This is me sitting on the front porch. Cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other. Ignoring both, because my son is currently riding his bike up and down our quiet street.
He’s been out there for about the last twenty minutes. My son is eight now. When you’re eight and you’re a boy, bike riding becomes something of an art. The training wheels are long gone, as is that awkward stage of trying and mostly failing to find that tiny point of balance. Speed is what matters now, and awesomeness. The first is self-explanatory. The second involves such things as zooming past while pedaling backwards and making that clickclickclick sound with the chain. Or zooming past with your legs splayed out to the sides. Or with only one hand on the bars.
He just rode past again, trying an awkward combination of two of the three—“Hey Daddy, look!”
I am. I say good job. And I hope he’s far enough away that he can’t see the look of utter terror on my face.
Twenty minutes he’s been out here. I’ve been out here for ten. And for the last five of those ten minutes, I have realized he’s not wearing his helmet. It’s sitting on my truck, placed there like an oversized hood ornament.
“HEY DADDY LOOK!” Screaming past again, one hand high over his head.
My first instinct, wild and deep and urgent, was to yell for him to get his tiny butt back here and get your helmet on because don’t you see it’s dangerous out there? You could fall and crack your head right open and there would be blood, BLOOD, and don’t you think it can’t happen because all it takes is a pebble in the road that catches your tire or a puff of cold wind that gets in your eyes.
That’s what I wanted to tell him. And still do.
But then he flew past the house for the first time with his head high, the wind tousling his hair, laughing as he stood on the pedals and pumped. And I realized that was me so many years ago. That was me on some long-lost Saturday morning, happy and free.
I’ve sat here since in this old rocking chair with my coffee and my book, trying to decide what to do.
The parent in me says safety always comes first. The parent sees that wayward pebble in the middle of the road and how fast my son is going. The parent understand things like taking your grip away from the handlebars is not only risky, it’s downright stupid. That person can already see my son wobbling just before he falls, and can already hear the first convulsive yelps of a skinned knee.
But the man in me begs my tongue to stay put and say nothing. Because my son is flying. He is in space fighting aliens or in a cockpit shooting down the enemy. He’s a superhero chasing the bad guys. And besides, a helmet may be able to prevent a great many things, but it sometimes takes more than it gives. You can’t feel the wind in your hair with a helmet on. You can’t hear the birds sing or the climbs clack in the trees. You can’t be free.
I don’t know if the parent or the man will win this argument. Secretly, I’m hoping my son will get tired soon and come in for a while. It would preserve both my head and my heart.
One thing really is true, though. It is dangerous out there. That makes things like helmets absolutely necessary.
Things like laughter in the face of it, too.