Thing the first is that Mabel is a much less cautious child than her brother. He tests the waters gingerly; she dives in. He takes it slowly, wary of pitfalls; she forges ahead. Sometimes it's because she has him to show her how it's done, because he's done all the hard work of worrying; but often it's just because she's not so much a worrier as a doer. She climbed all the way round the climbing-frame dome before he ever did, when she was two and he was four point five.
She also happens to have an innately good sense of balance, I think, because for all her rushing in and scaling unsuitable objects, she rarely comes a cropper. (Skiing is probably next on her list.) I have to admit that though "sporty" is probably the last adjective anyone would ever come up with to describe me, I was a bit of a tomboy, mountain-goat, wannabe-gymnast as a child, and I did have a bike just as tiny as hers which I insisted on learning to ride without training wheels. I remember a lot of scabby knees, but I think I was four when I was riding alone.
But the other thing that led directly to this development was the balance bike. Last year when Dash was zooming all over our cul-de-sac with his newfound skills, Mabel was desperate for a bike of her own, with two wheels, not three. I finally found a balance bike (no pedals, just for gliding along with one's feet) small enough for a petite two-and-three-quarter-year-old on Craigslist, and brought it home triumphantly. The nice lady threw in a little pink scooter for another $20, and it turned out to be the scooter rather than the bike that Mabel fell in love with and has been using to get her speedy thrills ever since.
Until about a month ago, when she nonchalantly picked up the little pink balance bike and started whizzing around on it. She knew what to do all along, but it just seemed to fall into place and she was sitting on the saddle and pushing along with her feet and balancing, just like that. When her little boyfriend across the road got a pedal bike (that's too big for her, because although only two months older he's quite a few inches taller), it turned out she could actually ride it pretty well, with an adult to start and stop her.
So Facebook came to the rescue, as I sent out a quick APB for a 12-inch-wheeled bike for Mabel, and a friend responded within the hour that she had one her daughter had never used, taking up space in the shed, needing a good home. We brought it home yesterday, pumped up the tyres, lowered the saddle all the way, Mabel jumped on, and that was the last we saw of her.
Well, sort of. She still needs help starting off, but thanks to the balance bike she's very good at putting a foot down when she stops. (Dash, in contrast, used to the training wheels holding up the bike in repose, would forget to take his feet off the pedals and just sit there and promptly fall over sideways.)
It seems to be a tiny generational gap between her brother and her. In just two and a half years, balance bikes have gone from being European wooden models that only Germanic types had (because this is how kids learn to ride on the Continent) to much more easily found metal ones. I saw two of her classmates whooshing around on Strider bikes last year before I went looking for Mabel's one, and since then I know of at least five other local children her age who now have pedals on two-wheelers, and several others who are proficient with their balance bikes but don't feel like taking the next step just yet.
It is odd, though, watching your baby pedal off, unsupported, seeing wings sprout from under her shoulderblades and take her away from you, as fast as her little legs can carry her.