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.

The Brody Bunch – Growing, Pride & Crying in Baseball

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To commemorate my special birthday, we bought a fundraising brick for our new Little League field and paraphrased from A League of Their Own while honoring the Brody Bunch.  Though, after a phone call and opportunity for our first born little league player, I plan on crying.

Baseball Attire Leads to an Opportunity

Months ago, I was in a Hebrew school meeting and wearing jeans with a baseball jersey and baseball cap. My younger son was wearing his little league uniform. A guy kept motioning to me to get my attention and asked if my kid plays baseball.  This guy was recruiting boys to tryout for the  Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team. We exchanged information, went to a tryout, my husband was recruited as a volunteer coach, and I sortof forgot about it. Our older son also went to a tryout, and I sortof forgot about that, too.  Coincidentally, I was in another community meeting, and the speaker stopped her presentation and said to me, “Aren’t you the baseball family?” I never really thought of it, but yes!

The Phone Call That Shapes Our Future

Last night, as I was falling asleep, I received an enthusiastic call welcoming our older son, Leo, onto a special baseball team for the experience of a lifetime and are we ready to sign? There are more players than spaces, so we need to commit now.  Wow.  I was unprepared for this call, as I sortof forgot about it.

I hated my circa 1950s housewife response: “I am so thankful, but my husband is not home.”  WTF, Robyn (me)?  I wasn’t sure how we would commit to the large expenses involved. Immediately, I told the Coach how unacceptable my answer was to him. I repeated my gratitude and strongly emphasized that this is my decision, too.

I was distracted by my younger son throwing moldy strawberries from the fridge into the sink.  The entire moment was surreal. I knew that I was proud of my son making the team, I was annoyed with my anti-feminist response, and I was really annoyed with my younger son throwing food across the kitchen.  I was letting negativity override my happiness, and that made me really mad.  That is not me. I sensed that it was more than berry throwing getting to me, my hand was forced to let my older son grow and I see that his time is, NOW.  And my time to grow is also NOW.  We had to accept the literal call and grow, NOW, together.

The Coach asked to speak with Leo. Leo, happily took the call in the bathroom and I was nervously listening through the door. My son is very polite.  But like many teens, he is not the best telephone conversationalist. But, because my family speaks on speakerphone, and Leo thinks this is a common practice, their conversation was audible. I was beaming with pride from his athletic achievement but moreso for his character and demeanor.  I fast forwarded my thoughts by several years, and I imagined that this moment might be similar to receiving the call from a college coach offering my kid a baseball scholarship. But, that is getting ahead of the gift of time.

Dreaming, Realizing, Role Models & Responsibility

Leo has been playing baseball since he was four. His Dad has coached him for years. And, many of his coaches are our friends. Baseball families become extended family. As a term of endearment, most of Leo’s friends parents are called Coach rather than mister so and so.  Once, Leo asked me what one of his coaches did in the professional world.  It seemed to me that Leo recognized that a professional backup plan should be considered in case the major leagues don’t come knocking at his door.  That was a sad moment of reality for me watching my kid realize that a dream may not become real.

There were many times that we had to have the “Sandy Koufax sat out of the World Series” conversation when Leo was disappointed with us that he had to miss practice for Rosh Hashanah or a game for Yom Kippur.  Now, Leo was offered a coveted spot on the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team representing our hometown.

Once the sibling excitement and the news of the hour settled down, Leo and I snuggled on the couch. It was our first time sitting on the new couch together. And, we had a memorable moment, while still unable to bounce off the walls like I usually do in excitement, I spoke quietly.  I never speak quietly. “Leo, you know I am so proud of you?” Leo’s special smile that comes out at very special times, beamed, “Yes, I do.”  I quietly asked him, “How do you know?”  Leo stated, “Because you are my number one fan.”  I hit a homerun.  I asked Leo, “WHY do you want to do this?” Leo told me, “I think it will be fun and I will have a chance to represent the Jewish people.”  Oh my goodness, I hit a grandslam in terms of our heritage.  The grandparents and the Rabbis should be kvelling.

A Plethora of Firsts are Coming Our Way

With this opportunity, there will be lots of firsts for my firstborn. This adventure is scheduled weeks before the start of his freshman year of high school at a new school.  He will be flying on a plane for the first time.  He will be visiting the West Coast for the first time. He will be traveling without his parents for the first time.  He will be have an experience of a lifetime without me, for the first time.  I won’t be there to see all of his expressions, for the first time.  As Leo seeks independence, I am seeking strength in growing and letting go, as best as I can.

Leo stopped attending Jewish camps around age 7, attends school in an urban community, and while we try to have regular Shabbat dinners, being Jewish doesn’t come as easily to him as it did for me growing up in an insular community. This baseball opportunity gives Leo a chance to connect with people who have similar backgrounds and interests.

All of the Brody Bunch kids play baseball or softball, and I use baseball as metaphors when talking about life lessons.  It’s ironic that a lot of my upcoming personal life lessons will also be centered around baseball.  

In my conversation with the Coach, I pulled the mommy card big time: “How are the host families screened?  As a hobby, I photograph little league, I am happy to help!”  The Coach told me that I could travel with the team! Though, I cannot. The expenses for this journey are too steep, and some of the non monetary expenses include me recognizing that my number one son is growing up whether I am ready or not. I am blessed that he calls me his Number One Fan.  

For Me, there WILL be Crying in Baseball

I tell my kids’ teammates, “there is no crying in baseball” it’s one of my favorite baseball expressions.  I believe that this Number One Fan (me), is exempt from the mantra, as when the journey gets closer, I will be crying tears of pride for my baseball player.

The Brody Bunch – The Day After Halloween

Pre Brody Bunch Halloween

It’s odd that I love Halloween.  I grew up in the cyanide poisoning and razor blade scare era, in a neighborhood without many kids, and with a little brother who seemed to get Croup on many Halloweens.  And, whatever costumes I had, always with a plastic mask, which made seeing and breathing difficult, I had to wear my big winter coat over my costume because it was cold.

Early Brody Bunch, Post Halloween = Clearance Finds!

The day after Halloween was another “holiday” chasing 50-75% off candy and costume clearance sales. I no longer eat candy, and sadly, the older Brody Bunch kids no longer play dress up.  As my friend told me, October is all about kids planning the very perfect Halloween costume and then completely changing the said costume choice on October 30th. True.

Halloween Traditions Didn’t Go According to Plan

This Halloween season, things were pretty hectic. The Brody Bunch missed screening the entire It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  We didn’t honor anyone’s specific costume wishes. Our car broke down outside of the pumpkin patch. We finally purchased pumpkins at the grocery store, five days ago, and these uncarved pumpkins are taking up real estate on my kitchen floor.

Pjs Doubled Up as Costumes, That was my Intended Plan

Smartly, I welcomed each kid to pick out new warm onesie pajamas with the understanding that these pjs would double up as Halloween costumes. Brilliant!  All went well until one daughter requested a $5 racoon mask and wore dark lipstick with the mask and was happy.  Another daughter wore a $400 leather jacket, and decided that with her friends, she would be in a biker gang.  My older son, for the first time, wasn’t a Baltimore Oriole. Instead, he was a rooster, thanks to his pajamas. I love that he had a costume rather than his beloved baseball jersey because the shirt reminded me of what older kids wear in the spirit of still wanting to trick or treat, but not dress up, and I wasn’t ready for that.  My younger son, he didn’t want to be a Minion, but we ran out of time, so he was a Minion. I never dress up, but was sick of being cold, even while wearing my winter coat like I did when I was a child. So, I wore my daughter’s monkey suit onesies and I was warm.  Moving forward, I will now be a monkey on Halloween, or a Minion.

We gave up our cute Halloween totes and resorted using our pillowcases.  Between team jerseys, dark lipstick, and pillowcases, these are Halloween signs that the kids are getting older.

Present Day Brody Bunch Halloween – Our Plan

Fast forward to Halloween with the Brody Bunch.  For several years, we have been meeting at one family’s home, quickly eat pizza, tweak costumes, and split into predetermined groups, do a photoshoot and then leave. The older kids, for the first time, got a ride into a neighboring area.  And, we all agreed upon a time to stop where we were, and walk towards a specific house to end the night together.  The meet up house is very welcoming and hospitable whereas the grill was hot, the chili was simmering, drinks were flowing, and kids traded candy while parents mingled on the front lawn around the bonfire.  We hit perfection.  As crazy as life is, and the world has become, these few hours are perfect.

Reflections While Candy Hoarding, Thanks to the Firemen

As we walked the neighborhood streets with friends, I was sad to recognize, that the Brody Bunch is getting older.  We won’t be trick or treating forever.  So between that and our local fire department, I was quite reflective. The neighborhood fire department, hit with budget cuts, had the trucks out driving around with their lights on. Every few houses, the truck would stop and firefighters handed out candy.  It was the kindest gesture which now motivates me to help “fill the boot” at future firefighter fundraisers. Our firefighters went above and beyond being good neighbors.

Our Kid Found The Perfect Halloween Spot, Because Their Friends’ Families Are So Welcoming

The history of our great Halloween stems from my then 9-year-old daughter hearing of a spot where we should trick-or-treat, just a mile away from our home, and near their school friends.  We were quickly embraced and became part of the Halloween landscape. Pounds of candy for the kids and red Solo cups for the parents to have a cold one or a glass of wine.  Wow, my kid knows how to scope out the good spot!

Most of these friends, we met through Little League baseball.  Many of the dads coach. And, those who don’t play ball, are the neighbors. This is a great pastime in modern history – neighbors visiting, kids having their independence roaming the streets and friends being together. Kids have a night to explore neighborhoods independently. Something kids today really don’t do in this world. Neighbors were outside, people were visiting, eating and drinking. Being free, social, and euphoric seems like a pastime too. Again, it is a perfect few hours.

Candy Sorting and Trading, It’s a Ritual

When we got home, pretty late on a school night, our three younger kids organized their candy and started sorting and trading. They have always done this as a Halloween ritual. Our oldest child left his candy untouched, hopefully brushed his teeth, and went to bed. Without any requests, the kids handed over about 50 pounds of candy for me to donate excluding a mango and Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy coins).

Halloween, It’s a Wrap

I miss the days of matching sibling costumes.  I recognize that our trick or treating days are numbered.  I will always treasure the Halloween candy sorting and trading.  Being with my family and many of our friends at the end of the night, reminds me of the sweetness (pun intended) of being part of a wonderful village.  Candy, independance, family and friends, traditions and the sweetest of old and new memories with the Brody Bunch.