Biking with other kinds of hurricanes

In every life there are moments that define us. Moments that stand out as amazing, embarrassing, ridiculous, tender, or painfully raw. And there are moments, both good and bad, that cause you to halt, step away from your actual body, and identify exactly who you are.

That is how my entry began of my other biking story.

Though it seems almost impossible, this same opening statement appears to apply to what happened yesterday. And since that’s true–really, truly, true in the truest sense of truth and trueness–I guess we can all only draw one really true conclusion:

The problem has to be me.

I’m the problem.

I should not be allowed to bike.

And if I should not be allowed to bike, FOR SURE I should not be allowed to bike with children.
Fo shizzle.

So the morning started slowly enough with kids eating this and that for breakfast and us trying to make a plan for the day. We’d been kicking around the idea of biking to the library since before Squishyknickers lost the training wheels. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Well, she lost the training wheels on Saturday, took off like a champ that same day, and has practiced here and there for the last few days. So naturally, with 4 whole days of real world bike-riding experience under her belt, today seemed like the perfect day for a long journey to the public library.

That sounded just perfect to me.

And I announced it as such. My “We are riding to the library and having a grand adventure” announcement was met with differing reactions. AG, now 13, was like, “Meh.” Whatever. He could take it or leave it. I know he was hoping to leave it, but I told him to take it and he was cool with that. The girls were both very “YAY” about the whole thing. And then there was Mama’s Boy. He was having no pieces of that pie.

You might be thinking you know what I mean. You might be thinking about some child you’ve seen have a slightly negative reaction to an activity they sort of didn’t want to do. You might think maybe that Mama’s Boy doesn’t like to ride bikes. All of that is waaaaaaaay off. Mama’s Boy DOES like to ride bikes. But Mama’s Boy saw this one coming from across the pond and he called it like he saw it. I won’t recount the entire conversation because that’s no good for any of us. But I will give you his closing statement, which he clearly hoped would heavily alter my decision.

“This is going to be a DISASTER.”

Yeah, ok. Duly noted. Go get your library card.

Several outfit changes and 30 minutes later, we were all in the garage with our bikes listening to MB’s dire prophetic warnings of the end of the world.

And then, we were off.

I picked a route that wasn’t necessarily the shortest, but seemed to me would have the fewest obstacles and passing cars. For the next 8 minutes, it was a completely painless and pleasant bike ride for all 5 of us. Even MB was looking off toward the golf course, doing wheelies, and granting rave reviews and blessings on the neighborhood, the weather, and our decision to ride to the library. But little by little, circumstances began to chip away at the veneer of perfection. And by circumstances, I mean the stamina and biking skills of a 6-year-old who’d been riding for only 4 days. What had I actually thought would occur?

If only someone had warned me.
Oh, wait.

Anyway, some cops drove past us, obviously looking for a car going faster than 25. They smiled at us as they drove by, with that “aww, look how cute” expression. Maybe this is when the tide turned. Maybe Squishy saw the cops driving away and all hope inside her died. Maybe she was hoping for an easy ride to the library and the nice policemen, thinking she was enjoying herself, drove away. I’m not sure. But moments after the police car disappeared from view, she began to putter to a stop. And she stopped like 900 times in the next 15 minutes.

At that point, it was difficult to hear any actual voices or words coming from the real children. All I could hear was Mama’s Boy inside my own head. His prophecies were ringing in my ear like a toddler’s first day with a violin. Sigh.

So I stopped everyone. And first I gave a really convincing pep talk. “OK, everyone. Great job out here. You are looking strong. The library is just around the corner (It wasn’t) and the rest is mostly downhill (ummm…).” Then, I gave a little enlivening water to the little knickerbocker biker and tried to drum up the fever pitch to get going again. YAY! Rah rah library! Let’s DO THIS!

That worked.
For one minute.

My contrived enthusiasm lasted us down one hill, around a corner, and up half of another “hill.” And then she stopped again. This time, she dropped her bike, hunched her shoulders forward, and sat down on the curb.
You guys go on. I’ll wait here.

OK, come on, girl. You can do this.
Yeah, no I can’t. I’ll just rest here for awhile.

And then came the look. And the actual words. There he was, Mama’s Boy, straddling his bike as he raised his eyebrows at the situation and said to me, “I told you this was going to happen. It’s a disaster.”

Dude, this is NOT a disaster. It’s just a thing. A thing NOT riding her bike that we now have to deal with.

I had a solution to this intensifying problem. I was just hoping Mama’s Boy would be on board. I would carry her bike, while still biking myself, and he would carry her. Strangely enough, this young, naysaying prophet agreed to the plan and Squish climbed up on the pegs on his back wheel and grabbed on to his shoulders. I hoisted her bike up under my right arm and took off peddling.

I could go on and on here. Really, I could. I mean, there were 13 pounds of books checked out and a walking visit to CVS AFTER the library visit. But you don’t need me to prolong the madness. On our way back to our bikes from CVS, Mama’s Boy decided again that he was done with the whole thing and exclaimed, “What are we even doing here? Wandering around a city?! Doing nothing! On things that were invented 100 years ago!”

And at that, we hopped on those 100-year-old inventions and headed back toward our house. This time, we took the shorter route. I had some really upbeat thoughts as we headed toward home. This time would be shorter, easier. The rest had done us good. We were hydrated, pumped up, ready. And then maybe 29 seconds passed and I heard crying. Wailing, if you will. I turned around to see what exactly the problem was this time. Had she fallen? Was she hurt? What I saw baffled me. A small girl wearing a ridiculous looking bike helmet was riding her bike with grace and aplomb, while wailing.

Squishy, what’s wrong? I called out.

And still wailing, she answered back: “I’m–ruining–everything.”

Oh, but I had to laugh. This was just pathetic. About this time, my oldest boy who had been over us for quite some time, requested permission to ditch the circus clowns and ride home with some dignity. Beloved, who had not complained or mistepped a single time, followed him.

And there–at a fork in the road by a ritzy little country club–sat a pep talker, a wailing 6-year-old, and a boy who finally said it, “I guess I proved MY point.”

Ahh, good times. Good times
.

And in the interest of eating lunch sometime before 2 o’clock, I humbly requested that the boy allow his little sister to again climb up onto his bike pegs and ride home clutching his shirt tails while I rode home with a 16-inch bike under one arm.

Between there and home, which wasn’t too much farther, we got a few offers for rides from kind neighbors we’ve not yet met. This still makes me laugh. If perfect strangers see what you are doing, pity what you are doing, and beg you to allow them to help you, your activity has jumped the tracks. Just FYI.

And also FYI, it was NOT a disaster.
I just need to tweak the process a little bit.
Next time, we’re going to Burger King. Come what may, there’s nothing a Whopper Jr. can’t put a bandaid on…

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Change of Address

So.
We moved.
That was a thing we did.
And it took a lot of time and thought.
And I thought about and even premeditated trying to disappear for a preposterously long time. That way, when people saw me again and I told them I had moved–again– they’d say, “Oh…when did you move?” And I could tilt my head quite naturally to the side and say, “Oh, like…10 years ago.” And they would say, “OH.”

This is as far as I ever got with the fake conversation with fake people because (1) I got really bored with it. OH is all I could ever end with. (2) No one cares. (3) I couldn’t figure out how to disappear. (4) I don’t tilt my head and when I do it’s because I’ve run into a metal post of some sort.

It’d be one thing if we’d moved to some place far away like Montana, which actually isn’t a state I don’t think and real people don’t actually live there. Or maybe if we’d moved to Nevada, which might exist but probably can’t sustain life. Or Illinois, where we could have slipped in behind the mafia and made a saucy name for ourselves.

But no. We moved right back to where we came from. Within 2 miles of the house all our babies came home to. Within 5 miles of pretty much everyone we ever knew prior to the initial move out to the country. And when was THAT move? 2 years ago.

We only lasted 2 years.

And by the way, I like dangling prepositions. I have an English degree. I’m allowed to let them dangle. It’s called poetic license.

Anyway.
For two years, we happily lived out in the country. Living the farm life. Living off the land.
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
No.
OK, so that wasn’t quite it.
It looked more like driving farther to the grocery store. Avoiding errands I didn’t absolutely HAVE to run. And living off the fat of the Circle K/Shell Station when the toilet paper ran out. .

We loved our land. We loved our 90-year-old quirky farm house where if you dropped a ball by the front door, it would roll all the way to the back of the house by way of the dining room and kitchen. I adored the sound of the sycamore trees when a breeze blew through. There is nothing like the quiet, shimmery tree music of sycamore leaves. I loved looking out across the pasture as the summer storms rolled in. I loved sitting on the porch in the thunder until it no longer felt safe. You could think there. You could throw a rogue football there and not end up in the neighbor’s yard retrieving it. You could shoot arrows at a bale of hay and not hit anything (even the hay, some days). And there, in that old house, I heard the wind howl for the first time in my life. It howled across the front porch like a restless spirit.

What an adventure it was. There was that one season where we successfully grew vegetables. After that, we very successfully cultivated man-sized weeds. We saw wild pigs and river otters. And our finest work was done in raising an unknown number of chickens. Don’t ask me why I can’t number them. Between the hawks, the raccoons, and a teeny, tiny sliver of human error, counting chicken heads became a bit complicated. Toward the end there, which was back in March, there were 6. I could count to 6 with no problem. And I did. Every night.

One night, back in early March, around 2:30 a.m., Beloved came to my side of the bed and woke me from a deep sleep.
“Mama, I don’t know what’s going on with the chickens, but something is. They are making crazy noises.”
I sat bolt upright in bed. I knew there was something bad wrong, because chickens don’t go crazy in the dark without a predator. Chickens are stupid, scared, quiet, and dare I say even polite, animals after dark.
“OK, sit here,” I told her. “I’ll be back.” At this point, I jumped out of bed and ran to the laundry room where we keep a .22, unloaded and without the barrel attached. It’s so safe to have in the house with kids that it’s basically unusable in an emergency.
Or at all.
Ever.
Getting it put together and loaded is like rocking the Rubik’s Cube, which I never once did.

It was dark and late and I was groggy. I have no idea what to do with a rifle even when my brain is fully functioning. But if you handicap me with exhaustion and dim lighting, I’m a total waste of space. I have no idea how much time passed while I was trying to prepare for battle. Maybe a week? I don’t know. I could hear my lil chickens going nuts outside the back door and I was fumbling.

When the gun was finally ready, I grabbed a flashlight and headed out into the darkness. For just a moment I glanced down at myself. Gym shorts. Bare feet. What was I thinking here? Still, though, I had to press on. These birds needed their mama. I flashed the beam of the light around the coop and immediately saw what I had already suspected. A raccoon. He had tunneled under the coop and was inside the enclosure, basically wreaking havoc.

Probably at this point, I should have turned right back around and gone to get the husband. He is definitely better than I am at pretty much everything. But at this point, he was a whole lot less awake, so I continued on. Knowing I was clearly out of my league, I should have stopped to regroup and reconsider my plan.

But instead, I put my shaky finger on the trigger and aimed the barrel of that gun at the raccoon that was staring back at me. I fired. It clicked. Just a click. Shoot. What is this, a toy? What’s the deal? Shoot, it’s on safety. How do you get it off safety? Did I load it right? I should not be allowed to even touch this thing. I fired once more on safety, enjoying a pleasant little click. Finally, I got off an actual shot…which did not come within 7 feet of the raccoon, but sent him and the chickens into hysterics anyway. Well, crum. There went my ONE BULLET. Now I have to run back in and reload. At this point, I’m pretty sure I totally knew I was a failure. I had to know that, right? I had to know that no good could come from reloading. All that was going to do was waste more time. It’s like the 10 monkeys jumping on the bed song. At the end, they all fall off the bed. You know from the outset that this is how it will turn out.

I needed a real plan, since my last one clearly did not work. Oh, I know. I’ll go INTO the coop with the gun, the crazed chickens, the predator, and only one bullet. That’s a good shift in judgment. If you can’t shoot a gun and aren’t wearing shoes…AND if the situation is urgent, you should definitely go into an enclosed space with an angry raccoon with only one bullet.

That is exactly what I did. I went in. Our coop is rather large (because, let’s face it, we care about our chickens), so I chose to go in the second door, rather than the first. The second door opens up into the larger chicken run that we added on so they could chillax and have a greater sense of self worth. When I opened that door and slunk through the opening, I stumbled over the carcass of one of the already-dead chickens. Oh, dear. It was obviously Goldilocks. She was an original Snapp bird, and we had had her for almost 2 years. Moment of silence. Now let’s kill us a raccoon. I could see another carcass across the chicken run from me. P2 was dead. Well, truthfully, it might have been P1. We named our Barred rocks P1 and P2 because we knew we’d never be able to tell them apart. It was one of the ps. And they were good layers. Stupid raccoon.

I took aim. I fired. The crack went off in my ear and the raccoon did not move. OK, seriously, is this thing loaded? How could I Have missed him by so much? He didn’t even bother to looked alarmed with that shot.

I needed a new plan. OK, I got one. Go get the husband. Finally, I had a plan that might work. I ran back in and shook my sleeping husband, who would much rather have had the chickens all die than go out in the night to defend them. He doesn’t eat eggs. And he was highly against us naming these creatures. But he loves us and we love chickens, so by the Transitive Theory from 10th grade geometry, he loves chickens.

Well, Plan B worked really, really well. The husband walked out with the gun, loaded it, turned off the safety, and shot it without all the frenzied flopping, and killed the murderous raccoon with a single shot. Yes. One shot. I guess ONE BULLET does work for some people. Just not for me. And while he was grabbing the dead raccoon by the tail and throwing it off into a far field, I was out in the dark side yard trying to catch the 4 remaining chickens that had escaped my chaos and were now running amuck at 3something a.m.

I have no idea how long it took to get the living chickens put away and calmed down. But when we finally got back to our bedroom, there sat Beloved just waiting, wide-eyed, to hear the end result.

The end result was–ultimately–that this raccoon’s cousins and step-brothers came around for the next two weeks and finished the job he had started that night. By the end of spring break, we owned no more chickens. I had to buy my eggs at Publix like the average city slicker.

And with that, I realized– I AM a city slicker.

So we decided to move back.
Over the eggs.

That’s actually not at all true. There were real reasons, none of which had anything to do with chickens or discontent or my bad shooting skills. And none of which bear any impact on anyone reading this.

But it sounds good to blame it on my failures as a chicken farmer.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, right?