Accidents happen.

I was in a minor bike accident with the kids last week. We’re all OK now. We’re even all back up on the bike. But it was really scary. And it was 100% my fault.

At the end of a long week on my own with the kids (Angela was away teaching at a math camp for high schoolers), I had just loaded everyone up and pedaled off after H’s physical at our doctors office. A couple blocks down the road, H cried out “Mama mama! I dropped my stickers!” Well crap. I broke my first rule of biking with the kids (nobody gets to hold anything loose on the bike), but the stickers were only about a 1/3 of a block back so I decided to turn around.

I flipped the bike around up on the sidewalk, thinking I couldn’t really park them in the middle of a one-way street while I picked up the stickers, so I propped them up on our super-stable double kickstand, thinking “I can just pop out quickly into the street 15 feet away to grab the  stickers. I’ll be right back. Everything will be fine.”

Just after I turned my back and popped out into the street I heard a yell and a crash. I turned around to see the bike on it’s side and the kids crying.

That was the second rule I broke. NEVER EVER EVER WALK AWAY FROM THE BIKE WITH KIDS ON IT. No matter how awesome our kickstand is or how close or whether it will “just take a second.”  R was screaming. I ran back and unbuckled him, checked him over and set him to the side, then moved to unbuckle H, at which point I realized my hand was covered in blood. Turning back to the still-screaming R, I checked him again and realized he had a giant ugly bloody gash on his underarm (about 1 & 1/2 ” long and pretty deep). The bike hit a metal sign post when it fell, and that was what cut his arm. At that point I kind of freaked out. I don’t remember what I said but I know I was upset, I know I was yelling and I know the adrenaline was surging, at which  point a fellow biker, Catherine, stopped to help us.

She got right in my face and said “It’s going to be OK. Everyone’s going to be fine. I know first aid. I will help you.”  She helped me rustle up the kids, gather our stuff and decide whether to call an ambulance or walk the 3 blocks back to the doctors office (we did the latter). She walked us back, said soothing and encouraging things along the way, including that R was going to heal right up just fine, and that I was doing the right thing by biking with my kids (which I certainly didn’t feel at the time). She got us in the door, made sure we had a way to get home, and left me with her card. If I ever happen upon a fellow biker in an accident, I’m going to do my best to channel Catherine. Another gentleman stopped to help as well, but by that time Catherine had us well under control. It might have been an idiotic mistake, but it was nice to learn (again) that people are kind and good.

They took us right in at the doctors. My wonderful mother-in-law came to help out. R needed four stitches which they were able to do right in our office (and getting them really stunk). That gash was indeed pretty nasty, but he’s healing up fine, and was insisting on a bike ride the very next day (which he took with his other mom, I was still pretty shaky).

I’ve been thinking about this accident off and on since it happened (at first it was mostly on, I couldn’t stop replaying the whole thing in my head, and had nightmares about the kids dying. Thankfully that has abated). I’ve since talked to quite a few bikers and parents about the ordeal. One friend pointed out that many parents get burned eventually by a thing we know we shouldn’t do, but can usually get away with (leaving the baby just for a second on the changing table to grab the wipes, walking away from the bike). Angela pointed out that in a lot of ways, we parents are truly the biggest risk to our kids, and there’s no way for us not to be. We look to the big bad scary world out there (the cars, the kidnappers) but it’s us who are with them all the time. If they’re going to get hurt, it will probably be on our watch, and possibly (probably?) because we do something dumb.

Angela and I also instituted a new rule. You see, we both knew that the other one was sometimes, just every now and then, just for one second, walking away from the bike when the kids were loaded and up on the kickstand. It’s a GIANT pain to realize you forgot something just after the kids are loaded. I mean seriously? Am I really going to take them off to go grab the diaper bag off the porch? And the kickstand seems so perfectly stable. But the bike is top heavy. All bikes with kid seats mounted are (“bucket bikes” with kids lower down, and trailers don’t have this issue). We both knew we shouldn’t be walking away, even if it was hardly ever, but we both took the others occasional misstep as permission to do it ourselves. We also didn’t want to nag (This is particularly true for me, I can be a bit of a safety nag. Ha. Lot of good that did me here.) So now, we not only have given each other permission to constructively criticize the other’s biking habits, but we have both deemed it an absolute obligation to tell the other when they are doing something sketchy, and to fess-up when we’re doing something sketchy ourselves, or when we have a close call. And not only that, the only proper response to any constructive criticism is “Thank you” followed by discussion. No getting feelings hurt. This is too big of a deal, and we can’t let each other skate.

We’ve always had a bit of a dynamic where I think Angela isn’t “safe” enough. It was on her watch that H ran out into the street when she was a toddler walking home from daycare and Angela couldn’t wrangle both walking toddler and her bike. Angela is more likely to let the kids to XYZ that I think is iffy. Sometimes I think she “doesn’t pay enough attention” (to traffic, to her surroundings, to the inevitability of broken necks). If this had happened on Angela’s watch, you’d better believe I’d still be seething, and I probably wouldn’t be very understanding. Thankfully, Angela is kindly not seething (she’s not really like that). She also points out that we were both making the same mistake. Not often. But enough that it could have happened to either of us.

For a minute I wondered if I might decide not to get back to biking with the kids. But that would never fly. Biking is too important to us, to me, to our family, to our kids, to the environment, to our interactions with the community and with the world. So I am back on the bike, but with more caution, a redoubled commitment to my “rules” (which in addition to “no carrying loose things” and “no walking away” also include “no eating” — I’m terrified they’ll choke when we go over a bump), and a deep gratitude that everyone is (mostly) OK.

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking with kids, Child-related issues, Problems and issues. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Accidents happen.

  1. Sarah says:

    Feel better. It was scary but no lasting harm was done.

  2. dr2chase says:

    Maybe this will help.

    When I was very young, I was riding in the front seed of a VW Beetle, holding a metal pitcher in my lap. My mom had to stop fast, face hit pitcher edge, I still have the scar under my eye. You probably can’t see it, I can find it, it’s a rough patch, sort of.

    A little older, running around the house, I tripped, hit the corner of the coffee table with my chin, three stitches. I still have that scar, I notice it every time I shave.

    Six, to prove to my brother that there was no glass in the bottom of the mud-hole, I (ever the empiricist) jumped in. He was right. Six stitches. Can’t find that scar anymore.

    Nine, helping wash labels off bottles, I stood on top of some sort of a large bottle with a broken-off spigot at the bottom. I slipped. 14 stitches.

    Twelve, more glass at the pond, 4 stitches. Still got that scar.

    Seventeen, victim of a hit-and-run. A week in the hospital. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that cyclists are “irresponsible”. Hit-and-run leaving a kid unconscious in a ditch, that’s irresponsible.

    And every few years after that, I seem to get stitches. Sharpening a knife, whittling, distracted by a kid while pruning, slipped and fell ice skating (polycarbonate lenses are AWESOME, don’t like to think how glass might shatter), got surprised by a falling limb while pruning. Only cut an artery once, only cut a nerve once, about half of them left scars.

    And ALL our kids have had stitches, some more than once. Our youngest got a stitch in her upper lip, with no novocaine, because the doctor said, “the injection hurts about as much as a stitch, and I can do a better job without the novocaine in there deforming it”. And we promised ice cream, she said ok, and held her down, and she did it, and he was right, and she got her ice cream.

    Shit happens, you do your best. We’re only human.

  3. sara says:

    Whew. I know the moments must have been terrifying to hear the crash and then see the blood, but it’s great that you all are OK now. R will forever have a family story to share down the road. You got the gift of experiencing incredible kindness from a stranger (Go, Caroline!).

    This could have just as easily been a finger smashed in a car door. It wasn’t necessarily about the choice to bike being dangerous or risky. It now means yes, when the kids are strapped in/on the bike, a hand is always there to steady it. Truth is that we did the same here– let the boys stay on the back of the longtail while we walked away, and it did tumble over with them on it, even with our mack-daddy double kickstand (and the Yuba one is even far more sturdy than our Xtra’s). The boys were momentarily freaked but, thankfully, unhurt. We did, however, have to leave a note on the windshield of the car that we put a sweet ding in the side by said tumbling bike. The owners probably never got such a note apologizing for the damage a bike did to their car! We never heard from then but lesson learned.

    Be kind to yourself. This parenting gig is a humbling one.

    And someday I’ll tell you about the time I locked my then-infant twins in the car in a NYC parking garage….

  4. Casey says:

    Oof! I am so sorry! Poor you all! I am glad everyone is okay. And that R is happy to get back on the bike.

    If it makes you feel any better, reading this post inspired us to get back on our bikes this morning after a few weeks resting my poor body after my big ride.

  5. Clio says:

    What a beautiful and honest description. ‘Safety’ is, in and of itself, a complicated term. I admire your consideration of its multiple (physical, emotional and longitudinal) facets.

  6. Emily WK says:

    Thank you. Thank you for your honesty and for telling this story.

    I can’t imagine how scary that was. I’m so glad everyone is okay and I hope that this lesson can be learned by more than just your family — I know I will be even more careful about those “Just for a second” moments.

  7. Melanie says:

    Us parents are mere mortals – we make mistakes. I agree with the comment about the car door – this had nothing to do with cycling. I’m so glad everyone was OK in the end. Thanks as usual for a well-thought out and honest post.

  8. Cecily says:

    So sorry to hear about R’s cut! Glad you are all fine more or less.

    I made the same “it’ll be just 2 seconds” mistake with Emil on Bobike Mini and parked on a double kickstand. The chain came off and I thought I could just squat down, reach the chain and pull it back on. The bike of course tipped the other way and E went down with it onto the sidewalk, out of my reach. He wasn’t hurt, thanks to the helmet, but was really frightened. Unlike R, he didn’t want to ride on the bike for a few weeks afterwards.

    Thanks for the tip about not allowing kids carry loose things on the bike. I haven’t been that strict and today on the way home E almost let go of his new pinwheel midair!

  9. Anna says:

    It was a parking violation, not a moving violation.

  10. Olive says:

    I’m so glad you’re all ok. That sounds incredibly scary.

  11. Julian says:

    Brave post, thank you! So glad you’re all OK. First stitches will remain a rite of passage for most, but so sorry for all the understandable parent guilt! We also had a scary tip over as my wife was parking 2 kids up on a Pletscher double kickstand, where one leg broke as she was rocking the bike up onto it. Nasty bruise and a big scare for her. It does seem to be the low-speed/stationary stuff that gets you with the family cycling.

    I like your new rule. It is a slippery slope, and even when “breaking the rules” negative consequences are rare enough that we end up reinforced in the “letting things slide” by all the times we don’t pay the price. I’ve caught myself a few times with near-misses doing sketchy things I wouldn’t have considered when I was getting started. Great idea to share, with your partner at least.

  12. I am glad that everyone is ok and equally glad that you have not let this accident deter you from your city biking. I find your story as a car-free family to be inspirational! -Kerry

  13. Sam says:

    Ugh! What a nightmare…I’m glad you all are safe though.

  14. Mamavee says:

    This happened to me a few years ago. Tuber in the kid seat on my townie and it was very tippy. I was on the way to the pedi for his check up and crossed the street but had to walk the bike off a big curb and that is how I learned to never do that with a kid loaded I. The seat. The bike went over and T was screaming.

    Luckily my MD rides and told me of si liar stories and said that accidents happen and it was all good. I was feeling foolish for biking with my kids but he made me feel so much better.


  15. Kristin says:

    Seeing our children injured because of our mistakes is tough, but accidents happen, none of us are perfect and being active and setting healthy examples is so important. Proud of you for getting back on then horse!

  16. Pingback: Family Bike Shopping Part I: Why another bike? — Carfree with Kids

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