Jaden has decided that biking to school is his ticket to freedom, so we got a bike lock and have been practicing together, working on safety, where and how to ride, how to change gears and loop the lock cable through a rack.

But I’m struggling not to pass on all my bike baggage.

There’s the karma: It’s rare that I can get more than 2 or 3 rides on a bike before the tire goes flat. User error? Ancient curse? As a kid I loved pedaling around the close-in neighborhood, playing in the woods with friends, zooming around, but safely within walking distance should anything go wrong. I stayed close to home.

I vividly remember once pedaling farther afield, a long way down to a busy commercial street. I started to worry about my front tire, which seemed like it was getting squishy. I stopped at a gas station for air, but wasn’t very experienced or coordinated, and before I knew it there was a giant, humiliating pop. I’d blown out the tire, and fled before I could register whether anyone had seen me do it (they had to have heard). The long, hot walk home with my disabled bike was a meditation on disappointment. (I just checked and Google maps thinks the gas station in question is only 0.7 miles from the house I grew up in, but this cannot be true. It was a much, much longer walk then.)

Into every life there come some flat tires, and now, especially with the children, I work to have a proportional response when I (inevitably, due to the curse) get one. I don’t find this hard for many of life’s setbacks: a car problem, a computer error, a bureaucratic hoop. It can be fixed. I try to pretend I believe this about bike flats too, as I don’t want my kids to inherit this corner of my personality. I grab Jay’s bike, or Shayla’s bike, too short for me but they work in a pinch, as I escort my kid to school, my knees bent ridiculously close as I clown-bike along and supervise.

Then there’s my bigger, plainer fear. Cycling can feel thrilling, and fun, and give you a wonderful view of everything up close, but it’s terrifying too. Sometimes driving a car I’ll think about how I’m in charge of a giant metal machine that can kill people; it’s probably a good safety thought (and a keen insight into how my parents taught us to drive!) But on a bike there’s no theoretical about it, with your limbs out in the air. You’re open and free, but also exposed and vulnerable as the asphalt whizzes by a few inches underneath your feet. A bit of fear is totally reasonable. It’s why we practice crosswalks, and looking both ways.

But I’m determined not to pass down the dread and terror that bubbles up in me on a bike. Often it’s just a whisper, and like the other thousand unhelpful things my brain throws at me each hour, I can let it go. But sometimes it’s a pretty strong whisper, or a sudden little shout. Am I insane for letting the kids on these infernal machines? Why allow them to bike around our relatively car-clogged roads?

It’s a real question, but maybe for another day. Today I’m just trying to manage the crazy. And doing OK! Thank heavens for our nearby bike shop, not too far to walk my bike and its blownout front tire to the shop. The curse may never be lifted, but there’s always another tube.

photo by Jonathan Botkin