Someone called me homegirl last week. Not that I’m not the “homegirl” type, but, well, it surprised me a bit. Turns out this guy sees me a lot, riding my bike with my kids. He was telling another cyclist how “homegirl here picks up her kids from school every day. Every single day!”
I may have blushed a little.
I do pick up my kids every single day. And I often do it on my bike. The bike that seats five people. An open-air minivan on two wheels. A clown car of sorts. It’s a novelty, a monstrosity, and a life line.
Physically, it is pretty draining. Not so much now as when I first started riding, and even less since I stopped counting the miles and anticipating the hard parts. Now I just go. I just do it and don’t think about how hard it is. Thinking about how hard it is makes it harder. A lot harder.
But the thing is, putting myself out there—in the arena—working for every meter up the bridge and on the roads, I get a lot of support. Mostly, “Whoa!” and “Supermom!” and “That’s amazing!” and “You’re my hero!” and “Strong mama!” and things like that. I get thumbs ups as well. And once, someone even pushed the back of the bike to give me an extra boost. I appreciated the thought even if it did take me by surprise. And then there are the photos. Lots of photos. Sometimes people ask. Sometimes they just take it. Sometimes they try to be covert about it. It makes me smile, even if I am dripping with sweat and looking like a mess.
It’s been a couple of years since I got any negativity. There was the guy who sped past me on the Manhattan Bridge, questioning my sanity for putting my kids in danger like that. He didn’t love it when I asked him where his helmet was. Touche. And then there was the guy who, as he was driving by, creeped into the bike lane, so he could get close enough to tell me that what I was doing was dangerous. Ugh. HE WAS THE DANGER!!!!
The comments, the give and take, the sharing of our lives on the open road: it’s one of the things I love about living in the city. We can’t hide. We don’t hide. We hardly even have our own space. We share all kinds of things with everyone around us.
We share our thumping bumping and jumping with the neighbors downstairs.
We share our yelling and crying and music and laughing with the rest of the hallway.
We share our “backyard” with everyone else who hangs out in Prospect Park.
We share our travels with anyone who happens to be in the same train at the same time.
We share our quirks with all those people who think that 4 kids on a bike is just the nuttiest/greatest/weirdest/craziest thing they’ve ever seen.
And with that sharing comes connection. We see each other. We talk. We listen. We hear. We smile and nod and we are aware of each other.
It isn’t always easy to do. I still get nervous about what people are going to say to me. I wonder if I’ll get a comment that will fill my bucket or drain it. (And to be honest, sometimes, even the most well-meaning, supportive people are annoying on days when I just want to be left alone. Because, I’m actually working here. As much as it looks like a clown car, we are not messing around. We’ve got places to go and people to meet.)
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to hide. In a car. With tinted windows. To be the anonymous driver.
Sometimes I wonder about a backyard. To watch the kids play from the kitchen window. To not make a production about getting out the bikes and the balls and the jump ropes. To send the kids outside when I need some space and to know they’re still contained and protected.
More often these days I imagine our future home. I see peonies and rose bushes, a wraparound porch, fruit trees in the backyard, and a vegetable garden where vegetables can grow big and strong.
By the time we get there, our kids may have already grown big and strong. Big because that is what kids do, and strong (I hope) because of how much we have given and received as we have lived our lives out in the open of the big city.
We don’t really have a “home”—just a small apartment we rent—nor do we have a lot of family support close by. Instead we make ourselves at home here in this city and rely on our friends and neighbors and strangers for support. It’s a bit risky, but I feel dividends. A little support from my fellow New Yorkers is as good as cold hard cash any day of the week.
So I guess I am someone’s “homegirl.” Maybe a lot of people’s. And I appreciate that we can be at home here in this city together, riding bikes and looking out for each other. Every single day.