“Mom, let’s go for a bike ride.”
That was my son Jack, 8, this weekend, when the weather lifted for a while, the wind died down and we all breathed a sort of sigh of relief in the sun.
Live in South Dakota long enough, and you take the first nice day after the new year and run with it. Or bike, hike, dog-walk or anything with it. Sit on the back deck with a glass of wine or book or boyfriend or something with it.
Whatever you love to do, you do it.
For Jack, that’s riding his bike. There are two seasons in our house: Nintendo DS and biking. Like all of us, he saw his window and wanted to take it.
“You got it, buddy,” I said. “Go get your helmet.”
I thought for a minute about riding my own bike. We tool around the neighborhood together a fair amount, and he’s joined me on bike rides with Falls Area Bicyclists, where veteran cyclists circle around him and keep him from darting into the street.
But instead, I put on my running shoes. Grabbed a hydration pack and threw in a phone and a snack. I didn’t need water for the run, but I worried if we went too far he’d be tired and we’d need to call for a ride. The farthest he’s ridden was 9 miles, on that same FAB ride.
Jack is an awesome kid. He has a few issues, like a lot of kids, and we work through them. All that makes me grateful to be his mom and friend and to put on my running shoes and say yes, let’s go, together, down to the bike path.
Saturday was no different.
“Tie your shoes, buddy,” I said, looking at the long and frayed laces.
“I did, mom,” he said, and we both knew he hadn’t.
Still, we set out.
“Wait for me at the corners, OK,” I told him, as we made our way through our Sioux Falls neighborhood, down the gentle hill to the bike path just under a mile away.
There have been some changes in my life. Jack and his sister Viv, 6, seem to be weathering those changes as best they can. That’s part of why I said yes to him. No matter what else I had to do, when he asked I wanted to be able to say yes to the time, yes to being outside, yes to letting him set the pace and tone for our day, to give him whatever he needed, even if he wasn’t sure what emotion he was meeting by riding his bike with his mom.
We got to a stoplight, pushed the button and waited together. “Let’s go,” I said, as the light changed. “Turn right when you get on the bike path.
The road curves, then a gentle downhill. He waited for me near the entrance to the park. “You can go down the hill, just wait for me under the bridge,” I told him.
“Why don’t you run faster, mom,” Jack asked.
“I’m doing the best I can, buddy,” I said, as my watch ticked off the miles. “Let’s run to Cherry Rock and play for a bit and then we’ll head back.”
That’s what we did, and I was reminded of the many miles I spent pushing him, and then Viv, in a jogging stroller, with much the same commentary. “Mom, are you walking?”
I never was.
OK, sometimes I was, but never when they asked.
But here’s the thing: This is normal to them. Mom has her running shoes on. We have bikes. And a history of jogging strollers and a Burley and a handful of other items that have helped combine parenting and a desire to not let yourself go entirely to pot.
And here I was, in some kind of parenting nirvana. I’m on a run. My son is on a bike. I’m not worried he’ll ride into the street or the river or drop some beloved blanket and cry for three entire miles about it while strangers stare at me like I’m the worst mom on the planet (or as I like to call it, the Trick or Treat Trail Run of 2011).
(Another aside: That’s how you learn the lesson to not throw things out of the stroller.)
(Wait, one more, thanks again to that guy who came up to me after the race with the blanket.)
Where was I?
Yes, a half hour into our run. At Cherry Rock. Where we talked about monkey bars and why the bathrooms aren’t open and how you can’t just pee on a tree in the middle of the day, even though, yes, technically I have let you do that before. But not today, OK, buddy?
About the teenagers on skateboards.
Everybody out there, the best highway in Sioux Falls, full of people who just like to be outside. Friends running together. Kids wobbling on bikes they got for Christmas and have been dying to practice on. The runners who realize that their spring races are coming sooner than they thought, and they better try to get a few miles in this weekend before the weather turns again, which it will, of course, because this is South Dakota in February.
All of that was true.
But this was true, too: Jack and me. Six miles. A haul back up the hill home. Two cyclists telling him he was doing great. Me giving him the miles as they tick off, watching as he realizes how far he’s gone, not really knowing how far a mile is, but being excited anyway.
Jack standing by his bike under a bridge as I come by.
“Thanks for waiting, buddy, I appreciate it. You’re doing great,” I say as he steps on a pedal and pushes himself forward.
“You, too, mom,” he says.
And right there is all I need. This sun and son and sum of all that we are: A moment outside, present, together, and grateful for it, for all our sins to fall away, all our quirks to disappear, for us to be just who we are where we are and when we are. And we were.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.