Brody Bunch – The Bike, Teen Freedom & Adult Personal Growth

person riding a bicycle during rainy day

Reflections, Freedom, Personal Growth Because of a Bike

Labor Day is the universal date marking the end of summer. Our summer included great vacations abroad, the beach, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, California and camps. Our memory buckets are overflowing.  And, I will look back on this particular summer as our oldest son’s “Summer of Freedom” combined with the byproduct of my “Summer of Personal Growth”.  

Our son turned 15 in July.  All he wanted was a bike. For his fifth birthday, I gift wrapped a tricycle for him.  His four-year-old sister saw the wrapped gift and excitedly announced: “You got a bike!” He was disappointed that she “ruined” the surprise. There was no doubt that under the Sesame Street wrapping paper a bike was in there.

Ten years later, he wanted a bike.  After bikes were stolen off our porch and there was a stretch of teens being knocked off their bikes by thieves in our neighborhood, we denied bike requests.  Our son’s friend shared an extra bike and the boys spent hours riding around the neighborhood. Yet, my son wanted his own bike. He offered to pay for it. So, I stood between the bike and my fears.  And, should the pendulum swing towards the bike, there would be a beautiful rite of passage for this teenager: independence and freedom.

A Birthday Wish, Agonized and Granted

A grandmother asked me what birthday wish she could fill.  I told her about the bike and asked if she wanted to contribute to that.  She called me back and offered a wonderful bike. My younger children went to see the bike and confirmed that this bike was the perfect size and he would love it. The siblings never mentioned the bike to their eager brother.  My concerns about past crimes and the issue that we live on the West side of a very busy street that needs to be crossed to get into the neighborhood of friends living East of the main road was well known. Now, I held the permission to the gift of freedom. After restless sleep and with tremendous trepidation, I graciously accepted the bike.

Days later after a family dinner, we stepped onto the patio.  The bike was revealed. Our reserved son beamed with happiness and his recessive dimple popped out. Grandparents, parents and siblings filled the porch to see this surprise. I imagine this moment was like someone receiving their first color television or their first car.  With much gratitude, my son held onto the bike handles and quickly shared the safest routes to bike around busy roads. He had a responsible plan already worked out for this magical moment.

The Gift of Freedom and Independence and Letting Go, Riding off into the World

My son, through the bike, was given the gift of freedom.  Throughout the rest of the summer “the guys” rode their bikes to various friends’ homes, the pool, the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the park, and on trails. I received photos of my happy son on his adventures. With a knot in my stomach, my heart was happy for him.  I recognize that I lived through this agonizing decision.

His friends’ parents maintained stocked fridges, a welcome place to sleep, and space to lock up all of the bikes.  It took an entire Village to lift my son, support his wishes to get a bike, and let him be a kid experiencing adventures and journeys.  Deep in my heart, I know this is about me letting go. The experience of getting a bike at age 15,  is very different than a 10-year-old getting a bike. From his parents’ point of view, the issues surrounding a bike at an older age feels much closer to getting a car – further travels in the City, navigating decisions, personal safety, unsupervised travels, and more. We still worry about him constantly, and I share in his happiness about his outings and experiences.  Now, he has the opportunity to ride off into the world, on his own bike.

The Brody Bunch – A New Bus Rider, Finding Freedom and Letting Go

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City Slickers New to Public Transportation

We live in the City.  I constantly drive the Brody Bunch from activity to activity, 7 days per week, times four kids. This is our lifestyle. My Dad always tells me after a crazy carpool route that he would have been happy to help, and he brings the best after school snacks. I hate asking for help.

A typical timing conflict presented its ugly head. My daughter needed to be downtown at the same time that I volunteered to photograph my son’s elementary school play.  I am the master of resolving scheduling conflicts. 

I recalled a friend telling me that her daughter and another girl go downtown at the same time as my daughter, and those girls rely on public transportation. Yes, the bus is another option! But, I am fearful: 1) Riding the bus, without me, is a first time journey. 2) Our public transportation is unreliable. 3) And, my kids are growing up too quickly at lightning speed. Oddly, as a City resident, I have never been on a bus, except when the bus is used as a cooling station during our citywide Arts Festival. That experience probably doesn’t count.

So, I texted my friend, the one with bus riding daughter, and about 8 texting rounds later, I learned: how much money a bus ride costs, what time to be waiting at the stop, where to exit the bus, and arranged for my daughter to walk a few blocks with the other girls to their destination.  At first when I shared the bus idea, my daughter declined as these girls are her brother’s friends. Yet, over texting, with my daughter, the idea was embraced.  I don’t understand the teenager decision process. But, my daughter easily and happily agreed to the plan, and she will get to experience independence.

Carpooling Versus the Bus – I Save Money!

Before considering the bus option, our routine was me driving her downtown. I used the time that she was in class to have a dinner date with her brother at an overpriced marketplace. Predictably, he eats a burger, shake and fries. And, I eat a double portion of Teriyaki salmon over a Korean kale bowl. Carpooling is an expensive and time consuming effort versus the bus option that just costs $1.70, exact change! My daughter and I are each spreading our wings!

Boarding the Bus – It is Symbolically the Vehicle for Independence

It is time to let my daughter live like a City Slicker. I am a little scared with the smallest window of willingness to let her be on the bus, without me. Here we go!  We are both spreading our wings.  She is going to the arts school for her theater class.  I am staying uptown to photograph her younger brother’s school play rehearsal.  However, I know myself.  The bus stop is across the street from the kids’ school, where I am photographing the play. I will have my long camera lens and might, will probably, photograph her boarding the bus. For posterity. 

Often I speak about public transportation in terms of urban advocacy. A local issue is that there are not enough bus routes for employment opportunities beyond the Inner City, the jobs are outside of the City. We need a better public transportation system.  Yet, now, I am nervously excited for my daughter’s new experience. I am open to getting bus passes for the whole Brody Bunch. 

Moving forward, I view public transportation literally as the vehicle for my daughter finding her independence.  And, I am finding my wings. She is excited and I am happily nervous.  I asked my daughter if there is anything she wants to review before her new journey, “Well, I finally get to ride the bus, but you won’t be there to give me a sandwich like you always do.” My daughter traded gourmet sandwiches for her freedom. I gave her a granola bar for the ride.