The past few Sundays — as her sister naps — Big Girl and I have been going for bike rides. We travel a half mile east, another half mile north, and then head east, north, and east again until we get to a local park. Inside, we slip onto the bike-only track.
I won’t lie: This is a nerve wracking process. The first segment east is pretty tame. We stop for all the stop signs. When we go north, I start sweating. It’s a very busy road, and people drive too quickly. I spend most of the time reminding her to stay all the way to the right, and make sure my bike is to her left so I’ll be the first one smooshed. The last leg is terrifying. It’s a bunch of big roads, and even though we ride on the sidewalk it makes me nuts. Still, once we coast into that blocked off bike path I start to relax and enjoy myself.
Yesterday, we made it to the park and had just started doing the loop when I realized that it doesn’t matter where we are, the kid has the ability to twist my heart so hard that it hurts. Literally. We’re riding. Big Girl is practicing standing up on the bike. And then I see it: a tiny dip in the road. I start to call out, but it’s too late. She’s airborne going over the handlebars. I watch in slow motion as her tiny little body slams into the ground, her hands, chest, and knees making contact first.
I don’t remember how I got off my bike. I am on the ground picking her up, searching for blood, looking for bumps. Miraculously, there’s no blood. I am shocked. I thought she took a face plant, too, but we got lucky. Then I start taking stock. Huge, HUGE egg on her knee. Scraped hands. She’s in my arms and I’m rocking her and shushing her and asking her where she hurts. A car drives by on the outside. “Do you need an ambulance?” The woman, who watched my daughter sail off that bike, saw what I saw and assumed the worst. I thanked her and waved her off.
After drying off her tears and making Big Girl stand up I asked if she could ride the rest of the way home. At this point, every cell in my body is screaming. NO! I never, EVER want her to go on a bicycle again. I want to carry her home, wrap her in a bubble, and protect her forever. But I resist the urge to call my husband and demand a car ride home. I do what I know is best: I make her get right back on the horse. And she does. And when we get to the end of the first loop I ask he to do a second loop. Just to make sure she knows she can handle an entire loop without falling. And she’s willing.
After, we bike back to our house. I’m losing my mind inside. It’s getting dark, and I am picturing all the terrible things that can happen. She could swerve into the path of a car. She could hit a pothole. She could ride into a parked car. We make it almost all the way home — we can see our house — when she skids on wet leaves and goes down again. She was barely moving, so it wasn’t like the last one. It was more of a slow-motion side fall. But she’s crying again, and my heart is back in my throat. This time, we start walking back. I’m pushing both bikes, and she’s walking beside me. She finally stops crying, and I coax her back on the bike. I want her to ride into our driveway so we finish the trip on a positive note. She does, and we do, and we go inside.
Later, as she sits on the floor with an old-fashioned ice pack on her knee (WAY better than using a plastic bag, BTW) I start thinking truly crazy thoughts like, what if she has an internal injury? What if she broke something? I know it’s my crazy, but it feels horrible. Later, I tuck her into bed, kiss her goodnight, and wonder why no one ever told me how hard this parenting thing is on your soul.