Prescription for Disaster

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Family Bikes and Flying Toddlers

So this year is the ‘year of the bikes with camping’. We’re ready for a cross-over of adventure. The only problem? Our kids are only three years old, and can barely ride their bikes. Too big for the old double bike trailer, too slow on training wheels. Something had to be done.

A bit of googling and the recommendation of a good friend and we had ordered trailer bars off the internet (what could go wrong?). Other than a bit of actual child endangerment, multiple injuries and near-divorce we’ve found that these things are actually pretty great. You simply hook your toddler’s bike up to your bike and tow them along. Perfectly safe and looks very cool. Actually, you look like a pretty awesome parent riding around with your kid gleefully riding along behind you – until you turn a corner along the gate of the busy playground and plow your toddler face-first right into the fence. Cue screaming child and every single person in the park turning to stare, judging you on the cool contraption that just nearly murdered your own child. 

I ran over to pick her up, brush her off and have a laugh with my screaming kiddo as falling isn’t that big of a deal (although I admit that being mashed into a fence on your bike by your oblivious mother is probably a little bit different) as my husband and other child turned back gracefully and came back with admonishments of ‘you need to turn wide, like you’re pulling a trailer.’ 

Thanks, tips.

Okay, brush it off. Walk it off. We’re good. I talked Kaitie into getting back onto her bike, though she looked dubious. I promised to go slowly and to stay away from fences. She climbed back on – at which point we then had to have a talk about keeping her hands off the brakes while we are moving. More promises from mum to go slowly and stay away from fences. 

Off we went, following my husband and Lochie until a sudden scream was heard from behind and a dragging sound. We looked back to see the toddler bike twisted onto the ground and Kaitie sticking out of a large bush a couple of feet away. Had she jumped? Flown? Leapt off like a deluded superhero? More well-intended comments from my husband of ‘turn wide’ (we were on a straight path) and ‘tell her not to use her brake’. I wasn’t sure that her touching the brake could to that but hey, what did I know?

I fished the poor kid out of the bush, lovingly picked brambles out of her hair and bribed her back onto her bike with promises of watching a Disney movie when we got home. She looked at the bike with great mistrust. She wanted more. We were in a crowded park and everyone had just seen my child fly off this contraption face first into inanimate objects twice now – I needed her to get back on the bike and show everyone what a good parent I was, I had very few bargaining chips here. I conceded, and whispered that if she got back on the bike and rode home she could have an ice-lolly while watching a Disney movie. She could even eat her ice-lolly on the new couch. 

That got her on, though she remained dubious. We did well, feeling a bit of success while riding along behind my husband and Lochie until we had to go through another gate and wham! Mashed toddler again! I was going slowly and carefully through the gate – as straight as possible. How in the world was this happening!? We just needed to get home – we were just a street or so away. No more bribery, I resorted to straight up threats and she got back on the devil-bike, I had convinced her that if she just gripped the handlebars and held on for dear life she would be just fine – and she was, all the way home.

This led me to assume that the problem wasn’t me, it was fences and gates. And also maybe bushes. Surely if we just went somewhere more open it would be fine. 

My husband wasn’t sure. He wanted to go back to the same nearby park the next day to do some more ‘test runs’, as maybe it was a problem with the bike or the bar. Nope, no way was I going back to the same park to publicly endanger and injure my child again. We would have to, at the very least, go somewhere nobody knew us. Another town, maybe? Something more open, without fences and gates? So we drove around for two hours on the nicest day of the year so far trying to find a wide open field with a bike path – which did not exist. We pulled over by a park bench to both google Middlesex Bike Trails on our phones for somewhere to try, oblivious to the two teenagers making out on the bench beside our car. The twins piped up from the back seat with a running commentary of what the teenagers were doing with and to each other until it became so awkward and bizarre that we quickly put the first link’s coordinates into the GPS and peeled away – my husband shouting “Awkward!” out the window to the now very explicit teens on the bench as we did.

We ended up in a lovely woodland full of bike trails and people out enjoying the spring day with their own bikes, dogs, buggies and scooters. They all stared and even some took pictures as we set up our matching tandem bike trailers – eager to see how these worked. 

I prayed there would be no fences.

A particularly wonderful thing about toddlers is their ability to completely forget the events of the day before – a great benefit at the moment as both excitedly climbed onto their bikes – ready for a ride. We were off and the crowd was impressed. Oohs and aahs were abundant as we rode out of the parking lot, down the path and into the woods… and into a tree.

What the hell was with this thing? And why weren’t Paul and Lochie having the same kind of trouble? This was supposed to be the ‘summer of biking and camping’ – how could it be going so horribly wrong already? There were Paul and Lochie cycling away like a couple of graceful swans, hair blowing in the wind and looking like they were in a commercial for family holidays and here was me, unwrapping Kaitie from a tree and brushing mud off her jeans. I stood the bikes back up, assuring passersby that we were fine and that Kaitie wasn’t really begging to go home, she’s a real kidder that one. I looked at the bar. It seemed fine. It was a bar, what could really go wrong as long as it was still straight? Her bike seemed a bit twisted but I just gave it a good pull and it straightened out alright. Now to get her back on…

This time wasn’t so bad, her helmet and vest had taken the brunt of the tree impact and she was ready to try again, given that I promised to go very, very slowly. And so I did, nearly so slow that it was difficult to keep the bike upright, but she was happy and seemed to finally be enjoying herself. I sped up, just a little, anxious to catch up to Paul and Lochie, as well as to get this bike ride properly underway. And so we went, passing impressed looking other cyclists and walking families until out of nowhere there was another screech from behind and a dragging sound – the bike was on the ground again behind me and Katie was lying on the ground, traumatized. I was starting to get really upset at this point. I was sick, and was finally feeling well enough to do something fun with the family and it was just turning into a spectacle of being a horrible, abusive mother. My face flushed with shame as I again ran back to collect my crying toddler, with Paul and Lochie gracefully turning back to ‘help’. He assured me that it wasn’t my fault, something was probably wrong with the bike. We tried switching kids but Lochie shook her head – no way was she getting on mum’s deathtrap bike. Kaitie had nearly perfected the tuck and roll maneuver – it would probably be best for her to just stick with it, but this time I would go in front so Paul could possibly see what the problem was. 

A bit more cuddles and assurances (straight up lies) and Kaitie was back on her bike and ready to go, slowly. Off we went, in a straight line very slowly. We came to a place where the path veered dangerously close to the river (of course!) and I told Kaitie to hang on tight as I slowly and carefully rode along the path until more screams were heard from behind – Paul yelling for me to stop and Kaitie yelling not so much for me but this time at me as she rolled along the path and toward the river, stopping just before going over the short bank, only to be accosted by an over-excited and soaking wet Labrador Retriever. I again leapt off the bike and ran to Kaitie’s aid, though she made it very clear that she wanted Daddy, not Mummy. Mummy was far too dangerous. 

Heartbroken I turned away to collect the bikes when Paul came to my side, assuring again that it wasn’t my fault – he could see that the bar was twisted. I exploded (steroids didn’t help the instant rage) and vented to the world that I knew it wasn’t my fault, I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong but poor Kaitie kept flying off that thing and getting hurt. I was feeling like the absolute worst mother in the world as what I had originally intended as a charming family bike adventure had become Kaitie’s experience as a crash test dummy. In public. 

We decided to remove the bars and let the girls ride back themselves, which they didn’t as they were now too terrified of their own bikes as well, given the scene that Lochie had just witnessed. We were about half way back to the car when Paul looked quizzically at Kaitie’s bike and the bar hitch on the front. He turned to me and said: “You know what? I think I know what the problem is. I think the hitch is on crooked, and I didn’t tighten it enough. No wonder it kept dumping her over.”

It wasn’t my fault after all.

It was his.

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