Beginner Pedal Parenting: part 4, How Toting a Toddler Brings Back Cycling Adolescence
Hi! For the last couple of days we’ve been talking about some of the ways that adding kid-hauling to my cycling lifestyle brought me back in touch with my Inner Beginner. Some of the newbie biker probs came back to haunt me are discussed in earlier Beginner Pedal Parenting posts:
part 1, Handling the Bike and Riding Up Hills
part 2, Carting Kid Stuff
part 3, Fear of Traffic
These string together as one big piece, so you might wanna read the other ones. Or not. Whatever works for you. I’m at peace with whatever you do. Not like I so often find myself when I’m out there on the road, when I can too too easily let myself be consumed by…
About five or six years ago I came home one evening and found the future Mama Oil and several of our roommates at the time gathered in the kitchen. Upon entering, I immediately launched into my daily litany of complaints about all the insane drivers I ran into and all their dangerous, hostile driving. “This person cut me off, then this other person cut me off worse!”
I fumed and complained. I turned red in the face and my beard started to kindle. Finally one of my very patient and indulgent housemates called me out, “Davey, everybody in this kitchen rode home tonight. None of us have half the stories or half the complaints about drivers that you have. Maybe it’s you? Maybe you are causing your own problems by letting it bug you so much? You certainly don’t seem to be enjoying riding your bike lately!”
She was right. After cycling for transportation for most of my life and eventually, accidentally, putting bikes and biking right in the middle of my identity like a big “BIKES!” tattoo across my face, and working in bike non-profits and working on bikes and riding bikes and talking bikes and getting outraged over driver behavior and talking about risky driving and feeling activated and empowered by the dream of Just and Equitable Access to Transportation Choices, and Car-Busting and bicyclist’s rights and actually being cut off all the time by jerks who don’t seem to take my life or your life all that seriously and and and…
I’d given in. Become bici-cynical. Thought the worst of my fellow road users. Lacked compassion. Let indignation become my default response to every perceived error in others’ driving.
Before this sounds any more like a Catholic confession, let’s patholigize my behavior a little: I was riding around in a constant state of Road Rage Readiness. Total fight or flight behavior, on bike!
It hopefully wasn’t that bad, and probably isn’t even that uncommon, unfortunately. But it needed to stop!
So I let it, or I tried to let it stop, for several years. I reminded myself that I didn’t need to take what happens on the road personally, (unless it was awesome, like a driver or a biker being sweet or attentive or friendly and then I could take it personally, as awesomeness!)
Until Baby Oil was born, I’d developed a much thicker skin when on the road and been happier for it.
When the great day came for Baby Oil and I to start riding together and that old fear of traffic moved back in to spook me and worry at my sense of comfort and safety, I found I’d regressed.
I remember BikesnobNYC writing something about how the size of his “safety bubble,” like his bike’s personal space, was so much larger with his own kid aboard his “Smugness Flotilla.” I’ve noticed this as well. A driver can swing open a door a block away and I am still yelling at them to look out for bikes in the bike lane as they pay for parking. Someone can cut off another cyclist in another county and I am outraged. A driver without their lights on at dusk is risking my daughter’s life, dammit!
The thing is, with a decreased sense of safety (an increased sense of fear?) comes more anxiety, frustration, a shorter fuse.
At first, just like last time I regularly acted like a hormone filled teenager on the road, all the middle fingers and “hang-up-your-phone!” gestures felt justified. At least I was teaching the drivers a lesson, one three-second argument at a time! Luckily, most other road users didn’t even see me gesturing rudely at them, they were too charmed by Little Oil’s antics.
Little Oil imitates me. I don’t know if this is definitive proof that the kid’s a genius, but she’s learned to signal left and right turns! These little arms come jutting out and point proudly, communicating our intentions clearly. This always happens when I ask her to, but she also anticipates the turns of our usual commute route and will signal on her own. Cute!
pointing passenger panda!
She even imitates the impatient, point-point-point, “Hey. Hey. Hey!” turn signal I do when attempting to merge lanes. Cute!
She also started telling drivers to, “Look Out! Hang up! C’mon, really?!” She has started to loose her cool, or at least to notice that I am loosing mine and to mirror my own indignation back at me. Not cute.
So, together we are going to find a balance. If you’ve read this blog, you know that most of our experiences on the road together have been very positive. It is true that we require more space and will depend on a little more… (consideration? attention? humanity!) humanity from our fellow road users than I did when riding solo, but that is possible to attain without getting bent out of shape. I’ll just need to remember to take Little Oil’s and the Seattle muralist 13fngrs’ advice and,
Have fun today!
we love this mural’s green gorilla.
Just like bike handling, hill climbing, stuff hauling and traffic fearing, road raging is a persistent challenge for most cyclists, myself included. The return of these very basic challenges to the surface of my biking life has only served to remind me that nothing is static on a bicycle. Every part is in motion. Every rider must have room for growth.
Or Is It?
I think Beginner Pedal Parenting could turn into a feature. I’d like to get more of my own and you reader’s impressions of what it is like for families just embarking on their journeys. Let’s help others answer some questions and hopefully inspire others. Considering getting a kid up on a bike? Any questions?
Comments go bellow!
I really enjoyed this series and found myself nodding in agreement with the cyclist-reversion thing that happens once you toss a kid on the back of your ride. Very insightful. I think you’re also hitting on a general undertone of “active” parenting: how does a parent show their kid they don’t need to fear the world out there, and yet also show there are ways we need to be careful too. It’s a balance, and it seems you and little (big?) oil are finding yours. Ride safe, and have fun today!
This post made me tear up. Although I am an infant in my city-cycling life and do not have plans for carrying more than myself and my groceries around for a few years, this post made me realize that growth is necessary on the bicycle and off. “Everything is in motion.” Hear hear!!
I’m embarrassed to admit that I went mamabear for the first time recently when a motorist sped through the limit line of her red light while getting off the freeway at 45th. We were in the crosswalk and she didn’t come close to hitting us, but SHE DIDN’T EVEN SLOW DOWN or glance for pedestrians or bikes. Her back bumper was hanging into the crosswalk so I gave it a good thump as we biked by. I won’t do that again, but it sure felt necessary at the time and I’d like to think it had an impact (har har) on her.
I’ve recently stopped giving the LONG HARD STARE to motorists who drive unsafely near me. Now I smile (genuinely, I’d like to think) and wave in acknowledgement that “Oh, now you see me. Good.” It makes me feel better about sharing the road and I hope it helps them realize it’s a good thing to pay attention to what they’re doing because that’s not just a faceless person on a bike–it’s three people and they’re happy and waving at me because I didn’t squish them while I was illegally holding my cell phone to my ear.
Really enjoyed this series! Can’t wait until my little one is able to hold his head up and wear a helmet so that I can experience all of this first hand!
Thanks, Paul! It really is a blast, riding with your kid. Good luck, hope to hear from you again!
[…] written before about how the vulnerability of riding with our children can make a Pedal Parent quick to snap at […]