Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just Like Riding A Bike

Traffic Can Be Fun
Originally uploaded by busbozo
Today was 'Bike Rodeo' day at my daughter's elementary school. The YMCA brought out a ton of bikes and helmets for the kids to ride, and spent a couple of hours teaching the kids riding skills they can use on the streets- looking over your shoulder without swerving, sudden stops, right of way... Overall, perhaps one of the more potentially useful lessons these kids will learn this week. I was so happy to see them learning something practical and basic, something kids learned just by being on the block when I was a kid.

Despite my joy at seeing the kids riding around, there were more than a few moments in the morning where the kids were being fed fear rather than knowledge. Right at the beginning, the helmets went on. While I do not wear a helmet (please don't write me to tell me I am crazy- I have my reasons and they are fine for me), I have no problem with others wearing them and insist that my children do, if for nothing else than to keep them from scraping up their faces when they stack- I do not think they will provide any protection in the case of major collisions (again, I have my opinion on this, you have yours- leave it at that). As the instructors fitted the kids with various helmets, I heard one of them telling the kids "this helmet will save your life". Not 'could save your life' or 'will keep you from scraping your face if you fall'- the kids were told, with absolute conviction, that their lives would absolutely be saved. By implication, the instructors sounded as though they knew that today would be the day that death came to visit my daughter's class and that these plastic buckets would fend off the scythe of the Grim Reaper.

FluiditySo right off the bat, the kids are being conditioned to accept other people limiting their choices and ability to reason through situations by instilling fear as the basis for decision making. As my presence in this class was to take pictures of the kids learning how to ride, I was not in a position to say anything about it, nor was it an appropriate forum for that discussion. But it got me to thinking about how often our kids are controlled by fear, mostly because the adults are all living in fear. Fear of pedophiles and trans fats and lead paint and underachievement and delayed speech and public schools... have turned parents and teachers into peddlers of fear and anxiety. Children who are never allowed out of eyeshot of an adult grow up to be teenagers who can not be off the electronic leash of phones and computers with everyone they know for fear of not being connected to everything at all times.

The worst part is we have marketed this as cool. Fear of the world has become fashionable! Instead of facing our demons we have made them the fodder for talk shows, the basis of indoor play spaces with monitors at the ready with antibacterial wipes, the warning label on matchboxes telling us the contents are flammable. We have made being weak and frightened the epitome of 'fitting in'. We have allowed something as simple and basic as riding a childhood bike to become an activity that calls into question our parenting if we do something as radical as let kids just get on with it and have fun.

How do we turn back the clock on this? Is there a way to teach others the joy of simply allowing the moment to be what it is without catastrophizing it? To 'go with the flow', so to speak. Can we stop this before we paralyze our children's future, a future where they will need to be creative and fearless and brazen on a level most of us have never known? My goodness, I hope so, because we have fallen off and we need to get back on the bike of life without fear for the sake of our kids and ourselves.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A River Runs Through Us

It has come to my attention that perhaps I should write more often. I always have great ideas at just the point that I have no time! Which on some cosmic level probably means something profound, but in the mundane pursuit of daily life means I don't get much writing done. So, today, I will grab the bull by the keypad and get down to business.

As a result of no longer driving to work, I find I have time to read while I am on BART. Even if riding a bike did nothing else for me, the fact that it has given me back my daily reading time would be enough to keep me pedaling. This week I have been rereading "A River Runs Through It" by Norman Maclean. I would have never guessed that something so beautiful could be written about fly fishing. Nor would I guess that all of the parts of life could be encompassed in such a simple story.

Every time you tell a story, it changes and it is the same when you read a story. Each time it takes on a different tone and you find something else in it. I find, this time, that I am paying a great deal of attention to the words and structure of the story and in doing so, discovered a passage that I had not caught in previous readings-

"But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water. And I sensed that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit, and quietness."

How many times have I just known that something was about to be very different without anything else being terribly out of place? We have all felt that at one time or another- an absolute knowledge that everything is about to change, and like a river crashing through a gorge, there is no stopping it. The one thing that seems to never show in this is the magnitude of what becomes the non-eroding object that redirects the river. What chance encounter or impulse purchase or random book could be that thing that redirects the rest to come?

As I sit here looking at the events around me, it is obvious that we are all in midst of great change. Beyond that, I feel there is something else on the horizon that will redirect the river that is our life- a non-erodible object that will force us to turn and swirl and drop what came before in order to continue downstream.