Blake’s firsts

When you have a child, you have all these dreams and expectations for them, even if you don’t realise that. The moment they’ll take their first step, their first word, their first bath, their first breath.

In my case there was definitely this idea of that first bike ride, that first mountain we’d climb together. I’d grown up cycling, being dragged up mountains and orienteering, so it seemed perfectly reasonable my son would have those ‘delights’ too. (Admittedly at age 7 falling into a patch of briars while orienteering didn’t feel that delightful.)

So, having a baby at 28 weeks and 3 days wasn’t something I expected. Nor was Blake having a significant brain bleed and being told by the consultant he’d have disabilities.

Blakey had lots of firsts I never expected – the first time he breathed without a machine, the first time I could hold him, the first time he could drink milk rather than via feeding tube. But one thing I was adamant about was that no matter what the scale of his disabilities were, he would have his first rides, his first mountains.

After months in hospital, we moved up to Scotland and in with my parents. I can’t recommend living with retirees while on mat leave enough, especially when those grandparents cycle.

‘Umpah’ and I lashed a car seat into a double trailer, negotiated with Nana that we’d wait until it stopped snowing to use it, and conducted numerous field trials with a brave toy soldier to check safety.  

The month Blakey and I started cycling, we had a permanent marshal cycling behind the trailer to make sure we were safe (Umpah). And just like that, Blakey was cycling.

We joined a Mums on Bikes social ride, more for me to meet other parents than to get confidence cycling, and a whole new world opened up to us. I couldn’t weave through traffic like I used to. I often couldn’t fit down narrow bike lanes that would get me to assisted stop boxes. We got as much aggression from drivers, if not more, when we cycled. I was in contact with other women who cycled, I was part of a community of people who also used their bike to get around.

That first year we cycled hundreds of miles together, and I realised that the rage, the risk, the violence I’d normalised over the years wasn’t good enough for my child.  Blake had more firsts I’d never dreamed of — the angry men who drove after both of us beeping and swearing, the first close pass, and sadly the 2nd, 3rd etc, the first time he heard Mummy called a bitch and a cunt because she dared to take her bike on a road with him.

I met other women who thought the same and Kidical Mass Inverness became a thing. We raised the profile of cycling for all cyclists, spoke to councillors and inspired groups across the UK to set their own rides up. Blake went from a trailer to a seat on my bike, and Umpah was still there, fewer people swore at us. We were making a difference.

Then suddenly he was 15 months, or 1 depending on how you count it, and it was time to return to paid work. I’m a Product Manager when I’m not being a Mum or cyclist activist. We came back down south, his Dad became part of our lives and we instigated Kidical Mass Reading. We’d had all of those 1sts I’d been told would probably not happen (including trips up mountains on my back 🙂 )

And it wasn’t safe for us again, we got harassed on Oxford Road, close passes, verbal abuse and the council had no idea why it mattered that cycle routes were inclusive. I was scared again, I was scared that my desire for a future for my child with clean air, streets he could play on, a habitable future would cause us another stay in hospital.

I met the Smart’s and we set up Kidical Mass Reading, next came Samuel, Blake’s Dad got into cycling, Jeroen joined, Dr Bike became an important person in my life — and once again my cycling campaigning started making a difference. But more than that, it gave us a community.

He’s now 3, he did his first bike ride on his own at Reading University in Jan, and his 2nd in Reading town centre in Feb, and to say I am a proud Mama would be an understatement: I’ve made everyone at work, social media and friends watch that video of Blake balance biking his way around a 4km safe route. I’m so proud of my tiny balance biker who finished the ride beaming and so proud of himself.

It wasn’t just me cheering him on, it was the whole group, it was every marshal keeping him safe. It was the other preschoolers he very proudly announced he was cycling to. I’m not sure I imagined one of his firsts being a group ride, but I’m so pleased I could make that happen for him. I’ve promised him I’ll make the roads safe for him — a big promise, I know. But I really hope that in a few years’ time, other kids won’t have firsts of adults swearing at them just because they’re on a bike.

Why am I writing this? I guess because these firsts were firsts that I never imagined when I found out I was pregnant, and then never dreamed would be possible after his start. Because I’m a proud Mum, who is in awe of her balance biker, who is demanding he gets a pedal bike like the other kids. Because cycle campaigning gave me a community I never dreamed of, in 2 countries, which I’m so glad to have in my life. And because we need to make sure that we give our kids better.