Do you remember that adolescent feeling when the stirring to interact with your world is bigger and wilder than your means to actually do so? Had we been in our twenties, it would have been a day for letting the car lead us, windows down and hair whipping to wherever the road and winds of inspiration intersected. Since we were fourteen we took our only option – the mountain bikes.
For a split second in the mid nineties I lived in northern California. No, no San Fran. Higher. Nope, not Chico. North, north. A little place time left untouched in the Sierras where the corners of valley stretching for sunlight are wrapped up in mountain peaks. One with the profile of a chief and headdress for alluvial fans flowing to the north and one a formidable feat of granite to the south.
There was a gala tree at the corner of our yard near the fence where fermenting apples and my teenage ideas gathered in heaps. An entire year of my life can be accounted for straddling splinters on that fencepost, looking down the hill into the valley below, singing classic showtunes and the folksy yodels of an up-and-comer; Jewel.
One year minus a few hour window when my new best friend and I entered the valley floor. The sun invited us into an unusually warm spring day, stirring our teenage boredom beyond bearability. We had to be a part of it. Hence, bikes.
Gears shifted, wheels whirred over asphalt as we passed pastures of wild grasses and the occasional cow. It would have all been very free and invigorating had it not been for the panting of the Pathfinder grinding out five mph behind us.
Yes, mom was there redefining hover before “helicopter parenting” was a thing. At some point after saying yes to our request to bike the valley but before saying yes to rationality, she allowed anxiety to overcome. She tracked us. Like a panther she persisted, following with the hazard lights flashing and an occasional honk and holler for good measure.
After a certain mileage we waved the white flag. A teenage psyche can only overcome so much. We loaded bikes on the rack and PAH-RAY-ED none of the (very small town very limited selection of) cute guys saw us with cycling helmets, let alone with this lady leaning out the window shouting at us to “push to the shoulder”.
Recently both my mom and friend-who-endured-the-bike-ride-of-shame asked if I remembered this day. (Thanks for hanging in there to be friends the day after, by the way. Not to mention nearly two decades more.) The answer to which is, of course!
It is a memory to be pocketed and revisited when my own daughter is fourteen and feels the crosshairs of independence and a need to interact with her world stir loud and unavoidable within.
I will want her to climb down from her fence feeling permission to engage in adventure. I will want to watch the freedom unfold. And yes, I will probably be totally terrified and want to offer her the experience while still controlling every aspect with my hand readied on the horn to honk warning and my head tilting out to holler cautionary reminders along the way.
Instead, I will rub this memory between my thumbs with the frenzy and familiar smoothness of a worry-rock and repeat the maternal mantra of each new generation of mothers – “don’t do that thing your mom did to you”. But we will because teenagers dream and sing and adventure and moms of teenagers worry. Just each generation a little less than the one before.