl when we brought them home. Molly eventually started to move a bit better but her words were increasingly delayed. Kenna didn't fully walk until closer to age three, and even then with an uneasy balance. My wife and I would spend our evenings sitting across from one another, feet to feet, teaching Kenna how to walk and balance back from mommy to daddy.

Doctor visits turned into multiple diagnoses which turned into multiple therapy appointments which turned into my wife a shuttle service for no less than six weekly appointments for the girls. When you add in our attempts to include them in gymnastics (they were the five year olds in the two to three year old class, often at the back of the line, working one to one with an instructor) as well as every service we could squeeze out of our somewhat stingy school district, the care that Molly and Kenna necessitated became a full time job for my wife.

Sometimes, they give the look of what most people would call "normal kids". They smile and laugh, try their best to make friends, and often ask questions that are age-appropriate. They also act like "normal kids" when they have nuclear meltdown tantrums in the chips aisle of Target because their father refuses to buy them their own individual Goldfish packages. (Dad gave in after a few minutes; the screaming stopped thereafter. I tried my best.)

But often, it is very clear that something is different with my Molly and Kenna to the casual observer. They stare a bit longer. They yell out at inappropriate times and for no reason. Their speech still struggles along. Letters and numbers seem to be their enemy.

And worse, due to just diagnosed sensory issues, they'll scream at any loud sound, such as a motorcycle's engine, and often run anyway to get away from the noise, even into oncoming traffic.

Due to a lack of social cues, they'll often hit when angry, especially if one of their siblings has taken something that they were playing with within the last 48 hours but hadn't touched in the interim.

With the severe attachment issues they have with my wife, our time spent together as a six person family often ends in tears, anger, and frustration for everyone.

My wife and I have come to understand that they may never live on their own, they may never be able to have sustainable jobs in the workplace, and that they may never be able to do just the normal things that all kids get to do... like ride a bike.

This is hard.

We want our kids to be successful, no matter what the level they can rise up to. We want to take away societal limits that falsely prevent our kids from reaching their true potential. My wife and I are both educators, both with a soft spot for the autistic, the needy, the lost. As parents of two very special needs kids, it is a challenge to accurately predict where they'll end up and how to best get them to where they need to be for a sustainable life, whatever that looks like.

Back to the bikes.

Molly and Kenna have been asking for new bikes for over a year now. We previously had some pink princess bikes bought off Amazon, put together imperfectly by moi, and eventually discarded without the approval of my daughters. The bikes just weren't safe, even with their lopsided training wheels. Molly and Kenna would often fall, often due to their inability to control their bike. Time after time, they would end up in tears after a horrible bike riding experience.

As a parent, I had given up on them ever riding a bicycle. Given their physical, intellectual, and sensory needs, it would just be something they could never do.

Regardless, with Christmas upcoming, Molly and Kenna had different ideas. Whenever they would get asked what they wanted from Santa, it was the same answer, every single time: We Want A Bike.

Knowing how Bike Riding went the first time, I had little desire to repeat the experience. I knew that it was just something they couldn't do.

Fast forward to the morning of December 24th and the question being asked one more time to Molly and Kenna. Their answer was the same. My wife looked at me and said, "we're going to have to go get them some bikes."

That morning, with the help of my father in law, the girls went to the local bike store and tested out a few bikes. Nothing was purchased until I returned later that afternoon to pick up their new bikes. Kenna was getting a semi smaller bike with training wheels. Molly, however, was getting a larger bike without training wheels.

Two thoughts at this time: (1) This doesn't make any sense; she needs training wheels, and (2) This isn't going to end well; prepare for doom.

The bikes were the last gifts of Christmas morning. The girls were thrilled. Immediately following the family breakfast, they wanted to go bike riding. I was chosen by my wife to be the one to take them. I did not get a vote.

We walked across the street to the park. I had a firm hand on both bikes and girls, not wanting the upcoming chaos to start too soon. We walked a half block to our starting point of the park's biking loop. Helmets were on. Girls got on their bikes. Dad was ready for kid tears. And then this happened.

Day 1 with a bike

No words.


My wife calmly said, "yes, Todd, as I told you, my brother said she didn't need training wheels and would be fine."


"Well, from the video you just sent me, it looks like she does," responded my wife.

And Molly did.

She rode around the park no less than 30 times, never falling once. She learned how to use the hand brake. She somehow figured out how to make tight turns. She slows down when she's approaching someone in the path ahead of her. It didn't make any sense to me at the time (and it still doesn't), but Molly somehow eclipsed my predictions of her potential.

Molly and Kenna rode to the library, all the way down Newell to Channing, across Channing to the other park, around that biking loop (with a hill, no less) so many times, and then back home. This was just the first biking experience of the day. We went out later Christmas afternoon as well and then again twice today. It's safe to say that tomorrow will be filled with biking opportunities as well.

I'm now wondering what other limits I've placed on my daughters that are holding them back rather than letting them soar. Maybe they are ready for the Stanford Dish. Maybe they can take on a few leadership roles (ie chores) in the household. Maybe they are capable of so much more than what I thought.

Maybe all of our students are capable of so much more than we think.

From Day 2 - Notice the "feet trick" Molly does

Happy holidays, everyone. Here's to another 12 days of nonstop bike riding!


  1. Lots of love from our family to your beautiful family ❤️❤️


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