Yesterday I decided to do something ambitious. I had taken the kids biking several times before, down to the lake, around the block, down the street to get slurpees, and to a couple of different playgrounds, but all of those trips were relatively short. For some reason I got it into my head yesterday that we were going to bike all the way downtown.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the layout of Burlington, VT, all the way downtown is about two miles from my house, ending with a fairly spectacular uphill climb to Main Street. Why I thought that we should attempt this, having probably never gone more than a half a mile round trip before, is beyond me, but like many things I have foolishly done, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
And you know, actually, it started off very well. Edward was riding on the trail-a-bike behind me, and Ruby was riding her little two-wheeler with the training wheels (so, I guess, technically a four-wheeler), and she was really keeping up. We made it past her school where she will attend kindergarten in the fall. We breezed on past the gas station where they have the slurpees. We made it all the way to the bottom of that hill, only a few blocks from our destination, without incident.
Now, I know what you are all thinking. You are thinking that there eventually was some sort of incident getting up that hill, but the only thing that happened was that Ruby got tired and walked her bike up most of it (complaining the whole way, obviously). But once we got to the top, she felt very proud that we had made it. We locked our bikes up and went to the bank. We unlocked our bikes and rode over a few more blocks (and up some more hills) to the library, where we saw a nice play put on by local children. We went to Ben & Jerry's and got ice cream as a reward. And then it was time to go home.
Now, Main Street is simultaneously at the top and the bottom of a huge hill. I'm not sure how they managed to do that, but that's just how it is. To get from the library back down to Main Street required us to ride down one very steep block, after which we would have to head west for a couple of blocks before turning down that other big hill that we had climbed in the first place. As I turned down that one block from the library, I started picking up speed quickly, and so attempted to brake, which is not easy on a bike with only one working brake and a giant toddler strapped to the back of it. I was concentrating so hard on trying to stop and not fly into busy traffic that it took me a moment to hear the screaming.
As I slowly slowed, I turned my head back to see Ruby coming at me way too fast and screaming for help at the top of her lungs. It was right at this moment that I remembered that her bike had no working brakes. Technically I knew this, but as we generally just rode back and forth to get slurpees on flat surfaces, or around the parking lot, it didn't often make itself an issue. She certainly never complained about not having any brakes. Well, not until that moment anyway.
She was terrified, I was terrified, and I had only seconds to figure out what to do. There was my daughter, hurtling towards traffic at one billion miles per hour, and there I was, barely keeping myself out of traffic as well, with my son precariously balanced on the bike extension behind me. I couldn't leap off of my bike, or Edward would fall over onto the pavement, and I didn't have time to stop my bike and get Edward off. As she flew past me, only a few feet from the curb now, I did the only thing I could think of to do, which was to shoot my foot out and kick her bike sideways.
She flew over, Edward and I half fell over, everyone was crying, strangers rushed over to help us, but nobody was in the traffic getting run over, so at least I could feel good about that. Some lady I don't know volunteered to hold my bike up so that I could jump off and help Ruby without Edward falling to the ground. Another lady was helping Ruby get untangled from her bike on the sidewalk. Actually, it was kind of embarrassing. But, you know, thanks again, anonymous strangers. Sorry I'm not more competent at life.
Miraculously, nobody was really hurt. Not even scraped! We got back on our bikes and started home. For about two blocks. Once we hit the top of that horrible hill home, it was very clear that we were going to be walking our bikes the rest of the way. So it took us roughly four times as long to get home as it did to get downtown, and when we did get home everyone was exhausted and miserable.
Luckily for Ruby, I was so angry at her bike for being crappy and not having brakes that we took her out and bought her a brand new one as soon as my wife got home from work. And Ruby loves her new bike. It has two fully functional brakes, and as soon as we got home she started riding it around our courtyard and didn't want to ever come in again. In fact, she is excited to try out her new brakes on that same scary hill, to make sure that they work this time. So even though I almost got the whole family run over, at least they don't seem to be scarred for life. Was this a parenting win? I guess that's for their future therapists to decide.