Don’t you worry that it’s not safe to ride a bike with your kids?

Not trying to kill each other

Before we had our son, people tried to explain what it was like to have kids. It was impossible. They said it was like having your heart walking around outside your body. It’s not like that for me.

When I think about my children, I think about falling in love. You fall in love, and everything is passion. It’s like being cast in your own personal opera. Everything your beloved does is beautiful. Every fight is world-ending. It seems like the feeling will never end. But it does end. You get used to one another, and life fades into normalcy. You fight about the dishes and the world doesn’t stop turning. You settle down.

My son has ridden the Golden Gate Park carrousel since he was a year old.

When my son was born I fell in love the moment I first saw him. A minute before we’d been told he was dying. My daughter’s birth was the same thing all over again. I have two children because I couldn’t stop with just one. I have two children because that’s as much as I could bear. And for me, what’s different about loving my children is that I’ve never gotten used to them. It’s still passion. Everything they do is beautiful. Every fight makes me want to kill them.

Exploring the living maze at the Bay Area Discovery Museum

They insist that I sleep with them, and I’m worrying about that paper that absolutely must be finished tonight, and I try to get up and get back to the computer and they grab my hands and their palms are sweating. “I love you infinity, Mommy!” they whisper urgently.  “Don’t go!” And I stay.

I am across the room and they are fighting and I see where it is going but before I can get to them one is bleeding and the other is shrieking, “I didn’t do it!” and the world goes black, in that moment I am literally blinded by terror and rage.

It’s been almost seven years now. I haven’t gotten used to it. How could I? Every day they are different people. Every day I fall in love with them again. My heart isn’t walking around outside my body. My heart is right here in my chest, clenched tight as a fist.

Rest assured that my daughter was trying to jump off something when this picture was taken.

Do I worry about my kids? Sure. My daughter, who has never seen a vertical surface she didn’t want to scale and jump off, has been to the emergency department so many times that I have seriously considered making her one of those flip charts like they have at nuclear power plants: “It’s been X days without an accident!” (Fun fact: Matt and I took a tour of a nuclear power plant together, the first month we met.) Make it ten days in a row and you can have an ice cream cone, kiddo. Every photo taken of her at preschool is in motion. My son’s innate cautiousness used to worry me as well. I should be careful what I wish for.

Learning from his sister, my son locked himself inside the delivery box of a Bullitt.

Do I worry that it’s not safe to ride a bike with my kids? Well, there have been moments, but not really. There are always moments, on or off the bike. When I walked down the street with my son as a toddler he was fascinated with everything. He would run into the street when he saw something exciting—letters on a sewer plate, a shiny bottle cap. (Why are streets so dangerous that kids can’t make mistakes? Only drivers get to make mistakes?) I remember driving in a rental car on a suburban strip when my daughter figured out how to open her door, and so she did, right into traffic as we were moving and we screamed, and she screamed because we were screaming, and we tried to move over to the side of the road and get the damned door shut, and then we sat there in the stopped car, panting, wondering if we’d ever drive again.

Sitting in fire trucks is fun, but my kids have little interest in ordinary cars.

I don’t feel particularly threatened by city traffic on our bikes. People fear riding bikes because it’s unfamiliar, not because they’ve reviewed the evidence. Taken as a whole, public health research makes a strong argument for getting out of the car by any means necessary. And we are enjoying the ride. I don’t snap in frustration at my kids as I circle the streets endlessly, praying my son won’t get a tardy slip today because it’s street cleaning day and there is nowhere to park the damned car, there’s never parking in the city. I don’t get stuck in traffic and rack up late pickup fees as my daughter wonders why today she’s the very last one to be picked up at preschool. I don’t have to decompress from a stressful commute when we get home.

Can we take the Bullitt?

“Did you see that?” they ask me when we ride. Did you see that squirrel, did you see that dog, did you see the moon? Will you pick up that leaf for me? Will you carry my rock? Can we stop at the bakery, can we stop at the playground, can we stop at the library? Can we go to the beach? They have a new sense of direction. They know where we are. They ask: can we take 6th Avenue instead of 9th Avenue?  Can we go past the Japanese Tea Garden instead of along JFK Drive? And now I say: yes. Yes, I see it. Yes, I will. Yes, of course we can.

9 Comments

Filed under family biking, San Francisco

9 responses to “Don’t you worry that it’s not safe to ride a bike with your kids?

  1. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read about what it means to (pedal) parent. Thank you.

  2. Jim

    This is great.

    Up until very recently I would have said the average person should not cycle in the city with a child. The explosion of infra in the last two years and drivers’ changing behavior makes me think those bad old days are gone. One can only hope.

  3. Hello, I am Shuichi. I am backing to Kyoto from Tokyo right now.
    Yes, it is not dangerous at all when we seat our children in the passenger seats of family bikes. On the other hand, I know that many Americans are not familiar with bikes. Do I say a weird thing ? Why did you become familiar with bike ? :)

  4. I am crying at my desk at work. SO touching. I wanna ride back to preschool and hug my Little Oil right now.

    I’ve written a comment twice already but am having trouble choosing to post this when the second reason I am crying is because I think I’ll never write again. You just blogged right down to the heart of the matter.

    Um, also, the sense of direction thing is great, and the fact that my passenger has a preference for one route over another and it changes from day to day is a joy. Loving our towns is part of going by bike. Our kids carrying that forward is good confirmation that it is working!

    Tell me more about how that clenched heart in your chest and not feeling threatened by city traffic and safety connect.

    More, please!

  5. I too have written a couple of Comments that I had trouble posting. Having had five children it should come as no surprise to any parent there were times of total ‘terrifying dread’ for their safety; 3 or 4 times come to mind. Yet, to be clear, let me make it clear that I agree with the idea that you can’t protect kids from life, we shouldn’t stop living or doing things we like because of fear. Yet, also, naïveté shouldn’t make us blind to real dangers. A lot of people don’t think they will be a victim of crime or a target for violence, don’t think they will ever get seriously ill or injured, or suffer any other of life’s adversities — but the only reason for this is simply that such things have not happened to them — yet. Accident reports from my state’s big city, Phoenix (5th largest city in USA), indicate that more than once a month a child winds up in the hospital due to a car-bicycle accident, peak hours between 3-7PM. Society (and friends) are often quite quick to tell these accident victims (or potential accident victims) what they should do: Be careful! Wear a helmet! Don’t ride at night! Ride with traffic! etc. but are reluctant to discuss or implement changes they could make to make car and bicycle traffic more safe; the bike rider is like a second-class citizen (often, too, in the courts or with insurance companies). As previously mentioned (somewhere) I’ve had a urban traffic bike accident about once every ten years…I’m thinking now of taking it more seriously as a social and political issue; it would be good to improve things. Of course, though, I’m not going to stop riding; no way. And when people might imply I (or when with my children) might be doing something reckless, I know I am not. And I tell them also “Yes, and you take care of yourself, too”

  6. KidA’s pregnancy was awful, beginning to end. Pre-natal depression and post-partum depression. A Down syndrome scare, a placenta previa scare, and then a case of preeclampsia so severe that with an hour’s warning to me, KidA was born, 6 weeks premature, via C-section. Two and a half weeks in the NICU, begging rides from friends to and from the hospital because we had no car and I was in too much pain post-surgery to take the bus.

    That whole history–the struggle, the fear, the anger at being betrayed by my own body–is an indelible part of the joy I now find in biking with KidA. Every time I get on the bike with him, it’s like an affirmation of the miracle that we even survived: We’re here. We’re alive. We’re ok.

    For me, cycling with my son is an act of gratitude. The dangers we’ve already survived together dwarf the risks of riding a bike together, and the rewards are infinite.

  7. This is such a beautiful post! I put my daughter to bed tonight and I returned to your blog because I wanted to read more after finding it last night. This post is wonderful. You captured parenthood and bicycling with kids and the pricarious nature of life and childhood and love so beautifully.

  8. deirdre

    I came across your blog while looking for reviews of cargo bikes online! I have just moved to a city with my husband and three small children, and am trying to get out of the car and into a family bike for the school run. I am inspired by your experience – and very touched as the other posters here by your depiction of parenthood. Thank you!

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