MY POLICY IS you can keep whatever trinkets you’re handed, but the one all the kids at your table got because they cleaned up nicely doesn’t go in the family medal case. You’re also allowed to bring them up in conversation every time your brother’s 15K or your father’s Super Randonneur series is mentioned, but the answer is still no, they’re not going in the case. It breaks a little part of my heart to tell you that, and breaks a little part of yours to hear it, but I’m sorry. They’re not.
On last year’s 15K, one of my five-year-olds DNF’d (“Did Not Finish”). So he got to suffer through watching his brother receive the sole award. This year, the suffering started a couple of weeks before the ride, but I was the one feeling it—because the two medals in my dresser, engraved with the names of two six-year-olds, wouldn’t be handed out for participation. The only way to get one—to even see it—would be to finish.
October 15, 2011
THE CLOUDS WERE beautiful and fast-moving, so every few minutes the weather changed. It would be flat gray, and then we’d find ourselves riding through a strobing of sun and branch shadows.
The boy who DNF’d last year surprised me a month ago by suddenly becoming a good climber on the little hills in Inwood. He’s light, which is an advantage in climbing, and physically capable of racing his brother up Staff Street with some effort—adults walk their bikes up it—but whining and giving up were his two favorite hobbies this year. After his brother the Drift King got a brand-new rear tire because he’d deposited most of his tread on various sidewalks, the complainer started challenging himself to pull off longer skids, which somehow conflated itself with better hill work.
So I was able to tell him: I think you’re going to finish this year. You rode sixteen miles in one day at Summer Streets, and a 20K is only thirteen. And—it’s flat.
I think you’re going to finish.
So do I, he said. If I start the fourth lap? I know I’ll finish it.
THE VIDEO TELLS the next part of the story, so don’t skip it. They’re both small white boys in brown vests, but he’s the blue bike. Drift King’s is yellow.
THAT EVENING AT home, we talked about his different medals. He has two little plastic ones that he got at school for being tidy or something.
“Does this one feel different?” I asked.
It was still around his neck—he would eventually take it off at bath time. He rubbed his thumb over the front of it and looked thoughtful.
“I mean,” I said, “in your heart. Does this medal feel different from your other ones?”
He looked a little uncertain and rubbed it against his chest.
“Uh,” I said, “No, I mean…do you feel different about it?”
He wanted to give me the right answer, but he really had no idea what I was talking about. “Your feelings,” I said, “do you feel the same about this medal as you feel about your other ones?”
He slid his thumb over it again, doubtfully.
I took another couple of stabs, but I’d pointed him in the wrong direction, so I let it go and he wandered off.
A minute later, he brought his cheap participation medals into the kitchen, and said, “These ones—I don’t really like them, and I never even play with them, so I think I’m going to throw them in the trash.”
They were in the trash and he was gone before I could say anything.
NEXT OCTOBER: The Rockland Lake 25K.
These little 16″ bikes will be long gone by then.
* Until a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed even a great little six-year-old rider could pull off a twenty-foot skid, but on the way to the greenmarket—I’m on the street, they’re on the sidewalk—I hear the usual schhhhhhhhhhhhh behind me…and then I still hear it…and then I turn to look and he’s still skidding. Seriously, a twenty-foot black stripe. [back]