Life With a Smile: Have bikes, will travel
By KATE SNYDER
For my kids, the highlight of the summer is always the week we spend at my parents’ house in Illinois. They get to eat pop tarts for breakfast, play with my old toys, and pursue a host of fun activities in the Chicago suburbs. Despite the not-insignificant hassle of wrestling three children’s bicycles and accessories into/onto a minivan already laden with kid clothing, gear, and entertainment, I always bring their bikes. It’s a non-negotiable item on the packing list.
All three of my kids love their bikes desperately and ride them around the neighborhood at home frequently, but visiting my parents gives them a chance to ride with purpose – with real destinations in mind, rather than just around the block or to a friend’s house. My folks live on the edge of a picturesque small-town main street. We can – and do – regularly bike to the bakery for donuts or to the library to pick up new books. The kids love carrying their treasures in backpacks or stowing them in the back of the trailer that hosts my youngest for longer trips. It’s about a 10-minute ride to the downtown movie theater and to a small natural history museum. There’s a hotdog place next to the theater and a confectionary I’ve loved since childhood a few doors down from that. Add in a farmers market, several good restaurants, and a convenience store, and there are endless reasons to jump on our bikes and head downtown.
If the allure of the retail corridor isn’t what we’re in the mood for, there are also recreational opportunities within pedaling distance. There’s a water treatment facility with a manmade lake just a few blocks from my parents’ house. A lovely paved biking path circles the lake and my big kids race each other around and around until they are exhausted. Or we’ll ride to my old elementary school and shoot hoops on the playground.
Interestingly, I have only a few bike-related memories from my own childhood. (Including a vivid recollection of a friend taking off a chunk of her heel in the spokes of her bike which is why I am now a crazy person about appropriate bike footwear – my children can recite the cautionary tale in all its gory glory!)
The truth is, I don’t actually like to bike very much. My legs get tired, my rump gets sore, and my lady parts go numb pretty much instantly. And I hate wearing a bike helmet. Oh, I know they’re important. I make my kids wear them and my parents absolutely insisted that I don mine every time I rode. And thus, I didn’t ride. I decided in late elementary school that the horrors of the helmet outweighed the enjoyment of the ride and I simply didn’t bike. Most of my friends didn’t live within biking distance so play-dates involved parental chauffeuring and I was content to walk to school.
My mother, on the other hand, loves to bike. When she retired, she even worked at the local bike shop for a few years. She and my dad ride regularly together and own about a half a dozen bikes between them. I think it’s her influence that has inspired my kid to be bike-lovers, and I’m happy that they are. I love that they can ride their bikes to their friends’ houses and that they’ll joyride around the neighborhood, just because they like it. They’ve even started asking if they can bike (accompanied) to school this fall.
So when we’re on vacation, I put my longstanding grudge against my helmet on hold and join my kids and parents in their cycling excursions. Sore legs are a small price to pay to take part in their adventures.