Monday, February 18, 2008

the family that bikes together. . .

the family that bikes together. . .

I'd like to think that I'm living my life so that, when it reaches the point of a natural, culminating sigh many decades from now, I won't have many regrets. I guess it would ultimately be nice to to not have any regrets at all, but I've already screwed that part up. I already have this one thing that haunts me and hurts me and wakes me up in the night with the sweet gnawing of a bittersweet memory. This one thing, more than any other thing, that makes me wish I had a time machine and could travel backwards and fix it.

When my nine year old daughter was about the age her brother is now, which is to say smack in the middle of the wild and wonder of toddlerhood, we had a rickety, vintage tandem bicycle and a lopsided, but sturdy, front-mounted child seat and our little family tooled all over the lovely green city of Portland. Wait, this sounds pretty nice, right? A bicycle built for three? It was nice. It was nicer than nice. It elicited smiles from passers-by and random strangers, it made our muscles stronger and our days more pleasant, it became the memory that serves, almost more than any other, as a fantastic marker of what was one of the sweetest, easiest times in my life (she says in the fullness of hindsight). So you're thinking Where's the regret, right? What would I go back and change?

I do not have one picture of this time. Not one. I don't have one tangible snapshot of the three of us on two wheels save for the loose and fuzzy tendrils that are all tangled up in my head. I can't remember, exactly, what our helmets looked like or what shoes I wore. I'd wrap up my right pants leg (jeans cut off at mid-calf, probably) to keep from getting caught in the chain, but what did I use? I can't remember. Sometimes Freya would hold something, a flower, a scarf, a little stuffed animal, and wave it from her front seat perch but I cannot recall a precise example of what that might have looked like.

I confess that, at the time, I always appreciated how sweet it was. I always felt like I was holding some secret powerful treasure, just the thrill and contentment of whirring along together like that, of cutting through city parks to avoid traffic, stopping to play when we felt like it, noticing things one doesn't notice by car, seemed so perfect that I couldn't believe such a thing could be so easily found and kept. It didn't take much more than grabbing a water bottle, snapping on our helmets and setting off to find pleasure and purpose. It was just that sweet and easy. And I knew it. I knew it was sweet and I knew it was special but I don't know how I didn't manage to never take one picture. I remember musing that maybe we'd get our photos in the newspaper: it's not every day you see a little family on one bike! And the grins and double-takes we received confirmed this. Portland's one of the (if not THE) most bicycle friendly cities in the whole flipping country, what newspaper wouldn't want a little picture of us in the Living section, at least? But we never got our picture taken for the newspaper; we never got our picture taken at all.

I think maybe it was one of those everyday (special and dear, but still. . . everyday) things that just happens so regularly it doesn't always occur to one to document with a photo. I'm better about this now, what with the ease of digital pictures these days. I was mindful of it then, taking pictures often (but not as often as now!), but still maybe thinking, a little, that it would last. There's no hurry. She's so little. We'll zip around the city like thise forever! We're the little biking threesome!

But, oh! the rate at which little turns into big! She soon outgrew her little seat and we upgraded to a swanky trailer. We pulled her on the back of the tandem, all set-up back there with books and stuffed animals and snacks, until the massive length of our transport, and my daughter's precarious proximity to cars, started worrying me, and I finally got a bike of my own. So then the husband would pull the trailer and I'd take the protective tail position in my blue Schwinn cruiser (or the other way around, depending on our route and my gumption that day). And just like that, our three-on-one days were over.

We've moved around a lot in the last few years and our biking situation has fluctuated plenty. After the trailer, Freya moved to a trail-a-bike for a few years as she became a proficient rider herself. The day after she took her first two-wheeled ride, she joined her dad for a four mile jaunt through our neighborhood. So it didn't take long until her pride grew larger than the trail-a-bike would allow and she was keeping up right there with us, riding right alongside on her own bike.

A year ago, we purchased a new front-mounted seat for the little guy and we started our first family of Four rides. But soon after this, we left Arizona for Oregon and, in the mess of living in a temporary apartment with all of our things in storage for six months, and then moving into our current house and, well, winter, it wasn't until this last weekend (a couple of those bright and clear teaser days that makes one a little less hungry for spring) that I got my bike out. Which is to say, I hadn't ridden in nearly a year. The husband and daughter touched their bikes a little, we haven't been, as a family institution, completely off of wheels, but it was just now that we finally went on a ride all of us together.

It was so fantastic. So fantastic that after Saturday's extended ride, I was anxious for a Sunday repeat. There is a new sort of thrill in racing my nine-year old down a hill, in surprising her when I overtake her coming back up the same hill, in being together in this, new older way. Her brother rides in his little seat in between the husband's arms and takes it all in, with delight and excitement, just like his sister did some seven years ago.

We still have the rickety old tandem. It hasn't been ridden at all in five years. It's more rickety still. But the daughter makes regular requests for its repair. She suggests that we attach the front-mount kid seat and, for this purpose only, pull out the old trail-a-bike. A bicycle for all four! We could ride down any street and make an instant parade, just like that. Time is short and life is busy and on the long list of things to do and duties to attend to, fixing a rusty bike isn't high up there. But if we do fix it up, if we replace the rotten tires and tighten the screws and true the wheels, you can bet I'll take a picture.


Angelina said...

There are a lot of things I wish I had taken pictures of. Having a digital camera has revolutionized my picture taking.

What a great time-we almost never ride bikes as a family because Max has decided he doesn't like riding his bike anymore but for the first five years of his life we rode EVERYWHERE on our bikes together. We had a little seat up front for him when he was little which he loved and eventually, like Freya, he was on his own bike next to us.

I'm so happy you all got out and enjoyed the spring like week-end!

sj said...

EITHER, i took a lasting vivid snapshot in my mind of you guys cruising up to our front yard at that little duplex on alberta, OR i have a photo of you guys riding up, wide grins, freya on the front, balloons trailing behind....i will look and get back to you on that one. i hope hope hope i have one :) that would be so fun to give you.