One of my earliest clear memories is of riding in a yellow plastic bucket-seat mounted on my mother’s bicycle. The last time I remember riding on it, I was about 4 years old at the time, and my parents had matching cruisers that they took us kids out on fairly regularly, strapped into those molded seats, one on the back of each bike.
I remember riding in this seat very vividly. I remember the wind in my face, the look and feel of the plastic cradling my small body, and the street scenes sliding by my eyes as my mom pedaled along. I remember enjoying it a lot, and feeling special that I got to ride along with my mother.
How does thirty years pass in the blink of an eye?
Now, I’m the one pedaling the bike under my own power. My parents’ matching cruisers have hung unused in their garage for at least twenty years, and I covetously eye them, waiting for the day that my folks finally cave and hand those vintage beauties over.
It would be really cool to ride that old bike again; the one I rode on when I was tiny. The one on which I saw so many new things and got so many new ideas. I don’t know for sure how much of my world was shaped by riding in my yellow bucket seat with the molded footrests, but I know that from that vantage point I experienced a guided tour of the world with my mom as the narrator.
I remember being in that bucket seat the first time I ever saw a same-sex couple. “Mom, why are those men holding hands?” I remember asking as we cruised by the men on one of the streets in our San Francisco suburb. “Because they’re in love,” my mom replied, simply, without hesitation. Easy enough for even a four year old to understand; that was one bucket seat lesson that I never questioned.
Back then I walked home from school. Once I arrived home with my brother to find a strange woman in our garage, wearing our mother’s clothes. We took one look at her from the curb, briefly consulted with each other as to the best course of action, and quickly ran back to school – followed by my mother in our old Volkswagon bug, exasperatingly explaining that it was just her, she had simply cut off all of her hair. My brother and I freely roamed that and other neighborhoods – we were military kids, so every year or so we had a new ‘hood to explore – and wrecking our bikes, getting lost, getting wet and muddy, or spending hours in the woods were not unusual behaviors.
It seems that the world has changed considerably. Now, schools actively forbid students from riding their bikes to school or use other tactics to “discourage” such behaviors. Today people evidently prefer the health benefits of hundreds of idling cars sitting in front of schools every day, waiting to scoop the pupils into the safe embrace of two tons of metal that regularly travels 70 miles per hour, to the dangerous minefields of bicycle operation. Small kids today get pushed around in gigantic, off-road-looking baby strollers that are the size of motorcycle sidecars and carry what appears to be six days worth of food, clothing, and supplies, even for a short walk of a few miles. No potential discomfort can go without being immediately tended to or prepared for, evidently.
What does all this mean? I’ve no idea, other than that by witnessing these changes, I am even more happy that I was raised in a way that contributed to my independence and fitness. So I’ve got childhood scars. My brother still has gravel in his wrist from a bike wreck at the age of six (which I observed, stoically, from my own bike on the top of the hill he’d tried to descend; waiting patiently for him to stop writhing on the ground and crying so that we could continue our ride. He did, we did, so he’s got gravel in his wrist and he’s just fine to this day, other than being a few grams heavier than he ordinarily would be). I would have been physically safer sitting in front of a TV in my parents’ house rather than strapped to the back of a moving bicycle adjacent to traffic or wandering around on my own in the woods at age five, but my point of view, perception of the world, and ability to safely navigate it would have been dangerously myopic and my ability to observe real life depressingly atrophied, but for my parents choosing to take their kids out into the world via an active, physical means. I didn’t need a smartphone, a toy, a video game, a snack, a drink, a blanket propped up over my head (I see this all the time on those giant strollers) or anything on the back of that bike. I was able to just look around and observe the world, and absorb the lessons to be found on the back of my mother’s bicycle.