Unexpectedly is the only way it ever happens

Today, even though I really couldn’t, I said yes when asked if I could spare an hour for the boys, and when they called me out to the dining room, their bikes were ready, they had their helmets on, my bike was by the door with sandwiches in the pannier, and the hour was to be spent riding down to the Little Red Lighthouse, throwing pebbles in the Hudson River, eating our sandwiches, and riding home.

It was their idea, I was told.

The descent from next to the Henry Hudson Parkway down to the Little Red Lighthouse—same descent, if you read it, that I used in my story in RIDE—is really two descents. This is more obvious if you’re climbing them, but it’s a steep little switchback, and then a straight downhill, and then it flattens and there’s a sharp curve through a short tunnel, over a short planked bridge, and down again, which shoots you straight past the tennis courts.

Last year my smaller boy wiped out on the flat, and boy, did he wipe out. I carried him and his bike down to the bottom, with blood running down his fingers and me doing a barely acceptable job of controlling my anger while he shrieked Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! This is bad! This is bad! I’d contributed to his injury by trying to micro-manage his bike handling, so the anger was really shame.

But now it was 70° and maybe a little muggy, but also green and gray and pretty. There weren’t that many other bikes, and he was chattering away as we rolled up the shallow half-mile before the bollard that marks where the switchback drops. We were discussing the complexions of the two descents. He asked if I remembered when he wiped out. I put some energy into not sounding like I was wincing and said it wasn’t the hill that made him wipe out, it was that he was going too fast and not paying attention, and then he got scared and froze up and shimmied the bike, and that’s what put it down. But don’t forget, I said. This year, you have hand brakes. So you can feather your speed, trim your speed, if it’s too fast, you can slow it down. You could do the whole hill like— (I held my hand at an angle and made it descend like a funicular for snails.)

His brother, as usual, was fifty feet ahead. Even with seven-year-olds, I’m having conversations at the back of the pack.

DON’T PASS THE BOLLARD! I yelled.

He stopped immediately and looked back at us. So often, lately, when I’m trying to give him freedom, he thinks I’m reining him in.

***

Every time we get to the switchback, I make them dismount and put their bikes off the path and walk twenty feet down with me, where I point at various things about the personality of the first descent. See this part I’m standing on, right here? This spot is the steepest part. Now look, it hooks right here, but then all the way down to there? That’s straight. See how it’s straight? You can go fast down it, but don’t still be going fast when you get to the bottom, because see it turns there? So if you’re still going fast there, you’ll wipe out on the dirt.

They both chose to walk the first 40′ or so. They remounted while there was still a good kid-strength downhill grade and picked up speed through the short tunnel and over the wooden bridge. The chatterer coasted right past his wipeout spot. I saw the top of his brother’s red helmet disappear down the second descent as we were still traversing the flat.

***

And so the shameful wipeout was erased.

***

We threw pebbles in the river for a while. There’s no sand there, just big slabs of rock that you can walk on.

***

While we were eating sandwiches another hundred yards down the greenway, where we ended up after the bathroom, I said tell you what. The day you climb the first part? From where the lighthouse is, up to the wooden bridge? (And here there was another three minutes of getting their attention and repeating myself, which I’ll spare you.) The day you climb all the way to the wooden bridge, I’ll buy you whatever ice cream you want. If you climb it, you can choose the ice cream. If you do it, you can choose the ice cream. If two boys do it? Two kinds of ice cream.

If we can’t do it, do we still get the ice cream?

Nope.

We ate our sandwiches. They explained their secret trick, their plan for climbing the hill, which was to go really fast and then they’d just be up it. I explained how that wouldn’t work on this hill. It’s too long, too steep, and I really don’t even know if you guys can do it. (And there was another fifteen minutes of dickering over what needed to be eaten, why it was impossible to eat that, and the exact terms of the trade agreement governing the distribution of GoGurt, which I’ll spare you.) Then the wrappers and napkins got packed back in my pannier, and back-of-pack boy got on his bike and pedaled for the lighthouse, and his brother marched up to me, flexed like Hulk Hogan, and shouted MUST—CLIMB—HILL! and grabbed his bike.

***

When, in the course of your parenting adventure, you arrive at a juncture that requires you to either yell your guts out, cheerleading for your kid who’s climbing a hill that grownups—fit ones—consider That point where I turn around and go back downtown, or get your phone out and take pictures? Just remember I said this and you’ll be fine: To hell with the phone. It’s not an option. Cheer for that little human like it’s the first time in his entire life he’ll have achieved anything this big.

Because for two little humans, it was.

***

“DADDY! WHY DIDN’T WE GET ICE CREAM!”

We’d just dismounted after coasting down that half-mile. There were still concrete steps and a block of sidewalk to go.

“Did you see any ice cream stores on our way down the greenway?”

***

“Can I have some more ice cream, please?”

“No, you can’t have…yeah, all right. You earned it.”

***

Tonight was shampoo night during bathtime, one of my favorite things.

I’m very tired. I just wanted to get this all down, before things that matter less pressed in more, and I didn’t.

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7 Comments

Filed under Bicycling, BikeNYC, Bikes, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Inwood, Kids, Parenting, Senseless acts of beauty, Whatever

7 responses to “Unexpectedly is the only way it ever happens

  1. Really sweet, awesome story, Keith. And well told. Sentimental but not sappy. What kind of ice cream did they choose?

  2. Beautiful. Thanks for capturing it.

  3. Rob Lopresti

    I tell new parents all the time, they won’t remember the presents, they will remember the things you did with them. But heck, they might remember this ice cream. Cheers.

  4. Stumbled on this while looking for your latest email addresses and it made me tear up. Thanks for reminding me what it felt like at a younger time in my child’s life (when she needed me more!).

  5. That’s a great reminder to find the time, even when you think you haven’t got it.

  6. Pingback: Go for a bicycle ride with your parents, for crying out loud!

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