Yesterday, I took The Bun and The Birdy on a bike ride in the rain. They are both on bikes with training wheels and we live in a quiet neighbourhood where the speed limit is reduced and few cars pass. We were out for forty minutes and had to stop only five times when cars went by. The fifth car that passed was driven by an elderly man. He stopped his car, rolled down his window and shouted, "YOUR BOY ISN'T SAFE! YOU SHOULD BE AHEAD OF HIM! HE SHOULDN'T BE ON THE ROAD!"
Then he smiled and waved, as though he had just saved us all.
I looked up and down the deserted street. My son was stopped at a stop sign on the side of the road, waiting for me to catch up. I was waiting for my thoughts to catch up with my words but the man was gone.
I don't know what I would have said. I don't know what I should have said. Even now, the next day, I can't think of just the right thing. I can't think of anything except, "What?"
Last week, the kids were riding in a different part of the neighbourhood. The kids are small. Their bikes are big. We came to a cross walk. I stood in the middle to make sure the cars could see us while they rode across.
Trust me when I say that they aren't co-ordinated enough to walk their bikes. Certainly not The Birdy.
A woman in a Mercedes, stopped and waiting, rolled down her window and waved me over. She had very long nails and a phone pressed against her ear. I thought she wanted directions.
I was wrong.
"GET YOUR KIDS OFF THE ROAD!" she shouted. "DON'T YOU KNOW THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO WALK THEIR BIKES ACROSS? DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TO TEACH THEM ANYTHING? SOME PEOPLE SHOULDN'T BE MOTHERS."
Then she hit the gas and peeled away.
If my kids had still been on the crosswalk, they would have almost certainly have been killed.
Talking on your phone while driving is illegal, I should have said. But didn't. She left me hanging there mid-sentence, explaining how The Birdy can't push her bike across because she's too small.
I was driving with my kids to gymnastics. Stopped at an intersection, I picked up my phone to answer a call. I only talk using hands-free, mostly because I don't want to be fined. I was just pressing the button.
I looked down at the screen for a split second and there was bang that scared me half-to-death. I looked up: An elderly man on the crosswalk was pounding on my hood with his fist. "YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ON THE PHONE IN YOUR CAR!" he screamed. "DON'T YOU KNOW ANYTHING?"
One of the kids started to cry.
Maybe I've got the blues because of the fog and the rain and the change in schedule from the freedom of summer to the structure of fall. Maybe I'm just overwhelmed because I have a late book and little time and some other things lurking in the shadows that I can't yet talk about, waiting to change everything.
Or maybe I'm just tired of all the judgement.
I take my kids for a bike ride and a passerby shouts, "Get them off the sidewalk!" and I wait until the kids can't see me and I flip him the bird. He probably doesn't see me either. He's moved on to shout at someone else for parking with their back tire too far from the curb. He will keep our sleepy neighbourhood safe from kids learning to ride bikes on training wheels. From cars parked crookedly. From people who keep campers in their driveways.
"What did that man say?" The Bun asks.
I shrug. "I don't know, honey," I lie. "He was just..."
"Just what?" says The Bun. He's out of breath from riding and smiling so hard that his face could split in two. He's doing what he loves. He loves bike riding. I'm not going to make him stop because, apparently, there is no place for him to ride that doesn't offend someone.
"Nothing," I say. "Just ... nothing."
"Oh," he says. "Watch this, Mum! Look!"
And he speeds off down the street. On the side. On a deserted road.
Safe for now.
I don't know what I want to say next time it happens, next time someone yells in my face about how I'm handling my children, about what I'm doing.
I'm thinking and thinking, but I still don't know what to say.