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My mother gave Rio a bicycle for her birthday. A purple bicycle covered with Disney Princess decals. Safe to say, this was her dream bike, long awaited. She spent many winter afternoons sitting on Nana’s lap fantasizing about the bike that would magically appear to her when she turned five. So of course my mom made it happen. It’s in her grandmother contract, I’m sure.

Since I sent “Santa” a letter last Christmas asking “him” to go easy on the beeping, blinking Stuff, we have received nothing battery operated for the kids. Instead, the bike came with a bright pink, princess-logo-sporting, made-in-china air horn. It might be the loudest thing either kid has ever owned. Conveniently, it was not attached to the bike, so the kids were able to bring it in the house and blare it at the breakfast table for a few days.

A word about my mother. When Rio entered the world, I laid down the law: give nothing to this child that you would not give to a child of the opposite sex/gender. Ah, that was the sweet, naive week when I imagined that child was mine, not a free agent in the world. My mom’s response was to show up at my house the day we brought Rio home with about ten pounds of pink lace and an innocent look. “What?” she said, before I could mention the dresses. “I would have bought these for a boy!”

Of course you would, Mom. And you were surely powerless against the waiter who gave eight-month-old Rio her first Oreo cookie while I was in the bathroom. I love you. Never, ever start listening to me about my kids. You totally know better than I do.

I actually do love that my mom gives the girls Disney schwag, and jelly beans and access to cable TV. That’s a huge part of the world they’re growing in, and they get none of it at home. Somebody has to do it, and Nana is the perfect choice. (She also taught Rio how to slide down staircase bannisters, but that’s another story…)

Most recently, she gave Rio this bike. The bike has a row of princess faces emblazoned on the handlebars. As she climbed onto the bike, Rio looked thoughtfully at the princesses, and pointed to Belle.

“Belle looks very princessy there, Mama,” she said. “This must be after. You know, after those photos we saw yesterday.”

Not sure what to make of that, except to say that I’m grateful to Ms. Dina Goldstein for inviting my daughter to think about the prettiness of her princesses.

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So all the discussion of biking with kids has given me some exciting new options to consider. Right now, I have a two-seater Burley trailer that I use almost every day to haul my kids around, and a tag-along tandem attachement for Rio. I think these two things will get us through the summer. But then what? I doubt that Rio, at 6, will be able to bike independently for long rides, and Serena at 3 will probably not be *quite* ready for the trail-a-bike.

Some cool options I’ve encountered:

  • The Xtracycle, which is an add-on kit to transform your regular bike into a cargo bike, or a “family van” with two kids’ seats on the back. Very cool, cheap as these things go, and apparently available locally. The link above is to a blog written by a Cambridge couple who use one with their kids, and they give much more detail about it than I could. One clear advantage to this is that you get to keep riding your own bike, which you presumably like.
  • Dutch Cargo Bicycles, which allow you to carry some large number of kids, grocery bags or circus animals in their amazing and sturdy construction. These things cost more than my car, but are apparently a dream to ride and very sturdy.
  • MADSEN Cargo Bikes, might be my favorite of the batch. They put the cargo bucket behind the adult rider instead of in front the way the Dutch bikes do. They look like they can hold a fair amount of cargo, and provide a pleasant ride for the adults as well.

A couple of people mentioned that bikes built from the ground up to be cargo bikes might be safer and more durable than a standard bike that you adapt with a kit, because they were designed to hold the weight of three people. That might be true. On the other hand, I’m fairly small. My kids and I together weigh just a little more than my (very tall-n-skinny) spouse, and he rides a bike every day. I doubt the weight of me+kids or me+cargo is really going to strain the brakes or wheels on my bike to the breaking point.

Regular readers of this journal know that I bike with my kids. A lot. In traffic.

This is a more controversial subject than I would ever have imagined. I have spent a lot of the past 24 hours discussing it politely.

At the end of all that polite discussion, I took my five-year-old to pick up our farm share in the bike trailer.

As usual, we got heckled on our way to the Growing Center by some fool who felt the need to shout “That is SO dangerous” at us.

This time, that fool was a ten-year-old kid riding a skateboard down the middle of the street, going the wrong way on a one-way street, with no helmet or pads. Seriously.

I laughed so hard I might have fallen off my bike if I were a less skilled rider.

What not to do on a bike in traffic

What not to do on a bike in traffic

A friend just posted a link to a great site about bicycle safety. I can’t recommend strongly enough giving this clear, simple page a read. Especially if, like me, you have a crazy habit of putting your kids in harms way, er, riding your bike with your kids.

To my knowledge, there are two basic camps of bicycle safety: those that advocate treating your bicycle like any other vehicle on the road, and those who advocate theory of invisibility: assume the cars won’t see you, and stay out of their way at all costs.

This page falls more into the former camp, which as a driver I endorse. My life is much better when cyclists behave like cars behave, and stay highly visible. It’s a little scary to ride in traffic, and sometimes people get angry (especially if you are *gasp* riding with a child in tow), but I still think it’s the safest course of action. I can’t really speak about the invisibility option, because I have never tried it. It seems dangerous to me.

If you want more good info about safe, effective riding on city streets, I suggest The Art of Urban Cycling, by Robert Hurst. This book teaches a medley of vehicle-style cycling and using intuition to know when to break the rules. I read it when I was getting back on the road this past fall and found it extremely helpful.

Even more helpful than a book or a good website when you’re starting out riding is a more experienced cycling buddy. See if you can find someone who’s been doing it awhile to go for a few rides with you. There is no replacement for a live teacher.

(ps. the photo is of course not what it appears to be. my daughter is testing the size of her brand-new birthday bike in her grandmother’s driveway. she is not actually even riding, let alone riding on a busy street in traffic with no helmet.)

Dear Concerned Citizens,

Please do not shout insults or parenting advice at me as I am biking past your car on a city street with my kids in tow. Your fear for my children’s safety is truly touching. However, if you pause for a moment, you may realize that taking your own attention away from the vehicle you are driving to startle, alarm and anger the rider of the bicycle does not make my kids safer.

In fact, were you to cause an accident with this behavior, you can be fairly sure I would not be blaming myself for the harm that befell my babies. I would blame you, and your self-righteous idiocy.

Perhaps next time, instead of screaming, “You’re going to die!” or “That is so dangerous!!!” out your car window, you might want to focus on taking special care that you’d don’t became the agent of our apparently inevitable destruction.

A very good way to do this is to get on a bike yourself. If more people tried that, my kids and I would be a lot safer on the roads.

Love,

Your friendly neighborhood cyclist

Weather warm enough to ride,
brings Rio and I flying
on our shiny-not-shiny-now-its-muddy
three-wheeled bicycle-train

The sun is bright and she’s singing
A lot of people, people who don’t know us,
Stare like something unusual is happening
Like my whole life is not accompanied by her
Wild voice lifted up in song

“Little birds, come out of the trees
Come out to the air
Don’t say a word
Little birds”

This is her song today
Her creation and she’s belting it out
At the top of her lungs
Oblivious to stares

“Little birds, come out of the trees
Come out to the air
Don’t say a word
Little birds, did you know my toe hurts?”

And then in a spoken aside, voice low
conspiratorial, even,
“Mama, did you know that is actually true?
My toe does hurt.”

“Little birds, come out of the trees
Come out to the air
Don’t say a word
Little birds”

Lilting, laughing, almost tipping
Our bike wobbles through slushy side roads
Home, the song falls to speech,
Poetry gives way to prose.

“Mama, do you know what I am doing?
I am waking all the springtime animals up.
I am telling them, don’t be afraid
Come back!
Spring is almost here!”

“That’s nice,” I say, distracted
by the buckles on our helmets, the lock on the bike

“My song is floating away in little bubbles!
It’s going to other countries!”

“Little birds, come out of the trees
Come out to the air
Don’t say a word
Little birds”

Today came home from work around 5. We hung out for twenty minutes, and as we started planning dinner, I realized I’d forgotten to pick up our farm share. So I threw the baby in the trailer and biked over to Fresh Pond to get it. We made it there just in time, and got our last farm share box and a loaf of fresh bread.

Then I biked over to Sandro’s house, stole his toothpaste and petted his dog, and rode home by way of The Dairy Bar and yet more fresh bread. By the time I got home, I had a week’s worth of fresh food in the back of my bike trailer.

Rio, meanwhile, had spent the time alone with her dad making “math cards” out of brightly colored felt, helping him cook dinner, and learning to wash the dishes.

Can I say how much better this is than dragging two tired, hungry children in my car, on the highway, to a HUGE grocery store of infinite fluorescent-lit doom and then home again to try to cook dinner alone before their dad gets back from work at 7:30? There are no words.

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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