Spring has finally come to Ottawa. There’s still some snow on the ground, mostly where it was piled in huge snowbanks over the winter and hasn’t had direct sun to help dry it out. But the streets are clear and dry, and in this neighbourhood, that means it’s time to ride bikes.
We live on the best street in the neighbourhood for bikes, and we have the largest collection of bikes and wheeled toys in the neighbourhood. When the Mamadragon-Fixit family is ready to play, we just throw open the garage door, release the children onto the street, and wait for the crowds to come to us. We are rarely disappointed, and certainly not in the early days of spring.
The kids are always thrilled to get back on their bikes, scooters, and tricycles after a long winter without wheels. In this neighbourhood, the kids learn to ride early. We ride bikes every day in the spring and summer – for fun and for transportation. We live within walking or riding distance of a playground, shopping mall, schools, the library, and adjacent to miles and miles of walking/cycling paths that lead all over the city. Peer pressure and constant practice ensures that by the age of two and a half, our kids know how to pedal a tricycle and steer. When they are three, the tots in this neighbourhood are riding two-wheeled bikes with training wheels, and at the ripe old age of four, most of the children around here are confidently riding on two wheels. This is why Queen Bee could not understand why the Princess couldn’t find something to ride yesterday. The Princess is five; if she lived in this neighbourhood she would have already graduated to her second big-girl bicycle.
Today was special because the kids’ best friends, the Busy family, had their own bikes to ride for the first time this spring. Queen Bee and Creative Cat each have a special friend in the Busy family. And Mrs. Busy and I had already decided that this year we were ready to give our children a little more freedom. Today was the first day for the kids to experience their new boundaries.
Queen Bee and her best friend Little Busy were allowed to ride to the corner of our little street, down the road to the next street, down that little street, and back to our driveway via a gravel walking path. It’s a very little loop, but for a four- and five-year-old it was a taste of adventure. They were giddy with the thrill of being out of our sight for three minutes at a time. Queen Bee, wearing a new purple helmet and riding a hand-me-down pink and blue two-wheeler, would ride so fast she seemed to be flying. I could see almost nothing but her helmet and a huge grin as she went by in a blur. She went around and around that little loop, so fast and so often that she had windburn on both wrists and hands tonight. How many kids can give themselves windburn on a bicycle?
Creative Cat and Big Busy were allowed to do the little loop last year. This year they are ready for a bigger challenge: the neighbourhood. The whole neighbourhood. All by themselves. They were a little scared by my last-minute safety warnings as they left: “Stay at the side of the roads, watch for cars, don’t go anywhere with any adults, and take care of each other!” They almost decided not to go. Freedom is a little scary, and at seven and a half, they are very good at imagining disaster scenarios. But they decided to try, and set off solemnly. But by the time they reached the first corner, they looked more relaxed. It seemed a long time later before we saw them again. They were riding down every street in the neighbourhood, backtracking to make sure they didn’t miss any. They came back relaxed and confident – too cool to even tell us what they had seen on their adventure. They played with their younger brothers and sisters and friends for a few minutes, and then they headed back out to explore the wider world again. They too were giddy with the thrill of their new independence.
They looked like ordinary kids on ordinary bicycles. But today they were different. Today they weren’t just riding on wheels – they were growing wings.