A Bike of One’s Own

At dusk on a summer’s evening, the neighborhood kids like to ride their bikes around the island of grass and trees in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. It’s a suburban Circus Maximus.

There are ride-on John Deere tractors and jeeps alongside trikes, scooters, and two-wheelers. It’s rowdy and slightly dangerous, so obviously nobody ever gets tired of it. Bedtime, schmedtime!

Jack can’t join in, though. He is too big for the toddler toys and the big kids bikes are beyond his current ability. So he sits on the utility box next to our driveway and puts his feet up on the big rock in front of the utility box (strategically placed after a city worker backed his truck into said box. I digress).

Jack watches everybody else. Cue the sad REM song, folks. This is a sight to break a parent’s heart.

While we should probably just be happy that Jack no longer takes off running down the street like in days of yore, we want him to be able to join in the fun. We want more for him than to sit obediently on a rock and not run away. Although let it be known that we are supremely grateful that he will sit obediently at times and not run off down the street (which in autism lingo is known as elopement. I don’t get it either).

A couple of years ago we tried to buy Jack a giant tricycle made for kids with special needs. It turns out that such trikes are a) expensive and b) difficult to acquire. We tried to get him one, but the company stalled and our Bike For Jack project failed.

This summer we tried again. We reinvigorated the project and found something better: a three-wheeled bike for grown-ups in sweet black cherry, with a cargo basket on the back which my eldest child described as “sick.” We bought it, and this time it was delivered as promised (thanks Amazon.com!) Suddenly, Jack has a bike of his own. Virginia Woolf would approve.

Except that Jack is a bit of a wild card on that bike. Steering? It’s optional. Brakes? Those are for nerds. I spent a sweaty, fruitless evening teaching Jack to steer his bike and to squeeze the brakes on the handlebars. He just kept swatting me away. My nonverbal son was telling me to buzz off.

“This is going to be a problem,” I predicted to Jeff. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

Jeff sent me this text the next day when I was out and he was home with the boys:
Wasn’t looking and Jack jumped on his bike and headed downhill. He crashed into the neighbor’s car. Bike may be toast, it’s all bent up. He has a goose egg but is acting okay. Maybe the bike wasn’t such a good idea after all.

One forgiving neighbor + one handy husband + one resilient child later and everything is going to be okay, more or less. The rad fenders sadly didn’t survive, but I learned the following lessons:

1. Don’t live on a hill if you buy a sweet red three-wheeled bike for your special-needs son.

2. All hell may break loose when the mom is away.

3. Understanding neighbors are a gift.

4. Maybe one shouldn’t knock sitting on an electrical box with one’s feet on a rock. It’s safer than careening down the hill and into a neighbor’s car, and the view isn’t bad either.

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