Today’s agenda yields only sunlight, open fresh air, and life to be lived. We have a project: last night while friends were over one of the children took Nels’ bike out and left it around the block on the sidewalk. Today after a reconnaissance mission and a phone call to the friend we haven’t yet found it. We ride about the neighborhood a while and Sophie finds other friends she’d rather hang with (as it turns out, setting off some rockets in a parking lot). Nels and I head downtown to have lunch at Los Arcos (the family-operated HQX Mexican restaurant) and he and I split pollo asada con frijoles refritos y arroz Mexicana, chips and salsa, and two Roy Rogers (I love the sweet-sweet-sweet coupled with the fire of the hot sauce). After we finish we head to the police station. I figure it’s a long shot but we may as well give it a go.
But my guess is a good one as I discover a bike was brought in this morning. There is a tiny and satisfying little flutter as no fewer than three officers assist with the retrieval, including the use of a police radio as we head to the little bike impound. When Nels identifies his (purple, floral, girls’) bike the policeman – a very large, intimidating middle aged fellow made even larger and more intimidating by his uniform and gear – gives a laugh and literally claps his hands in delight. I’m happy too. He tells me usually the bikes that come in never get claimed, gesturing to the sad little pile lying fallow a few feet away. Later my husband will suggest that maybe people assume theft and don’t bother to make inquiries, but I don’t know. I’m thinking most Americans have so much “stuff” that one particular item isn’t worth the trouble; better to let your kids lose it then nag when they complain about it, eventually deciding the kid needs a “proper bike” and splurging on the cheap and shiny new Walmart version for a birthday, Christmas.
I thank the officer in charge and jog behind my son as he pedals over to my own bike. Nels is pleased he won’t have to mount a flyer campaign around the neighborhood (which was his first idea). “Now I can ride with you!” he says happily, all sunshine under his orange helmet (he pronounces “with” like “wiff”, swoon). He is happy to graduate to riding with me – as in on his own bike, not behind me – but I can feel the ghosts of his little arms, his little grip about my waist, already fleeting. Today he is already an accomplished and competent rider, although Hell No if he thinks I’m cool with him pedaling around town by himself (nothing against your skills Nels, but rather the ginormous gas guzzlers that blast through town, their owners texting behind tinted windows. Mama’s gotta have some paranoia), and Hell Yes I know he’s going to be trying this over the next few weeks.
In our various errands and dealings today about six grownups think Nels is a girl and identify him as “she”. I have no idea why this would be; his hair isn’t even the shoulder-length it’s been in times past. To be honest, I think it’s in part because when my son and I are together (without the distractions of his father and sister) he displays a fair bit of circumspect behavior, adroit physical coordination, calm presence, eye contact, and a sweet-husky voice (my friend Karen referred to him as an “angel” today – too far!); all of this often (not always!) reads as “well-behaved” and in general, sadly, girls are usually expected to perform this service. Of course any socialized behavior my son demonstrates is not to be laid at the feet of my direct tutelage and may immediately be followed by something rather shocking or unwelcome, like him climbing into a backhoe and attempting to operate it. I think being Nels’ parent has created within me a watchfulness and calm and alacrity, a Boot Camp that prepares me for Shit Immediately and Totally Hitting the Fan at Any Moment. And I actually enjoy this very much.
After we pick up the bike we make our way home in no great hurry, first cruising through the plots at the community garden. My son suggests we re-up our membership as we have since its inception three seasons ago. We make our way home and a few minutes later my daughter, according to that psychic connection we seem to have, busts through the door, her eyes bright and cheeks flushed. It’s almost time to get your friends I tell her (we have a sleepover scheduled tonight). She devours the half hamburguesa y papas fritas I’d brought home and we’re back on bikes (Ralph home now), the family splitting in twain to receive our two diminutive guests. Back at our house with the four kids and they are biking, jump-roping, chasing cats and chickens, fighting and wrestling and climbing trees. Inside and hands are washed and dinner laid out (my children have designated Fridays as hot dog night – we also have cole slaw, potato chips, carrot sticks, celery sticks, and orange juice) then the kids are back outside and Ralph cleans the house and we run a bath and get the kiddo movie ready and make beds and spread blankets.