Tonight I’m watching my friend Shannon’s two small boys as she, her eldest daughter, my husband Ralph and my daughter Sophie go join the City Council meeting to speak their minds. Tonight the Council is voting on a proposed limit of chicken ownership in town.
The three young boys (ages 5, 5, and 2) and I are outside behind the house, finding slugs and tossing fish food to the large koi in my mom’s pond. It’s one of those warm summer nights and people are out and about and playing in their yards, for all the world looking like the evening is for relaxing and that’s the way everyone does it. Eventually my little foursome ends up at the driveway where Nels wants to try F.’s bicycle out – a too-large bike stabilized by the addition of training wheels. By way of demonstration F. climbs on like one would mount a tractor, then huffs and puffs but can’t quite get the velocity to summit the slope of the driveway.
And now Nels, who doesn’t yet own a rideable bike, runs up and takes the handlebars. He wants to ride the bike back down the little hill.
Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to be the right kind of mom. In this moment I’m thinking if I were a Better Mom I would have financed or finangled Nels a bike of his own, then perhaps made a few dates to help him gain accumen, and I wouldn’t have to sit here knowing my son is going to crash, and feeling like an ass because he can’t ride. I decide to just be honest with him and say:
“Nels, if you ride down that hill, you’ll probably crash.”
“No I won’t,” he argues, flinging his hair out of his eyes and clambering up to the seat. His arms are long and wiry. Just this morning I’d noted with a kind of resigned dismay and bittersweet, deep love that when he made his breakfast (scrambled eggs in a cast-iron skillet) he wasn’t a precocious little tot on a stool; he stood at his full height and managed it, reading the burner setting by sight at “Medium Low”. So, you know, great. He can read, and cook, and he’s like a little guy with a mind of his own, and he doesn’t need me any more. And now he wants to hurtle down this hill and bust his head and it’s my fault it’s going to happen because I didn’t try harder to get him a bike.
All of this has gone through my head but Nels is still arguing his point. So I say, “If you crash, do you want me to hug you, or pick you up, or…?”
“Hug me,” he says. “But watch, I won’t crash.”
I don’t want to watch (I’m still a little sick over bike crashes) but in some twisted way I believe it is my duty as his mother to witness whatever happens, so I don’t turn aside. Sure enough the little vehicle goes faster than he’d anticipated, and I watch his body tense and then react accordingly as my gut clenches slightly in that oh-so-familiar way. He holds him self up, even steering deftly past the helmet on the concrete that the bike has treacherously careened towards. Just as the bike tips (it really is too large even for Nels who is an inch or more taller than F.) he leans dangerously and balances one toe and wills the bike aside and slides all the way off and then he spins around with a flourish and his hair flies out of his eyes and he happily yells, “See mom! I didn’t crash!”
My son and I are perfectly matched in a wild, feral joy. All over this tiny little driveway that no one would even notice.
I join the boys at the lower level of the driveway; F. has graciously allowed his friend these of his bicycle and has sagely watched my son’s hijinx for his own reference.
Steering the bike back up the slope Nels turns to me, laughing, and says: “It’s a full moon out, so are we going to turn into werewolves or what?”
Shannon and Ralph come home at about nine o’clock. Apparently the meeting was a “madhouse” with chicken-ownership being a hotly disputed issue (emotions run high when it comes to domestic fowl!). But the resolution to limit chicken ownership in the City failed. By the narrowest of possible margins: yet it still failed.