On my to-do list this week has been to take my husband’s fancy-schmancy camera along on one of our walks/rides to swimming lessons at the health club just over a mile from our house. Every day for the past two weeks, the short round trip has been a highlight, thanks to the gorgeous views of San Francisco as we cross the bridge, the sun glinting off 1,000 splashes of water in the estuary, and watching my son become more proficient gliding his little balance bike along.
It’s been a highlight, until today.
Actually, our little bike commute showed signs of going sour yesterday, when — almost home — we ended up separated on either side of a busy street. The walk sign had turned on, I had urged the kids to hurry through before the light turned red, but Pebbles, the 7-year-old, had trouble turning her bike, ended up dropping it, and could not even enter the intersection until the red countdown on the Don’t Walk sign was approaching 0. The 5-year-old made it all the way across, and I had to scurry back to shoo the 7-year-old back up onto the curb.
This was OK. The 5-year-old stayed cool all by himself. I yelled to him to wait for us, and he nodded. Then we waited, and waited, for the walk sign to return.
When it finally did, a car turned right, cutting us off and almost causing us to miss the brief walk signal. This happens a lot, I guess because drivers forget to look for pedestrians and bikers to their right. But in this case, I could not believe my eyes, because the driver had his windows down. Had he not heard us yelling to the soon-to-be-kindergartener to hang tight, that we’d cross as soon as we could? To top it off, the dude had a kid in the car with him. I will never understand how people, even parents, can drive around without a second glance for kids on foot or on bike.
We got home OK, because exasperation is not fatal. Which is lucky, because so much more exasperation was waiting for me the next day. Today, we were not 10 minutes out of the garage when the 5-year-old fell down. No big deal. I rode back to him and encouraged him to get up with a few friendly threats to take him to the hospital for stitches and Xrays. But he just lay there crying and crying. After awhile I began to wonder if he might not have actually broken something.
Nope. The problem was a tiny drop of blood sitting on the back of his let, where he had scraped it. The kid has this fervent belief that if he looses any blood, he will run out of the stuff and die. I cannot convince him otherwise because he long ago decided that his mother is an authority on no subjects. (He does not even take my word for it when I assure him that no, I am NOT pregnant, even though my belly sticks out like that.)
I could not convince Toth to get back on his bike. Finally, with time until the lesson ticking down, I told him to just leave his little bike in the park and walk. My reasoning was that we got his bike on the curb and I could probably replace it for less than the cost of the swimming lesson we were about to miss. So we walked along, he still crying, until after about 15 minutes I touched the red spot on his leg and reported that it was not a clinging droplet of precious lifeblood but a tiny scab, all dried up already.
He brightened considerably upon learning that he was not, after all, about to bleed out, and we walked the rest of the way to the club more quickly, his sister riding ahead on her bike.
He swam just fine, and took pleasure in telling everyone in the hot tub (where the kids get to sit to warm up after) about how he had a SCAB on his leg that was DRY and not BLEEDING anymore. One woman in there without kids turned a bit white. I just read my book and pretended not to know him.
On the way home, Toth ran ahead, so that Pebbles and I could actually pedal our bikes a little. Nutmeg, the 10-year-old, had a friend with her, so they walked more slowly and lagged behind. About halfway home, Pebbles reported that the chain had come off her bike.
No problem! I said. Your brother is walking anyway, why not walk your bike home?
I am not good at putting chains back on bikes, and also did not want to delay the start of dinner by struggling with it. Or get grease on my fingers.
So we all walked the rest of the way home. At the school playground, we found Toth’s bike, propped against the fence where we left it. He hopped back on and started gliding as if the horrible minor accident had never happened.
I got a bit ahead of the kids, so stopped at the end of the playground to check Facebook on my phone like the crappy mom I am, waiting for them to catch up. Toth showed up after about 5 minutes, but Pebbles was nowhere in sight. We called for her and heard nothing. So Toth and I turned around and found her halfway through the park, with some kid’s nice grandpa trying to fix her chain.
This was awkward, because I did not want anyone to fix her chain. I wanted to get home and let my husband do it later. But the guy kept trying, even after I told him two or three times that it was OK, we would fix it later. He was struggling with it, and at some point he even started giving me instructions for how to help. But his fingers were coated in grease. I did not want to end up the same way. So I just stood there, acting helpless, until finally he said, “Sorry, I cannot help you,” and we were free to go.
Phew! There and back, that was the longest bike ride or walk I have taken with the kids for a long time. I told this whole story just to say, a lot of times living car-free is easy. But not today.