Training Wheels

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, clean wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One evening everyone was sitting at the table eating dinner. They had stuffed eggplant and zucchini fritters, and custard and rhubarb for dessert. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother were all talking about the best way to peel eggplants, and Benson was feeling a bit left out.

He said suddenly, “Elmer still has training wheels on his bike. He has to be the worst bike-rider in the world.”

Everyone stopped talking and looked at him.

Benson suddenly felt embarrassed. He said. “Stop looking at me like that. You’re making me feel bad!”

Aunt Moss looked surprised. “How could we do that?” she said.

“You’re making me feel as if I’m a mean, horrible person for saying that,” he said.

His mother said, “Actually, I was wondering how you managed to get custard on your nose and your ear at the same time.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I wasn’t thinking about you at all. I was trying to think where there’s a space in the garden where I can grow some eggplants.”

Benson got up and said crossly, “You’re all being mean!” He stamped off to his room and slammed the door.

His mother gave him a little while to think about it, then she went in and sat down on the bed beside him. She said, “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say about your cousin Elmer, was it?”

“Not really,” he said.

His mother said, “Sometimes we think other people are thinking something about us, when really it’s what we’re thinking about ourselves.”

That was a bit hard to understand, so his mother said, “Maybe you thought you were being a bit mean about Elmer.”

“Maybe,” Benson said gruffly, “but you were all making me feel like I was a bad person.”

“Benson, no-one can make you feel like you’re a bad person, or a stupid person or any other kind of person,” his mother said. “It’s you that decide how you feel about yourself. You know what you’re like better than anyone else does.”

“But what about when Arlette kind of huffs when I say something,” he said. “Then I know she thinks I’m stupid, and it makes me think I’m really dumb.”

“Maybe she thinks so, but she can’t make you think you are,” his mother said. “That’s something you do yourself. Do you think you’re a stupid, mean little wombat?”

Benson thought about it, then he said, “I think I’m kind of cute, but sometimes I can be a bit mean.”

“I think I’d agree with that,” his mother said, kissing him on the nose.

The next day, Benson and Mick were riding their bikes when Elmer came pedalling up.

“I’m getting my training wheels off today!” Elmer said proudly. “Dad says I’m ready.”

Uncle Elton rode up on his bike. “I’ve got the spanner, son,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“Ready!” Elmer said.

Uncle Elton undid the nuts and took the training wheels off. “There you are! Off you go, son!” he said.

Elmer started off. The bike toppled over straight away. He got back on and tried again. The bike fell over and he fell off, seventeen times in a row. The eighteenth time the bike didn’t fall over, and Elmer stayed on, and rode straight into a tree.

Benson and Mick laughed.

“Stop laughing!” Elmer said. “You’re making me feel like I’m an idiot!”

“Actually,” Benson said, “no-one can make you feel something if you don’t let them. It’s what you think about yourself that’s important.” He tried to remember what his mother had said. He wasn’t sure if he had said it right, so he stopped trying to explain and tried to look as if he knew what he was talking about instead.

Elmer said, “Dad, they’re laughing at me and making me feel like I’m stupid!”

His father gave him a big hug and said, “You’re not stupid at all. You’re the cleverest, smartest young wombat I know, and you’re the nicest son anyone could have.”

Elmer beamed. They got on their bikes and rode off. At the first corner, Uncle Elton ran into Elmer’s bike and they both fell off. They got up again and Uncle Elton brushed the dirt off Elmer’s knees. He said, “That was great, son! Keep going like that and you’ll be as good as I am, one day!”

They rode off down the track, wobbling from side to side.

Mick said to Benson, “They’ve got to be the two worst bike-riders on the planet!”

“Pretty much,” Benson said. “But I think Elmer might just have the nicest dad in the world.”

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