Category Archives: Inwood

Five snapshots of one boy

I LEFT HIM in the building lobby with the last load of divorce stuff. This is my boy who hates being left alone. If his brother falls asleep first, you’ll be seeing him out of bed soon. It was midnight, our move-out deadline, and all kinds of things had gone wrong all day, all week—from the flooded kitchen, to the moving company sending a truck that was too small, to the lapses and errors of communication that worsened an already touchy month and left him with me that night when he wasn’t supposed to be.

“I have to get the van,” I said. The U-Haul van was in a parking lot a few blocks away. “I’m going to jog the whole way and be back as soon as I can.”

“Are you really going to jog? Why?”

“Because I know you don’t like this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I left at a run, with my iPad, so I could message his mom, from the Starbucks on Dyckman, that we were leaving and I would just keep him tonight. No Internet in the apartment anymore, and my phone was dead.

But the Starbucks was closed. Surprising, considering the huge-capacity nightclub down the street and the jumping row of bars right next to me. So I stood there for a minute on the corner of Broadway, with the heavy Alcohol Alley foot traffic blurring by me, and then turned the iPad on in case Starbucks left their WiFi on, and got signal and sent my message. But I couldn’t stick around to see if it was received. I knew he’d be at his limit, and I still had to get the van.

He couldn’t see me running to the garage, but I ran.

When I came back in, he was red-faced and holding back his tears. I remember the Hemingway story “A Day’s Wait” whenever a child visibly masters himself. There are things I love and admire about my children, but this is one thing I respect. To have a nine-year-old brain and prevail over fear? Holding back his tears? Mad respect.

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HE HELPED ME load out. I propped the door with something heavy, and we organized and hauled and reorganized.

Am I being a big help? he asked as we passed each other.

You’re being a humongous help.

And on the next pass, I said: I want to tell you something. You’re not working like a boy, you’re working like a little man.

He LIT. UP.

Really?

Yeah, really. Tell you what. It’s midnight. We’re wiped out. Our new place is still an hour away. Make you a deal, you stay awake that whole time, I’ll split a beer with you when we get there.

Oh, you are SO ON.

Another pass…

Dad, because I worked like a little man?

Yeah. I’ll split a beer with you.

A BEER NOTE: He gets ONE SIP. ONE. ONE. A SIP not a GULP! ONE! whenever I have a beer and he happens to be around, which was a couple times a month and is now less frequent. They also get ceremonial quantities of wine on Jewish holidays. Split a beer means he gets about a tablespoon in one of my tiny sake glasses and I get the rest. So don’t write to me.

You’re not going to stay awake.

Oh, yes I am!

No way.

Youuuuu’ll see.

Nope.

What makes you think that?

It’s midnight, you’re exhausted, and you’re nine.

Youuuuuu’ll see.

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WE SAT TRIPLY exhausted, grimy, and sweaty, in the idling van at the curb.

I put it in gear but didn’t move out yet. “You guys don’t like it when we use profanity, do you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It makes us feel like we’re not safe.”

“Even hell?”

“Yeah.”

“What about damn?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Then I will just say: Let’s get the HECK outta here!”

I checked the mirror and waited for traffic. There was a pause.

“Well, what were you going to say?”

“Well, I was going to use the F-word.”

“Oh, THAT one’s okay!”

“It is?”

“Yeah! That doesn’t bother us. We hear that a lot!”

“Well, then,” I said, looking at my son looking back at me, hesitating, both of us waiting to see if I’d do it. “Let’s get the FUCK outta here.”

He laughed. I laughed. Then he said excitedly:

“Can I say it?”

I paused…

“ONE time. ONCE. You may say it ONCE. Not twice, not three times. ONE TIME.”

“Okay!”

“Got it?”

“Got it.”

And he flung his arms up in the air and shouted, “WE’RE! FUCKING! DONE!”

Then he said, “Wow. That felt GOOD!”

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“Dad, why does that feel so GOOD?” he asked on the highway to Connecticut.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I do not know.” And then added, “ONCE. ONE TIME. That was it.”

“I know.”

“You may not say it at school, you may not say it around Mom–”

“I KNOW.”

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AND BLASTED THE air conditioner to keep myself awake during the drive, so that my hands were in sharp pain by the time we got to our new home full of boxes. And split our beer.

my_city

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RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00

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IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.

n_broadway_pigeons

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THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

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ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”

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Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place

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MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…

z_on_dirt_standing

 
The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.

 

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

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Boys!
Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”

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“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.

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YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!

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EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing

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Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”

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“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.

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MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

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RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?

No.

Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!

z_n_downhill_zoom
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“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.

n_elevated_train

MILE 29.6: SOUTHBOUND BROADWAY SIDEWALK. CAUTION: PEDESTRIANS, DRIVEWAYS.

We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.

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n_medal_results

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Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.

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Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

 
—The Rider
Tim Krabbé

 

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The yellow bike is sold

“This is my yellow bike,” he said, in a tone I didn’t notice at the time. I didn’t notice his face, either. I was walking ahead, holding the camera facing back at the end of a nonchalant arm. It was the day I gave him the bike. He was four. Nothing in his entire life had ever been remotely like this day. He didn’t know it was a universe where a boy could have his own bike.

I heard the tone and saw the face that night, offloading the pictures and video onto my computer. I could have missed them. I didn’t watch everything as it transferred. Instead, I learned my heart had another little door in it that could open. I learned also that his was so full that a bike could brim it over.

His fraternal twin brother liked to clean his blue bike. Liked the inclinometer I installed on it. Still wants a computer. The boy with the yellow bike just liked riding it. The day the training wheels came off, I saw him do my running dismount. Until they did, he liked to sit on the stopped bike like a cowboy on a fence during a work break and eat a sandwich. He kept growing. I got a longer seatpost for it instead of a bigger bike. He got heavier and learned how to skid. There’s about 20′ of black rubber on a sidewalk on Seaman Ave. His personal best.

Today I asked him how he felt that somebody was coming to buy it. He said he felt good, because another family would be happy because of that bike. He has a 20″ red one now.

I watched it carried to the elevator as I closed the door. The back tire is new. I didn’t tell the dad that’s because of all the skids. Let his kid write some new stories with it.

Bye, yellow bike.

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wing_96W

 

 

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Night Ride

night_ride_cover_for_blog

AT THE TOP OF THE RISE he waits for the signal from the bottom, and when he hears GO! he lets off the brake and pushes the pedals. It’s not a big chainwheel he’s got, so his feet are spinning at top speed in about three seconds—but by then he’s already flying.

Last weekend he flashed past the dip at the bottom and got twenty feet up the other side before he had to stand out of the saddle. You had to stand when you climbed because it gave your legs more power.

This time he’s going to hit the uphill with great strength, pump right up it, even the steep part, and then take the curve at the top without stopping, all the way behind the trees where no one can see him.

GO GO GO GO the words whip past his ear and make him grin, sun and shadows strobing in his eyes, and then he’s ten feet up the shallow grade, twenty, thirty, the bike slowing so soon on the steep part and he’s up out of the saddle, fists clamped around the rubberized grips, King of the Mountains, polka-dot jersey. He chants:

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

GO GO GO GO! behind him. YOU CAN DO IT YOU CAN DO IT CLIMB LITTLE MAN CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB!

Bobby is six.

His daddy’s cheering for him. He climbs, climbs, climbs, conquers the little part where it’s steepest and you have to push your legs hard instead of just riding your bike, and then he’s out of sight where Daddy can’t see him, which is a great joke.

Walking up the paved pathway toward him is an old man.

“Hey, Bobby,” the old man says. “Remember me?”

Bobby’s still looking at him when he hears his daddy’s bike come rolling up behind him.

“Dad,” his daddy says.

“Bob-by!” says his grandpa to his daddy.

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Dear 34th Precinct

August 24, 2012:

I’m leaving this up because I wrote it and meant it. However, I’ve learned more since then, so I can’t stand behind it. There may be another blog entry coming—not sure yet.


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From almost nothing

Nook on the bed

BECAUSE I BOUGHT a Nook Color a month ago, it was lying on the bed.

Because it was lying on the bed, a child picked it up and pushed some buttons.

Because he pushed some buttons, he saw a single-player chess app.

Because they didn’t get bored taking turns with the single-player chess app, I bought them a chess set and a chess book.

Because they requested it, they now get a section from the chess book and a game every night at bedtime, instead of a story.

How to Beat Your Brother at Chess

WE RIDE BIKES.

Dyckman Boys

Because we ride bikes, we get up to Isham for the Inwood greenmarket most Saturdays. It’s .6 miles. We wouldn’t walk it, and the subway or bus would cost $9.

Because the boys have a new travel chess set I got them so they could play on the bus after swim class, they brought it today and set it up where kids run around.

They explained the game to a new opponent and attracted an audience of kibitzers.

Chess audience

BECAUSE THEY’RE SO fixated on chess, and because we ride bikes to the Inwood greenmarket, and because bikes engage you with your surroundings instead of isolating you from them, they zeroed in on two men playing chess while we were riding past on Seaman.

CHESS! CHESS! CHESS! CAN WE PLAY!?

Because Inwood has an active Twitter population, I knew one of the players by reputation.

“You can’t play,” I said, “but you can watch.”

“They can play!” offered the man I’d recognized.

So we braked and walked our bikes over.

The men welcomed them, talked to them, challenged them, and taught them the game of Pawns.

They, in turn, cracked one of the men up when I said, “Hey guys, tell him our name for en passant,” and the boys yelled in unison, WHACK ’IM WHILE HE’S RUNNING!

(“I’m running, I’m running—WHACK!” the man riffed, chuckling.)

After two games of Pawns, the boys played chess, with much better kibitzing than they’d had at the greenmarket, and I learned that Sundays, they set up multiple tables for whoever wants to play and actively help kids with the game. I also learned the man I was talking to had ditched his cigarette as the boys came up. They don’t want to teach that. Just chess.

Because it was all so cool, I forgot to take pictures.

Then because the whiny hungry crabbies had arrived, we said thank-you and rode home.

Broadway Boys

We ride bikes.

I got a Nook Color.

Therefore life has gone in a completely unforeseeable way.

Children’s chess, Sundays 10am–3pm, Seaman and 207. All are welcome.

 

wing_96W

 

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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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