No Walk in the Park

Crying HeadFor the first time in weeks, the thermometer read below eighty degrees. I peeked out the front door, where my husband was weeding the walk. “Hey, do you wanna go for a bike ride?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, and went to ready the bikes.

I told the kids to get dressed and I dressed myself. I was going to walk while they rode. I’d hurt my back and biking posture would kill me, plus I was pretty unsteady on my new bike. (See “Just Like Riding a Bicicle”) I hadn’t been taking my morning walks because of the heat, and I missed them.

After much tire-pumping, sun-screening and child-arranging, we headed out. My six-year-old daughter and I led and my husband, towing our three-year-old in the kiddie-caboose, followed. That didn’t work out so well as my daughter kept stopping and I was slower than everybody else, so my husband led, followed by my daughter, then me, trailing by fifty yards.

About fifteen hawks circled the entrance to the nature trail when we got there. That trail is the whole reason I walk in the first place. It goes through the wetlands over a creek that flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

As we stopped at the trail head, my son began to whine. His bike helmet was too loose. Then it was too tight. Then he wanted water. Then he couldn’t get the water into the pocket of the caboose. My husband’s voice got higher and tighter as my son continued to whine. Already this outing was a far cry from my peaceful walks.

We got my son settled and set off on the nature trail. The setting must have done its magic because everyone seemed to calm down. We rode the path into town and I pointed out the Great Blue Heron that flew across the trail. We were heading through a parking lot in town when my daughter wiped out on her bike. She’d scraped her ankle. She cried and walked her bike the rest of the way to the community center. When we got there, we made a pit stop and got some snacks in the vending machines.

Vending machines are always iffy with my daughter, because she’s allergic to artificial colors. (See “Dethroning the Drama Queen”) If we don’t already know a product is safe for her and it’s in a vending machine, we can’t read the label until we buy it. She chose Chex Mix and the ingredients said “Artificial color added.” It didn’t say “Red 40” or “Yellow 5” so the added color could have been perfectly fine for my daughter, but the listing was too vague to be useful.

Even though she came out of the building eating a giant Kit Kat, the news that the Chex Mix was off limits didn’t sit well with my daughter. I was happy to see that, despite her mood, she climbed back on her bike to head back home. If she hadn’t, it was going to be a miserable 1.5 miles.

On the way back, we saw the heron fly by again, but, other than some schools of tiny fish, no significant wildlife. There never is when I want people to see it. We’d gone maybe a quarter of a mile when my daughter rode into the railing of the trail bridge. She’d scraped her hand, so she cried and kicked her bike. We rushed to comfort her and my husband pointed out a path that would keep her away from the rails. She whined that it zigzagged too much, but she got on her bike and started again. Maybe fifty yards later, my husband and my daughter stopped at a crossroads and I caught up. We started again and as we got to a long, low-grade hill, my husband stopped and started to walk his bike and encouraged my daughter to do the same. He reasoned that walking the bikes would save their energy.

Walking the bikes, IMHO, was the first mistake. Since the grade wasn’t very steep, my daughter would have been better off riding up the hill. She’s young and strong and she’d already conquered all the other hills. And because her arms are short and her bike has training wheels, she has a hard time walking it. The training wheels always bump into her feet and she needs to use both hands to steer, so she has to walk closer to the bike, exacerbating the training-wheel problem. So she whined. She walked her bike, but she whined. And the training wheels hit her foot and she threw down the bike, then her helmet. Then my husband got mad.

“If she gets hurt it’ll be her own stupidity,” he said within her earshot.

I muttered, “I wouldn’t say that so close to her.”

We kept walking. “Okay, we’ll leave the bike here, then.” I said.

My daughter picked up the bike and said, “I’m a jerk!”

I went over to her and said, “No, you’re not a jerk.”

“I’m stupid.”

I sighed. “No, you’re not stupid. Do you want your helmet?” I said, handing it to her.

She yanked it away and hung it on the handlebars. We walked up the hill. When we got back into the neighborhood, my husband said, “Do you wanna ride now?”

My daughter got on her bike. I trailed far behind as she rode up a much steeper hill than the one we’d just avoided. Sometimes I don’t get my husband at all.

Almost at the top of the hill, my daughter stopped her bike. I caught up.

She was crying. “I can’t catch up!”

“Yes you can,” I said, “If you didn’t stop you’d already be up there.”

“No I can’t!”

My husband had stopped at the top of the hill.

“Because I’m a jerk.”

“No, you’re not.”

“And I’m dehydrated.” I know that’s not the typical vocabulary of a six-year-old, but that is what she said.

“Oh, okay.” I handed her my water bottle, “Drink.”

She finished my water and got off her bike, walked it up the hill. When we got to the top, my husband said, “Why don’t you stay here with Mommy and we’ll go get the car and pick you up?”

“Nooo.”

“Why not?”

“Nooo.”

“I’ve had it with her,” he said. “We can’t do this again. She’s too young.”

“I AM NOT!”

I explained, “She was upset because she couldn’t catch up.”

He turned to her. “You can catch up. We waited for you.”

“No I can’t!”

I said, “I don’t know what you’re worried about, I’m always behind all of you. I’ll always be back here, even if you can’t catch up.”

“Yeah, Mommy will always be behind you,” my husband said.

“I don’t care!”

“Let’s just go,” my husband said. “It’s almost all downhill from here. You stay with us.”

My daughter mounted her bike and followed him. We took a few shade breaks, but we made it almost all the way back to the house with my daughter on her bike. I walked it the last two blocks.

“We’re never doing this again,” my husband said as he put away the bikes. Which sucks, because we just bought the bikes, just so we could do this. “She was fine until she hit the rail.”

“Too bad we bought the bikes,” I said.

“I’ll ride mine,” my husband said. He’s a runner. He’ll never ride a bike when he can run.

“Oh well,” I said.

I’ve been thinking about what we did wrong. First, I think the ride was too long for my daughter. She got tired and then everything fell apart. Second, walking up that hill was a bad idea. My daughter would’ve made it up without a fuss if she could have ridden it. Third, that remark about “her own stupidity” ruined any possibility of a positive attitude for my daughter. And yes, I know I’m blaming my husband but sometimes, when he gets mad like this, it’s like I have three children. Three miserable, impossible, whiny children.

I can accept the decision to walk up the hill, even though it wouldn’t have been my call, but the “stupidity” remark? I told my husband later that my daughter’s trying to figure out who she is, and whatever we say she is, she will believe it. He is her mirror, and his behavior how she will relate to boys and men throughout her life. I pointed out that she didn’t start putting herself down until he did. When we were discussing it, he told me, “I don’t understand her. There’s no logic to what she does.”

I said, “She’s six. Don’t expect there to be any logic to what she does until she’s at least eighteen.”

If you ask my husband about his dreams, he’ll say he wanted to have a family. And now that he has one, he wants his kids to act like adults. Did he not get that they’d start out as KIDS?

I doubt we’ll go on another bike ride anytime soon. I doubt that anyone will use the bikes we just bought. And I doubt that I will stop having to mother three kids.

Sometimes I just want to say, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”