Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's time.

My youngest loves "Take Your Child To Work Day."  My oldest likes it as well but between school and soccer has not been able to attend in a few years.  My place of work goes a long way towards making it fun by offering a formal program of classes and events which try and show the kids a view of life as an engineer - designing and problem solving.  Rapunzel's favorite activity is the one where she builds a tower from uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.  My boss is kind and generous and has kids of his own and he makes my schedule flexible for that day.

So far so good.

In previous years I have:  carried both kids in on the back of my Extracycle, carried just Rapunzel in on the back of my Extracycle and towed Rapunzel in the Burley wagon.  This is a ~9 mile trip so no joke for me but that's how I get to work, I bicycle and so that's how we get to work on TYCTWD, we bicycle.

So I should not have been surprised when the topic of TYCTWD came up and Rapunzel announced that this year she would ride her own bicycle.  All nine miles of it.  My suffering began at exactly this moment.  The first part of my trip has fabulous bicycle lanes but some very no-nonsense car commuter traffic.  The second leg is supremely peaceful.  The third part has no bicycle lane and frankly kindof sucks.  I began to obsess.

Would a responsible good mommy drive the car?
Could Contraption Captain bike with us to work so that we could sandwich Rapunzel safely between us?
Could Rapunzel make it over the 101 overpass with the steep incline and then the scary car off-ramp traffic?
Would we get creamed trying to get over to the left on Middlefield?
Should I force her into a wagon?
What if she was too tired to bicycle back home?
Was it too late to emigrate to Holland?

To add an additional frisson of excitement to the experience, it turned out that that this would be the day we would close on a house.  At 4pm.  In a different town.  I imagined us missing the closing, missing the chance to give away all my savings to the bank and being publicly pilloried as a scofflaw.

So what happened?

Thursday dawned....drear and drizzly.  Rapunzel, like many adults, does not like bicycling in the rain.  Did Rapunzel still want to ride her own bike?  She did.  The three of us set off together, Contraption Captain in the lead, me scowling at the cars and towing an empty wagon.  We got as far as Bryant Street and the rain picked up and Rapunzel asked to ride in the wagon.  She hopped in and opened a book and started reading.  Contraption Captain rolled her bicycle back to his workplace.  I pedaled to my workplace.  No one died.

We had a great day.  Rapunzel completed a minor repair and documented her work.  She built a tower from spaghetti.  She went to a meeting.  She played a little pinball.  Then I buttoned her into the wagon and took us to Palo Alto for the closing where we met up with Contraption Captain.  Then she was back on her own bike and we pedaled to a park and played for awhile.  Then we biked home.

I ask myself sometimes, why not simplify and drive?  I feel the frantic desire to keep my kids safe.  I know that a bicycle can make you vulnerable (although automobiles are hardly bastions of safety) and I know driving can be "easier."  So....?

When an SUV hits a sedan, the occupants of the sedan are likely to be killed (and decapitated) because the bumper of the SUV is so high off the ground.  I was reading an article about this and an SUV driver was quoted as saying that he wasn't going to put his children at risk by putting them in a sedan. Really?  You wouldn't want to put your kids at risk?  What about the kids in the sedan though, you'd be ok with decapitating them?

I want someone to put down the damn gun already.

When people tell me they are afraid to bicycle, I understand.  It can be scary out there.  When they tell me they are afraid for their kids to bicycle I extra-understand.  I adore my kids and this is not Holland where people have made safe routes for bicyclists.

But can we go on like this?  Driving bigger and bigger cars and pointing them at each other's heads?  Pointing them at the heads of other people's children?

It's time.  Put down your gun and walk...or bicycle...away.


  1. Congrats on the house closing, hope it's the base for many future happy bike rides.

    Growing up in a small business family, there were very few weeks that didn't have at least a few "child at work" afternoons or Saturdays, and I actually think that it's nice, at least at a certain age (9?) to just shadow your parent instead of having mini-professional development. My dad is an engineer (back when he graduated there was no such thing as computer science- they just called it EE, and they did it with vacuum tubes) and every day with him was an exercise in "thinking like an engineer" - and I mean that in a totally wonderful way. We spent a lot of car rides with him explaining how things work, and me building a model in my head of whatever he was describing, and asking questions to flesh it out.
    Anyway, I think that it's really useful as an elementary school kid to have experience with what "going to the office" is really like, no marshmallows and spaghetti, but dressing a certain way, interacting with people in a certain way. Even if you end up not wanting to work in the same kind of workplace as your parent, it's useful to have the straight experience of what it's like.

    I'm glad that the bike part of it worked out well, and I'd bee 100% in favor of a selective congestion pricing scheme which would charge you a $20 fee to drive in dense urban downtowns with a vehicle over 1,500 lbs.

    1. At my workplace, "going to the office" has much in common with marshmallows and spaghetti ;-) That particular pinball machine is a time-honored way for operational engineers to relax. As I mentioned she also did some of my regular workflow with me and attended my most important meeting of the week as it happened to land on that day.

  2. I started commuting by bike about a year ago. I still drive part of my commute, since it is so long, but I have a bike that folds and I keep it in my trunk. Even though I'm "out there" on the bike for part of the commute (admittedly the less trafficky part of it), it's a lot nicer than when I'm in the car - and in a way I feel safer, since I've always got an out to the shoulder (not always so with a car)

    1. Hey Jess, congratulations on your bicycling commuting. I like bicyclists and consider a part-way bike commute a totally reasonable solution. We have a folder also, a Bike Friday Tikit. Now that Contraption Captain is not commuting to SF it gets less use.

      When I bicycle I almost always feel very good and only occasionally feel threatened. My worst (bay area) fall I managed all by myself, no help from the cars. I worry a lot. Possibly because I want to control more than what can be controlled.