November 27, 2002
If Only

miles to go: 120.38 [YTD: 1,881.62]

"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: jaymi's big adventure 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.

She's 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 jaymi & her stepdad that spending the night on the Hornet has become something of a tradition among local Scout troops and youth organizations.

"The ship is haunted," he adds, and she snorts in good-natured disbelief.

The 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 as backdrop.

"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 in jest.

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 Benedict now?

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'dbrrrrrrrr been wise enough/selfless enough/brave enough/sober enough.

If only, if only, if only.

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 announces matter-of-factly.

She looks surprised, as though she can't 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 ask.

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, Oregon.) We've 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 the list.

(Only another 43,897,621 left to go.)

"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 memory of marcella degrasse
[aunt marcie]

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