October 3, 2010 at 9:26 am 5 comments

Bicycle! Bicycle!

We live in the downtown area, which means that basically every destination is within fifteen blocks, or so. The library, the coffeshop, friends’ houses, the river, the pet supply store, the bank, dance class, you get the picture. So most days I toodle about on an upright, old red bike I found in an alley, chosen because of its shape, meaning it was able to accommodate the front loading seat we had for Echo. Only one brake functions, the seat slowly tilts forward as I ride, and the gears don’t shift well, but we love it. Often I attach the dog trailer and pull eighty-pound Henrydog around too, making him wait while I run errands, and then finally stopping along the river to throw a ball, soak him entirely, and exhaust him thoroughly. The system works perfectly for our, often, simple life. But it’s a slow ride with no gears to speak of and my legs splayed to make room for Echo’s body.

For that reason, when our journey takes us beyond our “zone” I wimp out entirely and take the car. Until yesterday. With Nathan at work, the most beautiful day in history, and the need to deliver Xi to her other house (decidedly outside the “zone”) I looked around for an alternative. And then I saw Bicycle, my trusty road bike. I pumped the tires, hooked on the kid trailer, loaded Echo, Xi, lunch box,and every scrap of school project that Xi wanted to show her mother, and hit the road.

We went up hills, through a tunnel, over a railroad bridge. I felt like Natty Gann, hitting the road, seeing the west, riding from horizon to horizon. My body lithe. My legs strong. Not toodling but zipping.

Oh my trusty bicycle friend! How I had forgotten thee!

There is a long history with that bike. When I had just graduated college and returned home to work for my sister and her bike delivery company I rode a red mountain bike, a bike so stupid within the context of Santa Cruz-bike messenger-roadbike-coolness, that we nicknamed it Chad. And Chad just wasn’t going to cut it so I searched and searched for a road bike that would fit my small frame, not an easy task, and one day was surprised by Bicycle. She is blue and I loved her from the start. Bicycle is what I rode on the bike tour where I witnessed the spider to wasp battle. Bicycle is what we strapped onto my truck when I moved to Colorado for grad school. The same trip where, when we stopped in Nevada to try out the novelty of gambling and pulled into the casino parking garage, the handlebars of Bicycle didn’t make the required clearance and were munched, and I cried my eyes out on the curb. Bicycle is what I rode, in the wee hours of the morning to my job in a bakery. I rode in the middle of the street, no hands, and one time, in the heat of summer, topless, because there was no one in the streets at that time of night. Bicycle is what I was riding, years later, whizzing down a hill, when I saw Nathan for the first time.


A long-lost friend.

Riding her yesterday, I was drawn to analyze why I had moved her aside. Why I grab the van now to drive to the box stores when yesteryear I rode Bicycle, navigating stop lights and unfriendly traffic without a second thought. I suppose having a baby can cause that kind of change. For the first year of her life, hating to strap her into the car seat, which she loathed, and following the bike trailer rule of waiting until the child is twelve months old to use it, we walked everywhere, and simply did not go where we could not walk. In winter I loaded her in layers of clothes, strapped her into the ergo pack, and then tied an old down coat over top. My body became unbelievably strong, at least in that way. And then at the magic age of one, I put a pickle in her hand, strapped on her insanely large red helmet, loaded her into the trailer, and rode three exuberant blocks before she screamed and wanted to get out. So there is that. An unwilling passenger would, of course, prevent one from going beyond the “zone”.

But there is more underneath that.

Yesterday, buoyed by the successful trip across town, Nathan and I decided to ride further. First to a harvest party at a homestead in the hills, and from there, across town again to an evening baby shower. Again I pumped the tires (seems Bicycle has a slow leak), loaded sweatshirts, bottles of water, toys, and an apple cake into the trailer, and set off. We chatted and laughed through paved neighborhoods, winding our way to the hills. Soon the pavement turned to dirt, and our chatter to labored breathing. My pulse began to beat in my skull. Sweat trickled through my hair, and I thought This is hard. I panted. I looked ahead to see how much further we had to go and the road stretched on. On and up. But I also thought, This is hard, but so what? What am I saving myself for? What are these quads for if not to move my body, to transport my child? I will be tired, and drink water, and feel good, and sleep well tonight and wake up and have energy again.

I think I have been living in scarcity. With a colicky newborn I stripped down. I ate only rice and sweet potatoes, so that her belly would be soothed by milk made from simple foods. As she grew, as all the girls grew, I watched the clock, wanting to be home before too late. Wanting them tucked in bed with teeth brushed by the appointed bedtime. I managed our day, seeking stimulation – but not too much, action – but only in the right measure, and fun – but not so much that we couldn’t recover quickly. There was so much at stake, so much preciousness at hand that I was careful of them, but if I am honest, also of me. I wanted to be equipped. Like a mountaineer that stocks up on the latest alpine gear, I was stockpiling rest, energy, vitamins, whatever I would need to care for these beings. Without knowing what chaos the next day would bring, I sought to keep the current day simple, to remain in constant preparation.

And there is sense to that method, sure. Children need sleep and they need moderation. Certainly parenting is a lot easier when the kids are well rested and well fed, and maybe more importantly, parenting is easier when the parents are well rested and well fed. I know that conflict resolution, figuring out whose turn it is with the roller skates is akin to torture with less than six hours of sleep, but what does that have to do with my quads?

Perhaps I can parent just as well with tired muscles, as at this point I am not literally chasing anybody. There are no toddlers running toward the street anymore. In fact Echo casually saunters next to me now. I still hold her a lot, of course, but I don’t think I need to stockpile muscle strength any longer. The days of screaming after three blocks in the bike trailer are over too. The ride to the homestead took a long time, but there was barely a peep from Echo. She cooed to a crusty plastic Bambi figurine for the duration. Which is good because I was not much of a conversationalist. I sweated and pumped away, past cows, over rocks, and just when I started looking ahead hoping for an end in sight, Nathan circled around with his trailer-less mountain bike and gently pushed me upward. I thanked him, as I know how hard it must be to pedal and push someone else at the same time. He said he didn’t want to patronize me, since he knew I could do it, but he wanted it to still be fun. I loved that answer.

And it was fun. We made it. And drank water, and wiped sweat, ate apple cake and other homemade dishes, tried to catch a chicken to hold, smiled at friends, and pumped water from a real water pump. As the sun slanted low we made our way to the top of the orchard and gazed out at yellow hills. Deer poop at our feet, strands of spider web flying like flags from grass stalks, fermented apple on the air. My legs were spent, my mind flat in a good way, and I wanted to freeze that moment for eternity. I wanted to hear Echo say Mama? I want to see a deer, so stop moving your leg, hold really still, and turn to actually see a deer sniffing our human scent, again and again.

I wanted to remember Bicycle, to never forget her. I wanted to remember my body and all that it is capable of, to remember that wobbly legs are good. I wanted to remember that I don’t need to hoard muscle strength, that I can spend it and still parent well, that I can spend it and it will fill again.

And again and again.


Entry filed under: life lessons. Tags: , , , .

For Her Keeping It To Myself

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. martha  |  October 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    did i know you in a former life?

    • 2. nataliechristensen  |  October 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      I think I’d like to say so.

      • 3. martha  |  October 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm

        i didn’t mean to be vague or impulsive, it’s just that i read your post and drew so many parallels to my own drifting love affair with bicycles over the years, and could, i think, chronicle their stories in a not dissimilar way. i appreciated your ode to these bikes, and to the way you are now, with history integrating itself, along with children, into your pedaling. thanks. i laughed out loud in recognition at moments.

      • 4. nataliechristensen  |  October 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm

        I made the assumption that that was what you meant. I also like what I know of you from your contributions to this space so I felt pleased to be pulled into an alliance with you. And bicycles truly are the best invention ever.

  • 5. Myers  |  October 5, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Beautifully told — you drew me into the story so completely I forgot where I was … I felt like I was there with you as you rode to the homestead … and afterward, i realized that you wrote it kinda like it happens — you talked about solid stuff (Echo had her Bambi figurine, Nathan pushed you, you biked “past cows, over rocks”), but you also were in your head/heart as well, which is just what it’s like on a bike — you’re thinking and you’re seeing what’s in front of you and you’re feeling (both your internal feelings and your physical being) and it’s all combined. And that last paragraph felt to me like a little poem, a whisper of a song. Here’s to many more journeys on your bicycle!


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