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.