Of Bicycles and Inspiring Cliches

I believe that bicycles are the most perfect form of transportation ever invented. While my husband isn’t a cyclist, I’m pleased that my seven-year-old daughter shares my love of two wheels. When she first mastered a two-wheeler sans training wheels, she rode around and around a big empty parking lot, yelling “I love biking!” There’s a lot to love about a bike. It’s the first vehicle most of us ever get to drive, our first taste of genuine autonomy. Walking and running are fine, but a bicycle can take you somewhere.

We have a trail-a-bike that attaches to the seat of my bike and turns it into a tandem. The kid is a great stoker. Sometimes when we’re out on the tandem she’ll say, “Mommy, stop pedaling,” and when I do, I can feel her little legs pedaling away, carrying both of us.

Most the time we attach the trail-a-bike to my old hybrid bicycle and just tool around the neighborhood or go to the swimming pool or to get ice cream. Last summer, we did our first organized ride–a 15-mile ride sponsored by a local university. For that, we hooked the trail-a-bike up to my road bike and we flew. When the ride was over, the kid wasn’t even tired. This year, we went for a bigger challenge. The local JCC held its first community bike ride and festival. The ride lengths were 10, 25, or 50 miles. The kid wanted to do the 25-miler.  And while I’ll routinely do 25 or 30 miles on my own, I wasn’t sure she was up to the distance and the somewhat hilly route. We settled on biking the 6 miles to the JCC, doing the 10-miler, and biking home.

The morning of the ride, we had a nice breakfast with my husband before he went to an all-day golf outing and had a little time to play before we dressed and got our things together. We put on our helmets and pulled the tandem out of the mud room and onto the driveway. Then I looked at the front tire. I had pumped up the tires on the tandem the night before, but somehow, between then and the morning, the front tire had gone flat.  I said a bad word.

“You owe me a quarter,” the kid said. Giving her a quarter each time I say a bad word in front of her was supposed to curb my potty mouth, but all it’s really done is give her something of a nest egg to buy art supplies.

“Yes, I know,” I replied.  “I’ll give it to you later.  I glanced at the clock on the cycle computer. It was  9:00 a.m. “Okay, it’ll take us about 25 or 30 minutes to bike there. The ride starts at 10:00, so if I can change this tire fast, we’ll be fine.” The kid looked at me with one of those all-trusting expressions that makes me feel completely inadequate to her vision of what I am capable and said, “Okay, Mommy.”

You know how sometimes events conspire to make you think perhaps the universe is trying to give you a message? I had one of those moments as I started changing the tire and felt the first rain drop.

“Do you really want to do this ride?” I asked.

“Yes, I want to do it.”

“Have you noticed that it’s kind of raining?”

“I like the rain.”

We (okay, I) got the tire changed and pumped up. We set off as it started to rain harder. After a couple of blocks, it hadn’t let up. I wasn’t feeling the joy of the ride. Not at all.

“Why are we doing this again?” I called over my shoulder.

“Because I want to!”

More rain, a slight uphill, then a little voice from the back of the bike said, “If we believe in ourselves, we can make it.”

In my youth, I watched a lot of television. The number of hours I spent watching crappy Saturday morning kids’ shows and After School Specials and made-for-TV movies is roughly equivalent to the amount of time needed to earn a bachelor’s degree . Enough that hearing a character utter the words “If we believe in ourselves, we can make it” would make me roll my eyes and wonder why they couldn’t find a a screenwriter who didn’t deal in cliches. But hearing those words come out of my child’s mouth as she’s happily stoking away on the back of the tandem, uphill, in the rain? When she said that, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the pavement became smooth and unblemished beneath our tires, and it was downhill both ways.

Okay, none of that happened. What did happen was in that moment, I realized that I don’t always have to be the cheerleader. As a parent, especially as a mother, I sometimes feel that there’s an unwritten law that says Mom needs to keep the peace, keep everyone’s spirits up, and yeah, make dinner and clean up when it’s all over. And sometimes you don’t feel like doing that, just like sometimes you don’t feel like changing a tire and biking in the rain. I realized that I don’t have to do everything.  And I realized how fortunate I was to be riding uphill, in the rain, and feeling her pedaling away behind me, pushing both of us forward.

–by Susan Petrone

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