Birthdays And Bikes

Saturday, after an eight hour shift with the PD which included my getting to take a drive out of district on “Official Police Business” and finally getting to hand my ID to someone, (Nobody flashes the badge like they do on TV. Its all about the ID.) I headed home for a massive undertaking which is not suitable for anyone who isn’t a parent.

I assembled a bicycle.

The Narrator’s 5th birthday was yesterday, and he had asked for only two things. A bike, and a $1.99 plastic toy we had seen in the pharmacy that launched little jets off of a pad with a rubber band. He’s an easy kid to please.

Bikes are actually fairly simple to put together. I mean, it doesn’t take a degree in engineering to figure out where on the frame the seat is supposed to get attached. And the wheels? Well, one of them was already connected. The other was a pretty good guess as to where it was supposed to wind up.
Everything was a breeze. Up until the brakes. This is why the job NEEDS to be done by a parent, because it it wasn’t for the love of your child and the need for them to have safe and functioning brakes, you might be tempted as I was to say “Oh F* This” – cut the cables, and pitch the entire project into the gaping maw of the nearest active volcano.

Maybe it is just me, but the act of adjusting brakes on a bike was a nightmarish hell. My wife rather causally offered up the suggestion that I read the instructions, but they read something much akin to the technical manual for an F-22 Raptor, and at one point literally indicated that I needed three hands.

“While squeezing the brake shoes against the rim, loosen the cable adjusting nut and pull the slack out of the brake cable, then hand-tighten the nut while keeping the cable pulled tight.”

Following the instructions was not helpful, so I resorted to adjusting this, tightening that, pulling this, and squeezing that, one by one. Occasionally, I’d pull the brake handle, and one caliper half would move and the other not. Or, worse, both calipers would tighten but not release. Then, neither of them would move.

Eventually, after many, many days and nights worth of pouring over and trying to interpret the Rosetta Stone that was the instruction manual, fiddling with it on my own, and inventing swear words that needed to be uttered under my breath lest I wake the children- the project was completed. I had beaten it.

I had taken on, and successfully completed one of the world’s most major “Dad” projects.

The boy’s birthday was yesterday, and it dawned cold and drizzly. Much to his irritation, he couldn’t haul his new bike outside and ride it seven minutes after waking up, nor were we keen on letting him figure out how to ride it in the living room. Eventually, it did get warm enough to take him outside, and we taught him how to ride his brand new first-time-ever big-boy bike.
He took to it like a duck to water, and it took a hilariously small windows of time between “How do I……” and his first “I’ll race you!”

It was no small amount of pride that I felt as I watched my now five year old son begin to cruise up the road on his bike at speeds that made it difficult for me to keep up with him as I jogged along behind in the event of the inevitable disaster.
His first ditch was a result of the over-confidence and cockiness that all males feel the moment we sense a competency at something new. At a reasonable speed, he decided to look over his shoulder at something, and took the handlebars with his head as he turned. Obeying the laws of physics, the bike jack-knifed and went down. I was right behind him when it happened, and I was able to grab him under his armpits, haul him off of the doomed ride, and somehow or other manage to stay on my feet as well. To his credit, he hopped back on the bike and did one more run up the road before deciding that he’d had enough for the day.

Oh- and those brakes I spent 8 months on trying to figure out? They’re the front brakes. You know, the ones that you teach kids never to use right out of the gate? Yeah. He never touched the handle on them.

The rest of his birthday went very well. He had a great day, although his mother and I were tortured by the fact that our little boy is five years old. I can still remember the chest-tightening fear I felt the day we brought him home from the hospital, and were completely on our own for the first time with a tiny human being. That was one of the longest nights of my entire life. A creature whose life-span thus far could be measured in hours and not have the number sound ridiculous was now ours to raise and nurture. And we sat in our tiny little apartment with him as he alternated between crying, feeding, and sleeping- completely in shock at the responsibility that was now ours.
That all still feels like it was yesterday. I can still feel every bump and pot-hole in the road as I drove my Chevy blazer home from the hospital at speeds generally reserved for Driver’s Education students and scanning the road for hazards with an exhausting level of diligence. Yesterday. I swear it was yesterday.

No. It was five years ago. Somehow, in the blink of an eye that pink and squalling creature we had been entrusted with had managed to grow into something magnificent and take his first his bike accident like a trooper, then get right back on it.

Everybody told us “Enjoy the time while you have it, it goes fast.” I’d figured it was all a parenting cliche, that people felt like they had to say it for one reason or another. I was wrong. The time does go by very quickly, and something tells me now that it has some momentum, If I thought the last five years went by fast….I ain’t seen nothing yet.


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