puget sound

Marking Weather, Forgetting Time

Lately, as a new approach to weekends, I’ve struck a deal with my kids. On one weekend day, they get to choose an activity. It’s usually something that requires money and coordination, like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s, or seeing Lego Batman at the Cineplex, or visiting the children’s museum—the kind of boisterous activity that you would only do if you are a child or supervising a child, the kind of experience designed to make children beg.

On the other weekend day, I make them walk with me. We’ve got at least a half dozen nearby trails that lead to the water. In the past, I’ve had a hard time motivating them for this, but lately, because it’s routine and because I’ve set it up as an exchange (your day, my day) they seem to roll with it.

And every week, once we arrive at the beach, I am struck by the same exact thing: They LOVE it here. They run around in search of sticks. They lift big rocks and watch the crabs flee. They descend into this kind of flow state where they can throw rocks into the water, one after another after another, and they don’t get bored. They are focused and happy. No one bickers.

If given the choice between a walk and Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’m pretty sure they would choose Chuck E. Cheese’s 98 out of 100 times, and yet they seem to have more fun on the walk. I think about how, just as Chuck E. Cheese’s is designed to appeal to all of their joy-seeking impulses, the beach was designed to appeal to all of their senses. Like, we could go to the children’s museum—we could pay $35 so that they can launch wooden boats in a water table—but Nature has already nailed it. There’s the soft sand, the logs to climb on and roll, the encroaching tide, and unexpected guests.

Last week, our Saturday brought us to a marina that sells soft serve ice cream for $2, a place where people launch boats and let their dogs run wild. Once we’d been playing for a half an hour, three friendly dogs stormed the beach. They were all different breeds, but all were black and white. One of them barked insistently at Smoke until he threw a wet stick over and over. Another one leapt in the air every time Stump threw a rock and this made Stump laugh uncontrollably.

When my kids grow up, wherever they land, I want them to know they grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I want them to feel it in their bones, to remember seasons of rain and breaks of sun, and the way Puget Sound spreads its fingers and holds the land. I want it to be a childhood of mossy trees and glassy inlets, a childhood spent throwing rocks in water, forgetting time.

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Hello, Bike

I bought this bike about six months before my partner and I decided to have a second child.

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It’s the only bike I’ve ever bought new and I quickly fell in love. It’s is a comfort hybrid, which sounds a little un-sexy, I know, like mom jeans. “Comfort hybrid” means that my bike is not designed for speed, which means that the moment I start to feel like a hotshot, pedaling for broke on a busy street downtown, someone on a road bike comes flying past me; it also means that that my bike won’t hold up to a rugged mountain trail. But it’s brown and sturdy and shiny, and it doesn’t tweak my back out. Comfortable, you know, like mom jeans.

I paid about $500 for this bike, and it was supposed to pay for itself in about two years since I rode it to work four days a week. Then I got pregnant. By the time my morning sickness had passed, I had grown a significant baby bump and riding felt like a risk. I reassured myself that I’d get back on the bike within a month after the baby was born.

That didn’t happen.

In fact, I didn’t ride my new bike for nearly two years.

Part of the problem was that, while I was pregnant, the tires lost most of their air and the frame gathered dust, and while I knew it would only take me about twenty minutes to clean, the chore was daunting. I could handle a little cleaning and I could handle a little exercise, but I couldn’t handle cleaning in preparation for exercise.

Probably every dry day after Stump was born I thought “Maybe I’ll take my bike out today.” And then I didn’t.

Instead, I just observed how time passed, and how often I had the thought about riding my bike, and how I still hadn’t done anything about it.

But then, about a month ago, I bought Smoke his first bike and he fell in love.

This is Smoke on his first day of bike ownership.

This is Smoke on his first day of bike ownership.

He rode back and forth on the flat road behind our house and cried out “This is amaaaaaaaaazzzziiiiiiiiiing!” And so finally, one sunny day while Stump napped, I pulled out my bike. I pumped the tires and wiped off the dust and the pollen.  It really did take twenty minutes. And I pulled out the bike trailer and cleaned that too so that Stump could ride along behind me. When Stump woke up, we caravanned to the park, cruising up and down gentle slopes, newly free and mobile.

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Last week, I bumped it up a notch by running errands on my bike and in doing so, I’ve been reminded of a few of the reasons why I love to ride.

1. The wind in my helmet. I live at the top of a big hill, so riding often begins with the rush of gravity and balance. At the bottom of the hill, I greet Puget Sound and ride alongside it for a stretch. When I’m on my bike, I feel like I’m part of the weather.

2. It’s work. When I ride home, I choose a gentler route, but it’s still a climb. I get to tune in to the rhythms of my breath, to tinker with the balance of gear and thigh muscle. I get to feel powerful, moving from point a to point b, my own body the only source of fuel.

3. The car stays at home. One of my parental pet peeves is the endless hauling in and out of car seats, the endless buckling, the parking, the closing of doors. Of course, our bikes come with their own set of accoutrements and rituals. Smoke now insists on wearing bicycling gloves, which often means he has to find them first. Still, the preparation for a ride feel less oppressive. I’d rather say “Put on your helmet” than “Get in your car seat.”

Oh, and just in case you need a pick-me-up…