Every day the worst case


Winter Bakfiets

Winter ended months ago. I didn’t ride to work at all in January. Just walking five hundred feet from the house was a chore. It was pretty miserable all around and it lasted forever. Here’s the day in late February when the ice that froze the gate in place melted enough that we could get to the garage and the bikes. I don’t remember where we went.

Bike stairs

Maybe a week later I rode around the university campus at night and noticed this staircase I’d seen a hundred times before. The stone on either side—that’s for walking your bike up and down, right? Has to be. Worked pretty well when I tried it out. I guess yes. This is the only bike-specific piece of infrastructure I’ve ever seen in the city (not counting the handful of paths and lanes; or racks; you know what I mean). In another life I would have gone back and gotten a picture during the day but who knows when I’ll be out this late again?

Working the bakfiets pedalsBakfiets at the water

March came and we were back down at the water to look at geese and swans and pine cones (all float, I’m told). We typically connect these trips with grocery shopping on the way home. R sits in the cart and G sits in the cart seat. They never argue about this arrangement.

Bakfiets packing

Bike path

Now it’s May (!) and we’re all the way out in it, finally. We took our first big tour of the year, twenty-five miles round trip down the path to brunch in a small town on the bay. That morning the path was host to a marathon, a half-marathon and a 5k, all at once, as you can see clearly from the picture above.

Waiting for brunch in the bakfiets

When we got to the restaurant we had another 30-minute wait ahead of us, which in a lot full of crushed shells and nothing to do means a pair of two-year-olds will be throwing crushed shells everywhere. Why we spent 10 minutes walking them around doing a poor job of distracting them instead of putting them right back in the bike, I have no idea. It’s a mobile gym. They just figured out how to lift themselves up on the tiny step and get to the bell, so that’s our other twenty minutes right there.

A day on the path means a lot of compliments on the bakfiets. I’m having a hard time thinking of a universally positive metaphor, but you put young twins in a well-built machine with a high novelty factor and you’re basically appealing to the entire demographic of humanity from young to old, men and women. Almost everybody loves “the contraption.” It’s a lot of fun.

The dissenters are thankfully very few. But do they love to get in your business! What is it about children that people feel the need to shout unsolicited parenting criticism in public? It’s not like when I’m out with them I’m interfering with your day or holding you up in line at the grocery store while you write a check like it’s somehow not the year 2011. I once parked the bakfiets right outside the window of the bank while I got cash. The kids were barely one-and-a-half, an impossible age to bring them both into an ATM foyer by myself and accomplish anything. A guy pulls up in his pickup and yells and yells about irresponsibility while they’re watching me take money out the machine. I should have asked him to babysit.

On our way to the restaurant, one of our neighbors saw us leaving and said, “what do you do when someone comes whipping around a corner?” when she clearly meant to ask, “what do you do when someone comes whipping around a corner and smashes you, your bike and your children to bits?” But she didn’t, because the concern was just a spider hole for her judgement (that’s how it’s done in New England, friends!) I thought about it later. I got two possible answers.

One is: you don’t put your children in a bike. You live by the worst case scenario every day. You’re probably inside a lot. You feel most comfortable in a car with airbags.

Or: you don’t answer that question because you don’t do anything in that situation. You take preventative measures and then you hope for the best. What do you do if you crash your car? Or you fall down the stairs? Or you get robbed? Obviously the implication is the streets aren’t safe for bikes, when the truth is in a whole lot of places—on the side streets in particular—the streets are really lovely to ride.

But that’s not really the point. Many things are statistically safer than people think they are—children walking to school, airline travel.

The point is: I don’t want to live that way. I wouldn’t want our children to live that way, either. Look how much fun they have in this thing!

One Response to “Every day the worst case”

  1. I used to blame Ann Landers for telling her readers they should go up to some obviously incompetent parent and tell him/her he/she shouldn’t leave the kids alone in a shopping cart or let them scream in church or eat junk food or [name your favorite kvetch]. But I wonder if it’s because we’ve become a less trustful culture: we’re convinced every stranger is a potential kidnapper, child molester, or serial killer, so kids shouldn’t even be taken out in a public venue. I sometimes cringe at memories of my own unsupervised childhood, playing in junkyards and abandoned houses, blowing up firecrackers in dry fields, riding my bike after dark in strange neighborhoods: but I also had a lot more freedom and fun than my own children, who grew up under the over-supervision of adults. (This is in retrospect: my son, a senior in college, now bicycles the width and breadth of the Cascades in every sort of weather, as if to make up for all those weekends playing team soccer and taking violin lessons.)

    All that said, I think it’s great you’re taking your kids out everywhere on a bike. They’ll grow up healthier, both physically and emotionally, than if you parked them in the safety of a basement playroom with a Wii. Which is where a lot of kids spend their weekends, unfortunately.

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