Yesterday Little Man learned to ride a bicycle. He is nine. He had a nasty crash a few years ago and was determined that he was just going to stick with his skateboard indefinitely. I have tried cajoling. (If he would just learn we could ride as a family.) On Saturday my older son and his friend wanted to bicycle to the library. Little Man wanted to go too, but we had to drive because he didn’t know how to ride. He made up his mind then. He was going to learn.
Yesterday, our good friend and neighbor offered to help because I haven’t had much luck. He took Little Man to the park and ran behind him for the better part of an hour. Later Little Man knocked on his door asking for a second lesson. Same Good Guy took him to the park again. He texted me a short video of Little Man Riding.
I walked up to the park with another friend to watch. The child was about bursting with excitement at having learned to ride. It was his second mountain for the day, the first having been a nearly five mile afternoon hike 1,282 ft. up Sugarloaf Mountain near Dickerson, MD. On that hike we met two women, probably a couple, one of whom wore two dramatic knee braces and was struggling on the trail. We estimated the distance and gave them our map. We asked if they needed us to call someone. No, she would regret it tomorrow, but Bum-Knees was going to get back to the parking lot.
Today, Little Man woke at six this morning. I opened one eye and there he was at my bedside.
“When can we go riding?” he asked excitedly.
I got up and so did Little Man’s sister. His twelve-year-old brother was feeling under the weather and slept in. Little Man, Sissy, and I had a bite, filled water bottles, put on sunblock and bug spray, put the bike rack on the van, and pumped tires. Same Great Guy adjusted Little Man’s bike seat and tightened the handlebars. It was ten-thirty. Our newest rider wasn’t ready for traffic yet, so we would have to drive to a bike path. On Same Great Guy’s advice, we went to a hidden little park near Little Man’s elementary school, one with wide paved paths that run alongside and over a clear urban stream. There was plenty of room for Little Man to meander back and forth as new riders often do.
The creek was babbling pleasantly and the birds were singing. The air smelled fresh and wholesome. We set off on our ride with Sissy in the lead. I brought up the rear. Little Man was having fun. He was getting more confident and less wobbly.
There was a slight hill, at the bottom is an edgeless concrete bridge spanning the singing creek. Sissy whizzed over it.
“Slow down,” I sharply advised my son.
He pulled the brakes but did not slow down, at least not enough. He started to wobble. If you have ever been in a car accident you will know what I mean when I say that there are a few seconds between the time when you know a crash is going to happen—that you can’t stop it—and the impact. You brace yourself and feel the flood of adrenaline.
I pulled my own brakes and used those seconds to whisper a hasty prayer: “Please, please, please, nothing irreparable.”
The bike flew off the concrete edge as though it were a jump. My son sailed several feet into the air like a doll tossed up in an angry child’s tantrum. He came down hard. On the creek bank boulders.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” he shouted. Then there was the shriek that every mother dreads, the one that says the child is really hurt. I ditched my own bike and ran to him. He kept shrieking. Thank God. He was conscious.
Having witnessed the dramatic accident, my first impulse was to call 911. I wasn’t sure if he could move or be moved. I wasn’t sure I could get him back to the parking lot if he couldn’t walk. He had come down so hard on the rocks I was afraid he may have ruptured internal organs or something. His sister had come speeding back. She pulled out my iPhone, found the first aid app and started through a thorough assessment. The shrieking dissolved to crying.
A gray-haired lady in bright pink walking shorts came down the path. She ignored us.
I called Same Great Guy who dropped everything to come help. We felt bones, pressed here and there, and checked joint mobility. He was scraped and bruised and sore, but he would be okay.
Two mothers with five young children between them walked by. With annoyance, they picked their way around our bicycles, haphazardly ditched in the path. They did not acknowledge us otherwise.
Little Man stood up. He limped back to the van while I pushed my bike. Sissy fished Little Man’s bicycle from the creek and pushed the two others. Same Great Guy was in the parking lot. He looked the boy over, too. We agreed that we had narrowly avoided an afternoon in the emergency room.
“We have to wash his wounds well,” my daughter wisely advised, having done a science project testing the water quality of that creek. “It’s disgusting what is in there.”
“I wish my brother was here,” Little Man sniffed. “He always knows just what to do.” I knew he was remembering how his brother had come through for him last summer. When Little Man was hurt that day, it was his brother who found napkins and compressed them to the wound. It was his brother who found the first aid station. It was his brother who provided comfort and security when Little Man was hurt and afraid.
I took Little Man home and put him in the bathtub to thoroughly wash his wounds. He has been laying low all day. We watched The Princess Bride together. I took him to get some art supplies.
“I can’t believe no one offered to help or even asked after an obviously hurt child,” I said to Same Great Guy later when he came by to check on the boy. To be fair, I didn’t ask for help. I was rather busy and it didn’t occur to me until afterward that these people had all happened upon a scene where their fellow human beings were in obvious distress and they had ignored us.
“Welcome to the big city,” Same Great Guy said. “People don’t want to get involved.”
I probably don’t need to say how I feel about that.
“How long until I can bike again?” Little Man asked just now.