Time in a (Water) Bottle

Time in a (Water) Bottle

I have this cranky teenage memory of being forced to ride my bike every night after dinner, with my parents. Every night, every summer, all summer long. Let me be clear—I was an awkward teenager, and these were mandatory bicycle parades with my parents. Everyone could see the spectacle—especially when my mom and dad would park their bikes in front of someone’s house so they could study and critique the landscaping, color scheme, 1980s architecture, and take their sweet time doing it while my brother and I waited down the street, yelling “Come ON!” in vain.

All of this at the point in my life, when as an American teenager, I was compelled to rebel against my parents and strike my own paths. For me, the physical manifestation of freedom was (and is) my bicycle. My bike was my ticket to getting away from my parents’ watchful eyes and ears, stealing away to the neighborhood strip mall to blow my allowance money on makeup, stickers and candy.  

Much to my dismay, when a cute redhead came over to introduce himself, he led with “Hey, is that you I’ve seen riding bikes with your family?” How embarrassing! I was sure this my father’s scheme to keep boys away, and that this guy was about to ridicule me about the nightly parades. But … that’s not what happened. I think I talked with Cory every day for 3 months straight. Were it not for our recently acquired drivers’ licenses, I bet we would have gone for bike rides. Instead we practiced driving in reverse. (And that’s the truth, not some weird euphemism.)

So … Cory didn’t think it was weird. Or if he did, it didn’t seem to matter much.

When I recently accused my dad of torture by mandatory bike ride, he reminded me that we always rode bikes together in the summertime. From the time I rode in the yellow plastic seat behind my dad’s saddle on his dark green 3-speed Schwinn all the way up to the Huffy 10-speed Cory spied me on.

And really, in all fairness to my parents, it was great. Idyllic, even. On my first “real” bike with a sparkly purple banana seat, I pedaled around the neighborhood, in our little family bike parade: Daddy out front, Mommy bringing up the rear and little brother Ryan and me somewhere in between. I’d practice riding one-handed, you know, for practice in case I broke my arm someday—a collarbone premonition for sure. (I cannot recall a single childhood crash, but my skin holds memories of bandaids over perpetually scraped knees and elbows.) Maybe we’d ride to the neighborhood pool, or the playground to spend what felt like hours on the swings, or just pedal around in the waning sunlight.

I have no recollection of time passing. There was no calculation of how many miles we could cover in the time my parents had surely budgeted. The film reel in my mind is simply warm sun on the horizon, occasionally pumping my legs to crest what seemed at the time a humongous hill.

Looking back on this now, I see why I am loathe to use a bike computer today. I love when I can truly find freedom on a bike—from everything, especially a ticking clock.

I eventually graduated to a royal blue huffy 10-speed with yellow trim (I wanted the white one with pink trim). My dad was then on a garage sale 10-speed, my little brother on a BMX bike, and my mom—my mom cruised around on a 2-speed Schwinn. Two-speed as in you pedal backwards to both brake and shift—a delicate maneuver that she shrugs off, just as she does her innate and flawless ability to drive her stick-shift Mustang on Seattle’s hills.

So, I grudgingly admit, maybe my parents were on to something. Now as an adult needing to fit exercise into my day, and burn off steam to stave off stress, I find myself making time for a bike ride nearly every summer night. I don’t always go far. I often seek out hills. Find spots to snap photos and post to social media where my people can see—my digital-age version of a “family” bike parade. After dinner is the perfect time; the sun’s still out, traffic is low, and the temperature is just right.

I’m not sure I can justify the mandatory nature of the family bike rides—and, when pressed, my parents can’t seem to either. I’m pretty sure it was not intended to inspire my career in the cycling industry (oops). Maybe as they saw us growing up, they wanted to hold on to the last vestiges of our childhoods before we left home not just for an afternoon bike ride, but for our own apartments, careers and families.

Maybe they wanted to bottle up that time, like the Jim Croce song.

You know what? We still have time. So, Mom and Dad (I know you’re going to read this), when you get to the end, call me so we can plan a bike ride before this summer’s over, ok? We can stop and look at as many houses as you want along the way.

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  1. harris

    That’s great. I used to walk with my mom every summer night after dinner. I am going to start riding every night with my kids!

  2. MattC

    VERY NICE Jennifer! Brings back memories of my childhood…we didn’t do family ‘mandated’ rides, but I fondly remember riding my big brothers bike for the first time (which was my first time on 2 wheels!)…went around and around my grandparents house, wanting to make SURE they saw me (which they did…I inherited THAT bike and my bro got a new bike….the way of the world in the 60’s). We lived out in the country…bikes were freedom…riding to little league practice, to the park, just down to the corner for whatever adventure lie there that day…pretty much anywhere AWAY from home. Enjoy your ride w/ your parents, so very soon that won’t be possible.

  3. Selena

    I love this! You are a skilled raconteur. I also had a banana seat bike and many scrapes and bandages that year…thanks for conjuring good memories from my past!

  4. Winky

    Beautiful writing. Thanks. I’d love for our children to be more amenable to this. But it is mainly sportsball for the time being, along with ludicrous amounts of time in the car.

  5. Clare

    Great post, thank you! I remember family bike rides as a kid (and moaning about them). Now I’m (trying to) pass on the love to my kids! It’s hard when they complain but I know they’ll thank me later…

  6. Jennifer

    Awesome! I remember the rides that had a fun destination the most – the playground, the strip mall candy shop, or a friend’s house. Fair warning though – your kids might grow up to be bicycle tour guides ;).

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