miles to go: 120.38 [YTD:
"Careful!" I call out. "There's
a BIG bump in the road, just ahead!"
I glance over my shoulder to
make sure she heard me. I know this route like the back of my hand --
every bump, every turn, every crack and blister and hiccup in the
pavement -- but this is Jaymi's first time, and I want to be especially
careful. She's trailing behind us by a couple hundred feet, perched
ramrod straight on the Schwinn, clutching the handlebars for dear life,
looking stoic and focused. Obviously she heard my warning, though: I watch as she carefully maneuvers the bike
around a chunk of ruptured concrete in the middle of the sidewalk. For
someone who hasn't been on a bicycle in ten years, it seems to be
coming back to her fairly easily. She sees me watching her, and she
flashes me a grim smile. I'm doing this for YOU,
Mom, the smile says. But that doesn't mean I have
to LIKE it.
That's my girl.
She's being an awfully good
sport about all of this: I'll give her that. After all, she didn't come
to California to bike-ride this weekend. She came here to eat carrot
chowder at Le Cheval, and to talk mutual funds with her
stepdad, and to hang around our apartment reading Cosmo and drinking
Fiji Water and rummaging through my makeup basket. But mostly she's
here to shop. And we did manage to knock off a big chunk of her
holiday shopping yesterday, at the Southland Mall in Hayward. Later
today, after bike-riding and breakfast, we'll drive over to Berkeley
and shop a little more, mostly for books and CDs, before we put her on
the airplane and send her home to TicTac. Even so, she knows how much
we've been looking forward to riding with her -- a pleasure we were
cruelly denied last spring, when the Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thief
took his bolt cutters to my bike lock and derailed our plans -- and so
today she is sucking up a lifelong aversion to Looking Silly in order
to accomodate a couple of bike-happy old geezers. We're accomodating her,
in return, by trying to make the ordeal as painless as possible. We're
not riding very far: just a quick, low-effort jaunt over to the U.S.S.
Hornet and back. Just long enough to let her see a little bit of the
abandoned Navy Base up close, and to pose for Christmas card
pictures, and (OK: I'll admit it) to show off in front of her, just
the littlest bit. She has never seen her mother on a bike before.
(Until today, the most athletic thing she's ever
seen me do is hurl an empty wine bottle across the dining
room.) I hope that she's watching me now, as I ride ahead of her down
the trail towards the Navy Base. I hope I look cool. I hope I don't
fall down. I hope she's impressed.
But most of all, I hope
she's having fun.
"How are you doing?" I ask
gently, a moment later, as we ride side-by-side through the entrance to
the Navy Base.
"I feel like PeeWee Herman,"
she says flatly.
wearing the ugly *auxiliary bike helmet * -- the one I bought for the
Healdsburg Hell Ride last spring and then never wore again -- and my
brand-new SheBeest jacket. The helmet and the jacket, like the clunky
Schwinn Cruiser, are miles too big for her. She looks like a
ten-year-old trying to adjust to her Christmas ten-speed.
"It'll be over soon," I
reassure her. I'm smiling so big, inside AND out, that my smile muscles
are beginning to ache.
The Navy Base is busy for a
Sunday morning. As we pedal slowly past the Hornet we encounter a
noisy troop of Girl Scouts descending the gangplank, carrying sleeping
bags and backpacks. When Jaymi expresses surprise -- "They let people sleep
on the boat?" she says -- David explains
that spending the night on the Hornet has become something of a
tradition among local Scout troops and youth organizations.
is haunted," he adds, and she snorts in good-natured disbelief.
three of us pedal slowly down to the very end of the pier, to a sunny
spot overlooking the bay, where we brake to a stop finally and
dismount. I'm thinking this might be a good place to take a few
pictures. The San Francisco skyline, directly across the bay from us,
is obscured this morning by a gauzy smear of fog -- a minor
disappointment -- but at least we've got the Hornet and the Cape Fear
and all of the other mothballed battleships parked around us, to serve
"Go stand in front of the
Hornet!" I suggest.
She yanks off the ugly bike
helmet and obediently
rolls the Schwinn four feet to the right. As she beams into the camera
with practiced good cheer, I can see that she's shivering. Her hair is
still damp from her shower, and a wicked November sea breeze is rolling
off the bay.
"I'm cold," she says, quite
unnecessarily, clamping her
hands over her ears to keep them warm.
I take a dozen hurried shots of
her -- standing next to the Schwinn, standing next to David, standing
next to the Hornet -- and then I hand her the camera and we switch
places and she takes a handful of Mom-and-David shots. (If any of the
Mom-and-David shots turn out, they will probably decorate our 2002
cyber holiday card.) When we've finished taking pictures, I stuff the
digital camera back into my bike bag and smile hopefully.
"I don't suppose you'd be
interested in riding over to Bay Farm Island?" I say, only partially
But she's having none of it.
She's cold. She's hungry. She's sore. (Not from thirty minutes' worth
of bike-riding, as you might think, but from lugging thirty pounds'
worth of shopping bags around the mall yesterday.) She's finished
bike-riding duty for this visit, thankyouverymuch.
Can't we just go have Eggs
As we head back to the
apartment, I have to fight the urge to turn around and admire her every
thirty seconds. I know she's right behind me: I can hear the scrick and
squeak of the Schwinn's unoiled brakes, dogging my rear tire. Plus she
has discovered the bike bell attached to the Schwinn's handlebars, and
like a kitten with a new catnip mouse she can't stop swiping at it. (Ting!
Ting! Ting! TingTingTingTing!) Occasionally I do
give in to maternal temptation and sneak a peek at her. Somehow she
manages to look simultaneously elegant and dorky, perched on the
oversized bicycle: confident and nervous, happy and bored,
little-girl-adorable and two-weeks-shy-of-her-21st-birthday mature.
Looking at her, I feel the old squeeze of love and pride and remorse. Why
didn't we ever do stuff like this when she was growing up?
needles The Regret Angel, permanently parked on my left shoulder. Why
didn't you ever turn off the TV/unplug from the chat room/put down the
wine glass and go outside and ride bikes with them for a while?
It's a familiar sorrow -- the knowledge that I could have done so much
more for my children, if only I'd been wise
enough/selfless enough/brave enough/sober enough.
If only, if only, if
Ten minutes later, we're
pulling up in front of our apartment building. The ride is over: her
torment is at an end. She climbs down from the Schwinn with a grateful
sigh, then pulls the ugly auxiliary helmet off her head and fusses with
her hair while David checks the odometer.
"You rode 3.42 miles," he
She looks surprised, as though
quite believe that she's ridden an actual, measurable distance. (I
remember feeling exactly the same way the first time I rode to the Navy
Base, the day we bought the Schwinn.)
"So how did you like it?" I
She smiles and shrugs. "It was
fine," she says. "I'm just really really cold."
Coming from Jaymi, for whom the best response is the honest,
unembroidered response, this is as effusive as it's likely to get. But
at least she didn't hate it. I'll probably be able to talk her into
riding with me again, someday.
I smile. "Yeah, it was
OK, wasn't it?" I don't want to overwhelm her by telling her that this
ride has been the highlight of our visit, as far as I'm concerned ...
the highlight of a weekend filled with highlights. (And a couple of
lowlights: in spite of my dire
warning to the universe last week, David has been
sick all weekend, I've completely blown my careful Spending Plan, and
before this night is over her luggage will wind up in Portland,
had a lovely four days together, but this thirty-minute bike ride has
been the centerpiece of the weekend for me. I think I know why, too:
it's because it's given us a chance to knock one of the "If Onlys" off
(Only another 43,897,621 left
"We'll have to do this again,
won't we?" I say, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and giving her a
squeeze. She nods. Feed me Eggs Benedict, Mommy, and I'll
promise you anything. And with that we roll our bikes inside
and change out of our dorky bike clothes and head off to breakfast.
in memory of marcella degrasse
in 2002 index