My mother has always been very protective of my sister and me.
It started at a very young age. When I first learned how to ride my plastic Fischer-Price roller skates, she convinced my dad to outfit my arms in his volleyball knee pads just so I could skate around the 10 square feet of open basement space.
My childhood neighborhood lacked sidewalks, so my mother taught me to use the “imaginary sidewalk” whenever I had to go somewhere. The imaginary sidewalk was the curb. I distinctly remember the laughter I received once when I scolded an adult neighbor for not staying on the imaginary sidewalk as she strolled through the neighborhood, not realizing that the imaginary sidewalk was, in fact, something my mother had made up. Other people didn’t even know it was there!
My dad, on the other hand, seemed content to push the limits of my skeletal frame and vital organs by encouraging me to be adventurous. When it came time to learn to ride my bike without the training wheels, there was no gradual working up to the two-wheeler. He took me to a steep hill and pushed me down. It was the way his father taught him to ride a bike, and so it would be for me. He managed to convince me that as I rolled downward, I’d pick up speed and build up enough momentum to keep me upright on the bike.
I did not pick up enough momentum.
He later explained that the reason we did it on a nice grassy hill was so that it “wouldn’t hurt” when I fell off.
When I moved to a new neighborhood at the age of seven, I was thrilled to find that the subdivision was filled with other seven-year old girls. I instantly had four new friends! My joy was short-lived, however, once my mom revealed her plans to keep my sister and me safe.
“Look what I bought for you and your sister!” she exclaimed gleefully, holding up a pair of giant white helmets and two sets of cumbersome elbow pads with matching knee pads. I gasped at the sight of the extravagant body armor. I may have only been in first grade, but I knew that I was too old to look like such a fool.
But the ensemble wasn’t complete!
Suddenly, she was holding a seven-foot high, safety orange bike flag.
“And these will go on your bikes,” she stated matter-of-factly, apparently oblivious to the mortification that awaited me as soon as I left the garage with that thing attached to my bike. I was riding a two-wheeler for crying out loud! I was too old for this shit!
“Noooooo!” I cried. “I can’t be seen with that thing on my bike. It’s bad enough I’m the only girl in the neighborhood who has to wear a helmet when she rides around. This is just too embarrassing.”
Once I actually got on the bike, it became clear that the elbow and kneepads wouldn’t work out. They were made from bulky, hard plastic, locking my joints in place and rendering pedaling or steering impossible.
After a couple of failed attempts at riding (some of which may have been exaggerated on my part) my mother finally acquiesced to my demand of riding restraint-free.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t budging on the flag and the helmet. My dad installed a mounting kit for the flag on my bike. It was so tall, it got caught in the garage door frame whenever I tried to go outside. It bent backwards, slowly curving over, eventually making a big “FWAP!” sound as it snapped forward like a catapult to hit me in the back of the head each time I left the house. And that wasn’t the only sound it made. The faster I pedaled, the louder I became. While my friends had badass, noisemaking beads attached to their spokes for a clickety-clack noise, my bike made a farting sound as the flag flapped in the wind behind me.
It wasn’t long – maybe about 3.2 seconds – before my friends started teasing me mercilessly for the orange flag. It didn’t matter to them that I thought it was just as dorky as they did. “It’s not me. It’s my mom!” I defended. Eventually, I realized that once I rounded the corner at the end of my street, my mother could no longer see me from the house. I developed a routine of riding all the way around the corner with the flag attached. Once out of sight, I removed the flag and placed it inconspicuously in a ditch. I arrived at my friend’s house flag-free and looking cool in my oversized Guess tee secured stylishly to the side with a t-shirt clip. (If you never rocked this look, I pity you.)
One of my most humiliating moments came when my mother forced me to wear floaties to a friend’s birthday party in third grade. I couldn’t even play the games. While all of my friends threw colorful “diving sticks” to the bottom of the pool and retrieved them for party prizes, I was stuck bobbing on the surface. It was so embarrassing. Even the birthday girl’s mom made fun of me.
Despite the utter humiliation of my mother’s overbearing safety equipment, I have to admit, my mom may have been on to something. Unlike when I was young, children are now required by an ordinance to wear helmets when riding their bikes. I also see a lot more kids wearing interesting floating apparatus these days. I suppose I can thank her for caring enough to protect my skull. Thanks, mom!