Monday, October 15, 2007

We're Back. . .

. . after two wonderful weeks in Spain and Portugal. From Las Ramblas in Barcelona to the Alhambra in Granada, we enjoyed mild and sunny weather every day, walked dozens of miles, saw Picasso’s evolution and Miro’s legacy. A brief train ride took us to Toledo, an ancient city where centuries ago Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in peace, something of a miracle. Rugged coastlines, circuitous streets in Seville and magnificent cathedrals boasted thousands of years of history. We tasted sweet custard and lobster, flan and baby piglet, tapas and sixteen varieties of olives.

Mid trip, the Chicago premiere of “Indestructible” took place to a sold out audience that left scores of people without seats. The evening’s excitement reached us via email from family and friends able to be there in person. Josh was in New York on business and unable to attend. Matt and his family live in Connecticut now. And so it goes. Busy lives pull us in different directions. All of which reminded me of a story I wrote several years ago about the shifts and changes as families evolve.

Bicycles

After Sarah and Barry’s wedding in 1995, Steve and I moved to a small house on Division Street in Chicago, three blocks from our apartment where my motherhood years began. Instead of pushing a pram to Goudy Square, I walked our dog Emma around the neighborhood, rode my bike through the park, shopped on Michigan Avenue. Not much had changed. The Chinese Restaurant where Matt had his toddler meltdown closed years earlier. The grocery store where Josh and Ben shopped alone for the first time was still open.

One particular morning, I brought my coffee outside to enjoy in the small backyard patio. To my chagrin, the spot where my bike had been locked the night before was empty. At first I thought Steve borrowed it or moved it to the basement during the night for some inexplicable reason. Then it became clear that a person with remarkable skills clipped the chain, hoisted the bike over the six foot spiked iron fence and rode it into oblivion, one of several bicycles stolen through the years never to be recovered, a condition I’d accepted years earlier as a pitfall of city life. Except this time the bike was cheap and easily replaced. I laughed at the thief's ignorance as I drank my coffee and soaked in the early spring sun. How many of our bikes had been bought, sold, lost, stolen? Wasn’t Matt’s bike missing from the driveway the day after we moved to Evanston? How many times did we reach the Bahai Temple in Wilmette before turning back? Who crashed? Who never fell? And so, my mind wandered back to the days when each of our children mastered that elusive two wheeler.

Matt struggled to keep his bright green and yellow banana bike with neon spokes and abrasive horn upright. He blamed the bike for his lack of coordination and more than once dropped it against the cement and trudged off. Frustrated, I challenged him to get on and ride the thing or we’d return it. He was up, then down, then up and steady for three lines on the sidewalk. Lift off.

Josh learned to ride his bright red Schwinn like a horse. He flew along lightly holding onto the handlebars while the bike managed to balance itself. I watched this agile little boy fly past me as I called “slow down” while he shouted back “how do I stop?”

Ben practiced after kindergarten for one solid week, mastering different bike riding aspects each day. Monday he practiced start. Tuesday was stop. Wednesday turns. “Need a hand?” I’d asked. “Naw. I got it.” Ben bent into the task at hand, focused and confident. By Friday, he was prepared to ride with his brothers when they returned from school.

Matt helped Sarah with bike fundamentals. Lithe and physically coordinated, she learned easily and rarely if ever, fell. But of course, she never went too fast and looked for smooth roads. I don’t know how Rebeccah learned. One day she'd shifted from her tricycle to Sarah’s bike and just appeared riding along the sidewalk with a smile on her face.

For the next dozen years, we rode our bikes together in search of ice cream and adventure, an organized unit, crossing streets in sync, then drifting apart. Although I didn’t realize it then, our bike riding days offered a theme for the years ahead.