Monday, September 21, 2009

bruised knees, bruised egos

I saw this woman on my way into work the other day. I've seen her bicycling with her child before, and cursed myself for not catching a picture. This time I got it!

Some people would see this and say to themselves, or to the mother, "shame on you, exposing your child to risk."

Somewhere... somehow... bicycles and bicyclists allowed themselves to be portrayed, labeled and branded as risk taking imbeciles on par with adrenaline junkies who base jump and dive with sharks.

When you start bicycling with your children, then people really pull off their gloves and they let you know what a meth-smoking, irresponsible parent you are.

This post is grounded in a couple of experiences. First, my sister Dawn got yelled at by a bunch of people when she was bicycling, WITH her child, in the street. People told her she should be on the sidewalk. I could write a ten thousand word essay as to why bicycling on the sidewalk is no guarantee for safety, and why you are exposing yourself to additional risks that are not present on the street. There is a long standing belief that bicycles belong on the sidewalk, this is simply not true.

Children, yes - should learn to ride safely, both on the sidewalk and street and should certainly be monitored when learning to ride.

The other experience happened to Ashley and I. We went on a trip by bike to Costco and had to cross a busier street. We safely crossed the street, but had to stop in the middle of the median/center turn lane to wait for a few cars to pass. This woman looked at me like I was Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac. She gave me the dirtiest look, and mouthed, "that is a baby."

As if I needed a reminder that I was transporting my first and only child around. George was not in traffic, nor was he in danger. But this woman really wanted us to know that she disapproved of us taking our baby on a bike ride.

These experiences, and others... have led me to believe that if you are going to be a part of any lifestyle or past time that isn't the norm, then be prepared for people to look down on you.

We live in such a risk averse, sterile, germaphobic, anti-bacterial world. Parents are scared of letting their child walk one block to school, meanwhile you can hear their arteries thickening as their poor child is neglected a basic human right - exercise and fresh air.

George is about 7 months old, and I'm already aware that I'm an example to him. I want to set an example that is one of courage - courage to live in a way that is healthy, happy, and rewarding. People will likely look down on us as I take him to school by bike, or pick him up from a sleepover on my bike. Part of me thinks it's jealousy, and an other part guilt. People know that they need to be living healthier lifestyles.

We know that we can't continue to consume gas the way we do. Our economy, the environment, our infrastructure - won't support it. We can't continue to shelter our children under the "guise" of safety by transporting them everywhere in a car.

I grew up in an era where I played with lead paint in my toys, where my mom breastfed me while she drove her car, and I walked to school.

While I'll always be concerned for the safety of my child(ren), I'll never equate safety with a car trip.


Haro said...

Bravo. Father of 4. i carry 2 of them on the back of my kona ute. keep it up. we need more bikes on the streets so cars get the hint. The mini van is necessary for my family of 6 but i use bikes whenever possible. like groceries 2 blocks away.

david said...

good work haro. how old were your kids when you started putting them on the ute?

Dawn D. Lion said...

David, have you read or followed the Free Range Kids blog? She has a lot of posts relating to kids and biking, and the public hysteria over safety.
I will say that even though I've gotten some ignorant comments over the years, overall the response I get when I'm biking with the trailer is positive.
People shout out, "aww, how cute!" or "hey. that looks like hard work!" I appreciate the props, because hey, I am pulling 70 (or something) extra pounds. So at least there's the good side of humanity out there, too.

But yeah, now that she's on the street its a whole other story. My only bit of advice with a free-biking child is to plan out your route super carefully. You know the experience of trying a new route, and getting stuck on a less than desirable road for biking? If you do that with a kid you'll get yelled at, no matter how safe you are.
And, that picture is so cute! Good for them!

Haro said...

the 7 and 5 year olds are the ones who ride. they were 6 and 4 when i bought the ute, i put a rear handlebar on it but need a handle for the one in the back. since we moved to an area of considerable hills i haven't had a chance to ride with them again. I will be equipping it with some safety guards and hopefully take them to school soon.

we had an incident involving daddy's bad judgement and some rear wheel spokes. it was one of those, i feel like a complete failure of a father, moments.

despite the tragedy i would not discourage anyone from carrying your kids or other passengers around. just make sure the moving parts are kept covered from limbs. its actually so much fun to have them right with you observing and commenting on the ride.

It wasn't out when i purchased the ute but if i could do it over again i would get the Madsen

these are awesome. an all around good cargo bike.