I should have known when 2-year-old Rory wouldn’t let us put the bright-green paper bracelet around his wrist. He’d grunt and turn his head, and keep his wrist well out of reach, squirming as much as necessary. It wouldn’t hurt him, or even make him uncomfortable. He just didn’t want to wear it. I gave up on that battle, not knowing the battles that lay ahead.
The bracelet was to prove we’d paid our entry fees for the Urban Farm Bicycle Tour, part of Eat Local Week here in Austin. It was billed as “family friendly” and I saw it as a chance to delve into some of my passions — cycling, local sustainable food, gardening — in my new town, with my kids in tow… literally. They were to ride in the bike trailer while I towed them on my mountain bike. My friend, Lynn, an avid cyclist, was joining us for the adventure. Each stop, at a local urban farm or community garden, promised samples of chef-prepared local food. I was beyond excited.
It was a glorious day down at the Republic Square Farmer’s Market, where we met up with Lynn and the rest of the tour participants. The square was packed with cyclists and excitement was in the circa-75-degree air. The only difficulty? My two boys, who would rather play in a coffee company’s three-wheeler than think about the tour ahead. Packing and transporting two boys, their necessary accoutrements (snacks, diapers, a change of clothes) — along with a disassembled bike trailer and a mountain bike — had been no small challenge either.
There were fabulous moments on the ride, when I chugged along, my legs and lungs remembering cycling challenges of old. We soaked in the sunshine, gulped cool water, and checked out the industrial and industrial-chic landscape of East Austin. But, we only made two stops.
Before it was all over, Rory had scraped both knees bloody, in separate incidents. He’d upended a giant trash can filled with everything from paper to beer bottles — and he helped me clean it up. And he’d knocked over a wheelbarrow filled with mulch and what looked like paint cans… right in front of the volunteer who was using it to work on a raised bed. The things that make him happy — climbing, throwing rocks, knocking things over, wandering out into streets and onto railroad tracks — were just incompatible with safety on this occasion. Sigh. We had to force him back into the bike trailer and strap him down, but he wouldn’t tolerate the helmet even for a moment. The wails of protest were pitiful, loud, and annoying as hell.
Rather than brave what promised to be continued wailing and physical protests — not to mention the dangerous condition of riding with Rory un-helmeted — we headed back to the Farmer’s Market. We’d only made it a mile or two, if that. One side of me was happy that Rory’s lack of cooperation, rather than my lack of fitness, had been the hindrance, but the other side of me cursed, and apologized to Lynn, the whole way back.
With Rory almost three, I’m trying desperately to regain what I see as “myself” — the hobbies and interests and pursuits that make me me. I want to write. I want to explore my foodie passions. I want to run, bike, swim and compete in a triathlon. But it’s all a hundred times harder when I have to be a mother at the same time. Indeed, I’ve wondered sometimes whether I would have been happier without children.
When I try, like in the Urban Farm Bike Tour, to do something quintessentially “me,” but run up against all sorts of child-erected barriers, it is monumentally frustrating. There are moments of joy and fulfillment, for sure, but overall, I come away wondering whether it is worth it. Are a few minutes of fun worth the hours of planning, and packing, and unpacking, and soothing, and chasing, and redirecting, that are inevitable on such an outing, when kids are involved? Should I put away “myself” for a few more years, until the kids can be more compliant? (It’s mostly Rory at this point. Callum is pretty good on such occasions, so there is a ray of hope for the future.) Should we just stay home, or do kid-oriented pursuits (the park, the children’s museum, etc.), and steer clear of any potential frustration or disappointment?
Ultimately, I can’t put myself away. I just can’t live a life like that. I have to keep trying. Hopefully, as the kids grow older, and I learn how to structure things to meet their needs better, I can be “me” and they can be kids, and we can live in harmony. (And, of course, it will be easier when my husband is here full time. ) In a testament to my stubborn determination, I’m planning to do a walking/running 5K this afternoon, this time pushing the kids in the jog stroller/bike trailer. Wish me luck!
UPDATE: The 5K went great. I ran for some, walked for some. The boys each put in pretty good stints of running, as well, which really added to the fun, and the cheers we got from folks along the way. Afterwards, the town was having a super kid-friendly Christmas festival — a great way to relax after running/walking 3.1 miles. Now we’re home, and I’m sipping a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Life is good!
UPDATE2: Photographer Dustin Meyer has posted some photos of what we missed on the bicycle tour. It’s as if we were there 😉