“Done!” I announced, wiping my hands on a dish towel. They didn’t need to be wiped, but it seemed like something a mechanic should do when he finishes a job.

The little bicycle was on its side in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by blocks of Styrofoam and sheets of Bubble Wrap.

Carla peeked in from the kitchen. “Are you supposed to have all those parts left over?”

It DID seem like they’d included a lot of extra parts. I had accidentally skipped a couple of steps on page three of the instruction booklet, but I realized my mistake by the top of page five and was able to undo everything to get back to the steps I’d missed, and everything had gone like clockwork since. Well, there IS that place where I dropped the hammer on the wooden floor. But it’s not like the floor didn’t have a few dents and dings already. Pretty ironic, since I didn’t even NEED a hammer.

“Sure,” I chuckled in the condescending way an expert chuckles when someone asks a silly question. “They always include extra parts. In case you ever need to fix something.”

Carla gave me a look that said, “Is Steven going to be safe riding on that thing?”

Oh, ye of little faith.

I grabbed the handlebars and eased the bicycle into an upright position. The left training wheel fell off.

“I just need to tighten that a little bit,” I said.

Carla went back into the kitchen.

I could have paid five dollars for a kid at the discount store to assemble the little bicycle, but a sign near the bike racks promised “Easy Assembly.” The clerk offered to knock a few bucks off the sticker price if I wanted to buy the floor model, but it looked like it already had a lot of hard miles on it — probably dozens of trips to “Women’s Wear” or “Pet Supplies” and back — and I wanted Steven’s first bike to look … new.

And, as a concession to my ego, I wanted to be able to say I’d put it together myself.

“I’ve got one still in the box in the back room,” the clerk said, reading the screen of an electronic gizmo he’d pulled off his belt. “Five dollars for assembly.”

“I’ll take the one in the box,” I said. “Are they hard to put together?”

“Nah, nothing to it. Five minutes … ten, tops.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice: “It’s not worth five bucks.”

I didn’t want to admit that I am mechanically challenged, and something he could do in five minutes … ten, tops … could take me until a week from Wednesday.

But it’s my son’s first bike …

He banged through a set of scarred swinging doors and reappeared a few minutes later with a box that seemed far too small to hold a bicycle. Maybe because it didn’t hold a bicycle; it held bicycle parts.

It fit in the trunk with plenty of room to spare.

I drove home, carried the box in from the garage, placed it on the area rug in the middle of the living room and used a screwdriver to pry off the heavy brass staples. The box folded open like a clamshell and I surveyed the parts.

“I can do this!” I said with more confidence than I felt.

I tore open the clear plastic envelope that held the instruction booklet … a parts list and a dozen pages of isometric drawings … and laid the parts out on the rug: frame, handle bars, wheels, pedals, training wheels, seat, and what seemed like a generous supply of nuts, bolts and washers.

Plenty of extras, I told myself.

Three hours later the little bicycle was put together, the left training wheel had been reattached and Carla led Steven into the living room from his bedroom.

“Look what we got you!” she said. His face lit up at the sight of a gleaming red and white bicycle, and he awkwardly swung into the seat for the first time. The little bike wobbled under his weight, but the training wheels kept him upright.

“Let’s go for a ride!” I said. “You pedal, and I’ll guide you!”

I kept one hand on the handle bars and one on the seat, and we made two loops around the kitchen table and headed for the living room. He slammed on the brakes and left a 6-inch strip of rubber on the wooden floor, got off the bicycle as awkwardly as he’d gotten on and climbed into the cardboard box the bicycle had come in.

He was still there when it was time for bed.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Eventually I’m going to have to let go of the handle bars and the seat, but he’s not likely to tip over and skin his knees in a cardboard box. And it might give me time to figure out where all those extra parts were supposed to go …

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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