Tommy has been really wanting to get out on his bike, and today, after consulting both sky and forecast, we felt confident enough to put them on the rack and head up to Burlington, where a great path runs parallel to Lake Champlain on an old railway line. Like just about everything in Vermont, the ride comes complete with much incidental beauty, including stunning views of the Adirondacks across the water.
Matt, Becky, and Tim rented recycled bikes from Local Motion, a nonprofit organization that promotes cycling, walking, and skating. We hit the path and I could tell right away that Tommy was going to make it farther than he ever has. I’ve been struck over the past few weeks by how big and graceful he seems. And wise, in his own 6-year-old way. A typical conversation between him and Teddy goes something like this:
“Teddy, you’re too little, you don’t remember this road. But I do. I remember driving on it last year.”
“I don’t ‘member.”
“No, but it’s OK. Someday you’ll be big like me and you will.”
When you travel with anyone you learn things about them – how they handle new situations, how willing they are to try new things, what their stamina is like. When you travel with your child, especially to the same place year after year, you learn new things each time too. The place becomes like a mark on the kitchen doorway against which you chart their growth. The first time we had Tommy on this bike path, he was fifteen months old and was pulled in a carrier from which all he could see was the back tire of Matt’s bike; he hated it, and the outing ended badly. We had a few years where we avoided bikes altogether before we successfully used the carrier with Tommy and Teddy, the two of them giggling and elbowing each other the entire way. Last year Tommy was on his bike, but with training wheels that clanked with his every move and slowed him up.
But this year, he was out in front, riding through the numerous and often deep puddles until the back of his shirt, neck, hair, and helmet were splattered with so much mud that he looked like he had been trail riding. He was fast and we did indeed make it farther than we ever have, about six miles out onto the old causeway where the lake is on either side of the path and where the air is full of the sound of lapping water.
We didn’t venture to the end of the causeway (need to leave something for next year, right?) and instead turned around and stopped at a park in Colchester where Tommy, not in the least bit tired from his ride, found some new friends to teach the rules of baseball to (they apparently weren’t really doing it right, and with a season of T-ball under his belt, he thought he’d share his wisdom) and play with. Then it was back on his bike and five miles back to Burlington where he took Tim and Becky on a running tour of the ECHO center. I couldn’t quite believe he was able to complete a 12-mile bike ride, but I’ve also learned that one should never understimate what your children can do.
I have not even a slight pang of sadness or nostalgia when I see Tommy tearing off down the bike path away from me. Yes, each year means he is growing a little farther away. But I believe that with or without me, he will always take on the world this way: full of grace, good humor, and laughter even as he is peddling through the deep puddles.