Life on bikes

The grass is always greener

Here at Kidical Mass Reading we are unequivocally in favour of cycling as a way of transporting children. It’s environmentally friendly, it models and encourages healthy habits, and cycling is simply great fun.

Lots of people think there are physical problems with having children and not owning a car, but products exist to solve all of them that I’ve found. Hills? E-bike. Multiple kids? Cargo bike. Rain? Waterproofs. Distance? Trains. That one journey every two months that is really hard without a car? Car club. (If you have a particular problem that isn’t listed here and you don’t know how to solve, I recommend asking in the Facebook group Family Cycling UK, which is a fount of useful information).

However, and I’m going to be honest here and hope you will think kindly of me, there is one element of car life that I envy. It is the fact that the family car is a portable, private space which is usually in your vicinity. In it you can legally and safely restrain an overtired, overwhelmed and overstimulated small child (yes, I do mean one that’s screaming like a banshee) and get them home, whether they want you to or not. Being a car free family forces us to do more of our parenting in public.

I recently found myself about three hours from home (by a mix of walking/public transport) with two children, including one that was very suddenly FINISHED. Hungry, tired, 50% trying to drop to the pavement, 50% trying to run away, 0% trying to cooperate. He wasn’t being particularly quiet about his distress either (and boy do I love getting those looks from passers by). I had a few hairy moments of wondering what would happen if I couldn’t calm him down enough that we could safely acquire more food, until I remembered that I had a slightly stale sandwich in my bag from the day before. He ate that, and sufficient harmony was restored that I could get us onto a train with more food. All hail the stale sandwich.

On the school run when my youngest is in a particularly contrary mood, he occasionally decides to throw his weight around. He’s big enough now that I don’t feel safe riding when he does this, and I have to pull over and wait until he agrees to stop, or walk the bike home. I’d love to make the consequence of doing this that he has to walk home himself (which I think would be a big enough deterrent if done once to turn that “occasionally” into a “never”), but I can’t safely manage him and push the bike when he’s in that mood so that isn’t an option.

I guess, in theory, I think it’s better for our kid’s emotional growth and resilience that when they hit meltdown we help them to find a way to control it and make a better behaviour choice. In practice, I would sometimes welcome the ability to remove all their choices by strapping them into a car seat.

You might be wondering why I wrote this blog post – I’m partly wondering that too. Overall, I obviously love being a family that bikes. I really, really don’t want to put anyone off. Those meltdowns were easier to handle physically when the kids were small, and they’re rare now the kids are older. I think that’s down to a combination of more adult responses from them, and better planning from us to avoid getting to the point where they are that hungry and tired without a plan for dealing with it (there were reasons, that day, why that wasn’t possible).

I suppose I’m hoping for two things from writing this. Firstly, if you have little ones and you travel in public, and you have had bad days that look like my bad day, I hope you feel a little less alone. Secondly, whether you have little ones or not, if you see parent carrying a screaming toddler like a potato sack (whether that’s towards a bike or a car), please be kind to them. They’re having a really awful day.

P.S. we know travelling in a car with a screaming toddler is also hard. Actually, we know some parts of parenting are just hard, whatever options you choose.