Anyone's Kid

That's my helmet, my bike path.

Two relatively short stories coming up. There have been complaints from the peanut gallery that my posts are too long. For the record, in my defense, I did not write President Obama's speech.

Okay. You should know, before we begin, that if there were an avatar of me right this minute, it would be Therapydoc, Sad. News has it that an SUV rolled over a neighborhood five year-old on a bike crossing an alley. Now she's gone, going on two weeks now, an innocent little girl.

Three young mothers, all patients, called me the week it happened, distraught. Another parent spent twenty minutes of appointed therapy time discussing the tragedy.
"It could have been my kid, my five year-old."
"What do I tell her?" Meaning what do you tell a mother who has lost a child?
You say nothing, is what you say, when you visit a mother who has just lost her child, but hold her hand if she's amenable, sensitive to the fact that she might not want to be touched.

And we're not even to the stories.


I'm riding home from work last night at dusk along the Chicago River. The path and surrounding greenery are all park district, the only real dangers--

an occasional Chicago cougar, the feline type, not the human
head-pecking birds
people who don't understand that On your left! is a warning about an on-coming bicyclist,

and kids on tricycles.

If you wear a helmet, the birds don't bother you. And if you're a nice person, you don't mind slowing down for children. Nor do you mind shouting, YO! instead of On your left! to get the attention of folks who don't speak much English, people who also have a right to the path, even if they're just walking.

Of course, if you're all about you and aggressive at that, then these things, especially people in your way, bother you a lot.

Let's break for a rant:

People everywhere are riding bikes without helmets. Gorgeous, slick, young people who should know better, windblown and smiling. It bothers me, this carelessness, because I picture them fallen to brain trauma or worse, death.

This has nothing to do with that little five year-old girl, by the way, something altogether different, you can't hold a child accountable. But it seems fairly obvious that accidental death and morbidity are not reserved for reckless automobile drivers, luckless pedestrians, and motorcyclists. Some call the latter organ donors.

So readers, help me on this one. What's with the denial? Is vanity that important? Is it? Am I missing something? Because the ugly truth is that if you're going to ride, you're going to fall. It has to happen.

There. I feel better.

So I'm riding along and coming toward me is a little girl on a little two-wheeler. Her blond hair is sneaking out of a white helmet and her eyes lock on mine. She's talking to me with defiant, proud, six year-old girl eyes that say,
"See? I can ride. I can ride this. And this is my bike and there is nothing like it, me on my bike, nothing stopping me. I'm free."
Me, fifty years ago. And probably many of you, too.


You have to give credit where credit is due, when you learn something from someone. So I'm glad for that incident with Professor Gates and Sgt. James Crowley this summer. Especially for that delicious use of language, The Teaching Moment.

Sgt. Crowley, if you recall, arrested Professor Henry Louis Gates for breaking into his own home. Generally white people aren't arrested for suspicious behavior like breaking into their own homes. But people of color are suspicious for breathing, even now, depending upon the zip code. (Check out a good novel about racism, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. You're always asking me for book recommendations, and the truth is I don't read as much as I'd like. But Mudbound is worth the trip on many levels. I especially like the marital relationship and women's issues).

Anyway, Professor Gates is a man determined to use everything that happens to him as class material. He's the master of the teaching moment and referred to the incident with Sgt. Crowley as a way to educate people, in this case a very, very, very large number of people, the entire intercontinental news guzzling public.

Professor Gate teaches about race relations. And hate. Hate is about scape-goating, triangling really, marginalizing others to feel better about one's self. In therapy we sometimes use a psychological defense to describe this process, displacement. She's the problem. He's the problem. They're the problem. Blame them. Couldn't be me.

Unfortunately, President Obama inadvertently ratcheted things up, made a bad situation worse by saying that Sgt. Crowley "acted stupidly." But he took it back right away with this marvelous syntax
". . . I could have calibrated those words differently.”

President Obama and Vice President Biden (almost forgot his name!) sat the professor and the officer down for a beer in the White House gardens to make amends, to desensitize them. The VP drank a non-alcoholic beer and the President drank the most popular beer in America, what else, Budweiser. Thus the incident became the administration's teaching moment: (1) don't drink, (2) if you do, drink like your brother, and (3) for heaven's sake, get to know your neighbors.

And that very day, I had my own teaching moment.*

I'm riding the bike to work; it's a little muggy, but we'll take it, no rain, and a diminutive fellow from southeast Asia passes me on his bicycle, one that he surely threw onto the boat to America. The bike has the wide tires and baskets that allow for balance, lend it to tricks like, Look Mom! No hands!

Anyway, he sees me riding behind him and flirtatiously throws his arms out, does that trick we used to do as kids, rides with no hands, arms out to the side. He's clearly enjoying showing off and I'm enjoying the show. Except it bothers me, you know. No helmet.

Being me, when he turns the corner and peeks back, I smile and shout,
"Where's your helmet?"
He doesn't get it, smiles incomprehensibly. I tap mine and he nods a universal, if exasperated, I know. I know.



TechnoBabe said…
This post is good timing. My hubby rides his bike almost every day. With his bipolar he needs the exercise. He has not been wearing a helmet. I have let him know it bothers me but then I have a bike and no helmet but I have not been riding my bike for a year. Now I am moving back in with hubby and will be bringing my bike back and we will ride the bike trails again. Before his manic episode last year we both rode every day at least 9 miles. Now, many pounds later, both of us need to ride more than ever. Yesterday we took hubby's bike to a bike shop to get brakes fixed and the man at the bike shop talked to us about helmets. He even put a helmet on me and showed me how to adjust it. I didn't buy it but I will when I have my bike with me again, in about a week, but the cool thing is that hubby "got it", he listened to what the man at the bike store said and hubby told me he wore his helmet when he rode today while I was at work. And I told him I am going to buy a helmet and will not ride without a helmet again. So we made a pact, yay.
Cat said…
My vanity days are long over and my helmet goes with me when the bike is my ride. It bugs me when I see adults being bad exQmes for their kids riding behind them or with them but the cynical me aloes not all people of the age to know better do and that's just none of my business I guess.
Marcia said…
very timely. My friend and I just bought 20 year old bikes and the 20year old helmets that came with them. I am told that helmets are only good for 3-5 years, even if you're never in a fall...
Jack said…
I rode a bike for a good 30 years or so without a helmet. It wasn't due to vanity. It is just how we learned to do it and we never thought about helmets.

Now I wear one, but I miss feeling the breeze on my head.
therapydoc said…
Hey, I miss not having a convertible. Shana tova, Jack!
therapydoc said…
And to everyone, I mean (Shana tova means have a happy new year). No discriminating when it comes to good wishes, either.
Foster Ima said…
When I was in middle school, helmets were just made mandatory for kids where I lived (I don't know if people just didn't get how important they were until then, or if my parents just didn't care, or what) so my parents bought me a helmet and made me wear it. I would wear it to the end of my street and then take it off and hang it from my handlebars.

But then I got it and realized that actually, there was a reason for the helmet. I still didn't want to wear it though, so I just stopped riding altogether.

A few months ago, 20 years later, I bought a helmet so that I could get on a bike. And it really is just like they say--just like riding a bicycle!

Shana tova!
Anna said…
I found a pair of skates, just the right size, at the thrift store. My oldest,7, is thrilled to have them and wants to practice learning every day. It's all she can think about at times.
You know how hard it is to teach those coordination things. But, we worked on it, and while she still needs the strength to do it right, it's such an awesome feeling to give that freedom to her. One of the great experiences of parenting, I think. The first of mine. They haven't yet learned how to swim, or ride without trainers, or skate. But they do wear a helment!

Shana tova, doc.
porcini66 said…
LOL - must be bike season! My mom just came out for a couple of days. First thing she did? Go to the local Target and buy my kids helmets. I know, I know...I should've done it. I'm glad that they have them now. Funny, too, cuz they USED to wear them all the time and I wore one right along side them, ya know, to be a good example and all? And then...well, I don't really know what happened. Just know that they stopped, I stopped....and then mom came to town...Thanks, Mom! :)
porcini66 said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
blognut said…
I know... I know.... It's not vanity that keeps me riding without the helmet. I can't stand anything on my head. I'm lucky I put up with the hair.
Wonderingsoul said…
Ahhh... I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to hear someone rant about the extreme stupidity of not wearing a bike helmet... (Ok.. I think your words were calibrated a little better than mine perhaps ;) but all the same...)
I lived and rode in London for 8 years and nobody there would dream of cycling without a helmet (and often, mask too). Now I have moved back to a smaller city, it is rare to see anyone wearing one and I have been incredulous at the lack of common sense!
I mean, ok, helmets aren't exactly the coolest item of attire but then nor is a neckbrace/back brace/feeding tube/wreath.
Hmm... Looks like I have had a rant too. Gratuitous I know.

Not sure what the whole Shana Tova thing is about (Jewish?) but if it's the order of the day then, Shana Tova to you!
Mark said…
There is something about want to feel invincible, above the fray that drives people to make a choice not wear a helmet or on a motorcycle to not wear leather to protect their skin.
Rebel without a cause says it all.

Seems to me like Sgt Crowley and Professor Gates hit the perfect storm that day and as is all storms things went out of control. If nothing else it was a painful reminder that we still have a long way to go in how we relate to each other.
therapydoc said…
Perfect storm indeed.

Just letting you all know it's a Jewish holidaybeginning Friday night, Rosh Hashana, the New Year, which is what the Shana Tova's about. 2-day affair, ends Sunday night. We believe the whole world is judged in the next 10 daysbased upon charity, prayer, and repentence. The very opposite of the secular/Christian new year, it's serious, not about revelry at all. Not that we don't eat and enjoy. ;)
blogbehave said…
The heat is one reason. I live in a state where we had nearly 70 days where the temps reached into the 100's. There are not motorcycle helmet laws here. I understand it can get stifling under a helmet. But such a frightening risk to take.
Dreaming again said…
When my son was 8, he was riding his bike and fell off. Screaming like a banshee I tried to look over him. I couldn't find anything that even remotely looked scraped up. I asked his 6 year old brother to put his bike and helmet in the fenced in yard.
We went inside. The next day he was still crying about his arm. Not a tad of swelling or so much as a scrape ... I took him to the doctor to prove to him that he was just fine.
Both bones in his forearm were broken. One bowed so badly that if it had gone a fraction of an inch more he'd have had a compound fracture!!!
This mom felt like she deserved the worst mom in the world award. The doc asked me if he'd been wearing a helmet. I said yes ..he reminded me to get a new one, the one in the accident would not be protective anymore.

I got home and went to throw the helmet away and almost fainted. It was the first I'd seen of it ... BROKEN, and torn .. bits of styrofoam broken out by rocks ... I realized that would have been my sons head had he not been wearing it.
I took it to the pediatrician ..who kept it to show parents who don't like to make their kids wear helmets.
Tzipporah said…
The ones who don't wear helmets, around here, are also the ones who don't stop at stop signs, who ride the wrong way in the bike lane on the one-way roads, who seem to think the rules don't apply to them.

The denial goes a lot farther than a fear of mortality.
jss said…
Actually I think traumatic brain injury would be worse than death.
I am one of those cyclists who resisted wearing a helmet for the first several years of my 'serious' riding - used that same baloney argument about the wind in my hair, blah, blah. And then one day I went down... hard, and it hurt like hell and I was fortunate as hell that my head was just about the ONLY thing that wasn't injured. Live and learn and lucky that the lesson wasn't as hard as it could have been.

It occurred to me one day that my not wearing a helmet puts greater responsibility on the poor individual who might accidently hit me and might accidently severly injure or kill me who would then quite possibly spend the rest of their life carrying that around them when if I had a helmet I might just get up, brush myself off, tell them I'm ok and we could both ride away heaving a sigh of relief. It ain't just about the people who ain't wearing the helmets.