the boy and the bike ride

The boy wanted to ride his bike into town, but his mother and father were a little hesitant. It was a long ride—eleven miles—and much of it was on a four-lane road.

“You need to ride it with an adult a couple times first,” they said.

So over the course of a few months, the boy rode to (or from) town with a good friend from church who happens to love biking.

Gradually, the boy’s parents warmed to the idea of him riding the route by himself. The boy was a big kid, and he looked older than his age. He was certainly strong enough to do the ride. Also, he had a fairly level head, though as is the case with most boys, he was inclined to do stupid things on occasion.

“Shouldn’t he have a cell phone with him?” the boy’s father wondered.

“Nah,” the mother said. “If he gets a flat or crashes, he can flag down a car or knock on some door. It’s not like he’ll be in the middle of nowhere. And,” she added, “if he crashes and dies, well then, in that case he wouldn’t be able to call us anyway.”

“Did you really just say that?” the father gasped in (only semi) mock horror. “I can’t believe you just said that!”

The truth was, the mother was pretty nervous about the boy riding his bike while cars sailed past him at 60 miles per hour. One little mishap and the unthinkable could happen—

So she didn’t think about it.

Despite her cool-headed logic, when the first opportunity came for the boy to have a non-adult accompanied ride, the mother said no.

The boy had been spending the night at his friend’s house in town, and just before bed, the friend called the mother. “Is it okay if we ride bike out to your house tomorrow?” And then he launched into a carefully thought-out recitation of all the pros and cons.

But the mother politely explained she’d rather an adult accompany the friend on the first long ride,  not her son, a peer. And then they hung up.

“Why did you say no?” the father said.

“Huh?” the mother said, incredulously. “You think I ought to have said yes?”

“The boys are both good riders, and level-headed. I think they could do it.”

So the mother called back and said yes.

The mother was in town to see them off (she had to pick up her other children from their swimming lessons), and she lectured them heartily on road etiquette. “Ride in single file at all times. Keep your heads up. Don’t do anything stupid. No goofing around at all BECAUSE IF YOU DO YOU COULD DIE! And remember, drivers are stupid so assume they can’t see you.”

“Does that mean we can ride all over the road?” The boy’s eyes twinkled.

“NO!” the mother roared.

And then she finished her death-and-doom speech with a cheery, “Have fun!” and sped off in the van.

An hour later, the boys called home (on the friend’s mom’s cell phone). “We’re almost there but we’re stopping to take a break before the long uphill stretch and didn’t want you to worry.”

And then they were home, glowing from pride and sweat, exhausted and elated.

The end.

The boys reported that when they had stopped for that breather, a kind man came out of his house and offered them cold drinks. They said no, they had water with them and had to be getting home soon. The man offered to transport them in his pick-up if they were too tired to make it. They said thanks, but no, they were almost home.

Some people might freak out over this exchange—stranger danger! eep! eep! eep!—but the mother found it quite reassuring. It reinforced her belief that the world was full of good people (at least one, anyway), and it showed her that the boys weren’t flighty little whippersnappers, eager to dash off with any random person who treated them nicely.

This same time, years previous: blackberries and Glee, Indian pilaf of rice and split peas


  • Becky

    This is one of the many reasons why I love your blog (and parenting style) so much! As my kids get older, I want to give them the same freedoms that my husband and I enjoyed as children. Sure, it may be scary as a parent, but seeing the proud looks on their faces after they do something "grown up" is so worth it. What a wonderful experience your son and his friend had. How nice of that man to offer them drinks and a ride home. People are mostly good and helpful in this world. It's sad that so many parents raise their children to fear everything and everyone.

  • Barb Chamberlain

    This is awesome, and about how I would have prepped the kid to do the ride.

    I would have sent a cell phone just because I made that part of the drill when I put my kids onto city buses alone at age 11 or 12 with instructions to sit by the driver and tell him/her if anyone bugged them. If they went somewhere alone I wanted them to tell me if they were going to be late for any reason and pay phones are few and far between. That check-in was more for planning meals and other things than concern over strangers, and also to teach them to be responsible for their schedules and keeping track of time.

    On my younger daughter's first time riding the bus home alone from school she got on it going the wrong way; the bus driver figured this out and gave her instructions on how to get back. The first time she rode her bike home from the same school she also took the wrong route; a nice lady asked her what was wrong and helped her describe to me where she was so I could ride over and accompany her home. (I have to add that it's a school for the gifted/talented so we get a bit of a kick out of these stories:

    My husband has great memories of riding his 10-speed all over as a kid, exploring and being proud of the miles they racked up. He can still describe an "epic" 25-mile ride.

    My girls are now 21 and 17 and I'm about to take the younger one clear across the country to college. She'll be riding transit, primarily, and fully expects never to drive again. I think they gained far more by understanding transportation systems and becoming independent about getting themselves around than they ever would have if Mom's Taxi had been in full commission all the time.

  • Zoë

    This makes me feel better about where we live…route 999 is terribly busy, but just 2 lanes. Grandma's house is only 3/4 mile away, cousins' a little more than a mile. Originally I was feeling like I would NEVER let them ride bike there but I guess I'm going to have to buck up and let them do it when they are old enough. I sure don't want to drive them there all of the time…

  • Jules

    I let our boy (13 yrs) ride down to the library alone, for the first time this summer. And it's only 2 miles away. But I prayed the entire time, and sent the cell phone along too.

  • Kathy

    I have to agree that the world is full of good people, and people genuinely want to help others out. I was one of those mom's who never said "don't talk to strangers" because you always hear stories of some little boy lost in the woods for days, and he saw the searchers, but hid from them as he wasn't suppose to talk to strangers. Plus, hello, I talk to strangers all the time: in the grocery store, at the doctor's office, the person next to me at the theatre, on different blogs I follow…

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