Birthday Plans

Robin’s second birthday is now less than a month away; we’re planning to spend it, like we did his first, in Carson City with Nonna, Pappy, the Anti-Sara, and Robin’s great-grandma Elsie: except this time Nanita and Marqueño are also flying out to join us. I think Robin is old enough this time that he’ll like getting presents (unlike his first birthday, when he was much more interested in the packaging), but in complete sincerity I’m certain that his main delight will be in the attention of his extended family. Robin’s delighted reaction to the company of Sara, Melinda and Lindsey reminded us yet again that this boy loves having a big family around. It’s a real enduring regret of mine that we weren’t able to figure out a spot to settle that would bring us closer to relatives.

Meanwhile I am in very great danger of totally blowing the household budget on birthday presents. As we’ve already established, I’m not really great at separating out the things I desire for Robin with the things that I just, well, desire.

For instance, I just ordered an abacus. Although it has to do with teaching Robin math someday, this obviously isn’t really a birthday present; the birthday is just a convenient excuse. I also got a book on using it, and another book on “finger math,” which is derived from the abacus. I do think these are neat tools for teaching math, and although Robin won’t be ready for them for years, I have to learn them before I can use them in teaching him! But, for now, these are mostly presents for me. I also got some books on teaching music and art to small children, along with a nice beeswax crayon set (recommended by Melinda!) and a couple of “rhythm sticks” to add to our collection of simple instruments. And a picture book of “Diggers and Dumpers” (I, um, may be wanting to encourage Robin to play with his awesome trucks more), along with another Maurice Sendak book (Outside Over There), since Where the Wild Things Are is such a favorite.

But our main present for Robin this year is a bike. It was going to be a tricycle, but then I saw a couple of the older boys at the park tooling around on these funny little bikes without any pedals, variously called balance bikes, push bikes, or running bikes. I talked to one of the moms about them: she’s from Germany, and she says the advantage of these bikes is that they actually teach balance, unlike tricycles or bikes with training wheels; kids who grow up using these balance bikes are able to move to real bicycles much earlier. Apparently they’re very popular in European countries where bicycle riding is widespread, and teaching kids to ride is taken more seriously.

So I started doing some research online, comparing the reviews for balance bikes and tricycles, and it does seem like the consensus from parents is that tricycles are sort of lame: the kids are interested at first, but they’re awkward to pedal and can’t go very fast, and often the trike ends up being a bulky, expensive toy that doesn’t see a lot of use. The kinds of Flintstone-type cars that kids push with their feet are preferred, but the balance bikes are where the real excitement is. Kids on balance bikes have to wear helmets, because they can get to speeds approaching those of a real bike.

The highest-quality (and by far the most expensive) of these bikes is apparently the German-engineered Kokua Like-a-bike Jumper. This baby gets awesome reviews. Everyone who has one loves it. These are the bikes that Niels and Dino bring to the park. It looks like a great bike.

It also costs two hundred and seventy dollars. We’re not getting Robin this bike.

Luckily for our pocketbook, the Jumper is too big for Robin anyway; although it claims to be suitable for children ages 2 to 5, the lowest seat setting is still fourteen inches off the ground, and Robin’s inseam is only a foot. (Because the kids push with their feet, they have to be able to reach the ground while sitting on the bike.) So we’re getting the smaller Strider for a third of the price.

I’m super excited about it. My son’s first bike! Robin has demonstrated a lot of interest in the bikes that Niels and Dino ride, so I think he’ll be into the Strider. I hope so, anyway. After all, at least one of these presents should really be for him and not for me!

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