Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wanting All Sorts of Things to Happen to Them

I was perhaps the only crotchety person in my school community today who was bummed about the snow day. This is a particularly busy time for me in my work and missing a few important appointments today puts me in a quandary about just when I can reschedule them. Once I recognized that this was well out of my control and hey, it's not brain surgery (no one will die on the table), I just let it go and decided to enjoy the day fully.

The boys happily stayed in their p.j.s all morning, as did I, and while they played a variety of building and board games, I tucked into a new book, Joe Kurmaskie's Momentum is Your Friend. I read a bit about Joe at Totcycle since Julian is reading Kurmaskie's latest book, Mud, Sweat, and Gears. Kurmaskie, who calls himself The Metal Cowboy, has written a lot about his two-wheeled adventures and what draws me to him particularly right now is that his latest adventures involve serious family cycling. We are not talking "Isn't it great that I bike commute four-miles round trip to school with two of my sons" but "Let me cycle across the U.S. with my seven-year-old son on a tagalong bike and my five-year-old in a Burly trailer." Like that serious. Oh, and then in Mud, Sweat, and Gears, cycling with his wife and now three kids in Canada.

And while, I was cocooned in my warm apartment today, hanging in a hot bath, I reached this passage. And I had to stop. And re-read it. And then call P to come and listen to it as I read it aloud. And now I share this with you.

While on his cross country bike adventure, Kurmaskie meets a variety of folks, one of whom looks at Kurmaskie's kids and remarks that he should not try to tackle a particular road by bike.

"'You wouldn't want anything to happen to them,' Roy points out.

Which is not categorically true; I want all sorts of things to happen to my children. I want them to smack line drives during clutch moments of baseball games, smell the sweet bite of creosote bushes in the Arizona desert after an August monsoon, eat a pile of messy short ribs dripping in Kansas City's best BBQ sauce, and then sleep off their food comas under the whispery shade of a willow tree. I want them to stick up for themselves when it really matters, or slow dance with that girl [or that boy*], the one that makes them uncool and cotton-mouthed, at the junior high school mixer. I want them to find themselves at a loss for words from the beauty of the world, and make up fantastical names for constellations under the open sky this summer.

What I don't want is something horrible happening to them. That's what he really means. It's a small distinction, but when magnified through the video black magic of Madison Ave. and filtered by the unfounded fears of parents fueled by the nightly news, it's what cheats us all of so much. It keeps too many kids of this generation inside the trophy cases of climate controlled cars, fully insulated houses, and carpeted tour buses. Parents think they're being responsible for eliminating every possible risk, but that's just a fairy tale someone keeps selling them.

In the end, no one's safe. But it is possible to protect a kid from his own childhood. Don't misunderstand: Car seats and childproof caps have saved countless lives, and I own all that gear and more; but keeping kids under behavioral arrest, constantly lathering them in antibacterial hand lotions, moving them from one organized activity to the next in the equivalent of armored vehicles only narrows their vision, making them observers of their own days.

The trick, in my view anyway, is to manage risk while leaving room for kids to explore the world while they're actually in it. Cutting through the guidance-counselor-speak, just let 'em fall down a few times, get dirt under their nails and end even one day wet, tired, and hungry. Go ahead and let them reach for things everyone's forgotten are important" (p. 91-92).

Amen, my brother. And with that, I climbed out of the tub, rallied the troops, put snowpants on right over our pajamas, and went out for some rockin' sledding around the corner, dodging trees, and laughing all the way.

*I do hope that Kurmaskie doesn't mind my inclusion here. I just try to avoid making assumptions about whom my boys will crush on....


Please notice in the comments that Joe Kurmaskie, the Metal Cowboy himself, kindly stopped by and gave me the nod to putting his words out there. And hey, if you are looking to buy his books, buy them directly though him (get 'em signed, as well) and the proceeds go to his cool program, Camp Creative
. Contact Joe at his website or through email

Oh, and if you are wondering, Joe fully endorses his boys crushing on whomever they may like as well.


dave1949 said...

The saddest part of the parents that want to protect their kids from everything is that they end up doing more harm than good. Enjoying and living life is what is important.
I can hardly remember 1 day from another of the 30 years I spent working safely at GM but can recall 25 years later virtually every ay of my cycle trip cross Canada.
Good for you to enjoy the fun of a snow day with your kids. Many more to come for all of you

Terra said...

Oh my gosh, he couldn't have said it any better. It is the perception of risk that keeps people from experiencing life in experiential ways, like on a bicycle. Everything we do has risk - eating, drinking, walking, commuting, riding in a car, loving, marrying, etc. Isn't life, after, all just "managed risk"?

I'm jealous of your sledding. I was at the local hill the other day (with no boyfriend - he was at work - no kids (yet), no dogs (yet), and no sled - sniff sniff) just watching and smiling. I was too shy to ask to borrow a sled. Not tomorrow!

MamaVee said...

love it.

Though I am sad that it was you who add the *boy. I was hoping it was Joe b/c it would have made it that much cooler.

Quinn said...

Hi Sara and the gang - this is... Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie - no really, one of my readers sent your post over - Feel free to excerpt and quote and share - that section from "Momentum" really sums up our family philosophy - and we walk the talk more in the new book - when Beth joins us on the pedal across Canada - inspired mayhem ensues and Beth tells her side thru the footnote - which tie the literary room together. Someone asked me about my bike advocacy projects vs my book writing and I had to point out that my books are also my advocacy, activism to create a more user friendly, livable world. Couple favors asked of you and readers - consider getting my books directly from or email me at and I'll give you guys a friends of the cowboy discount - all my direct sales are donated to fund our bike centric, summer arts program called Camp Creative: No child Left Inside!
Also, drop a review of my book(s) on amazon if you have a mind to - it helps get them featured on the front page = sales = me writing more books and doing Camp Creative etc. nasty marketing truth out of the way. Thanks for reading the books and choosing to live simply so other may also.

Stray well and keep enjoying the ride!

sara said...

@Quinn, no really, Joe-- Hey, thanks for stopping by! I actually have three of your books sitting in my to-read pile including "Mud, Sweat, and Gears" & am looking forward to all three of them. Very into "Momentum..." right now & actually had fun at dinner talking about your adventures with my three fellows. They even ran to one of their maps in their bedroom to see if they could trace your route as I yelled out state names.

I will add to my post about buying the books directly from you just in case folks don't read the comments (Darn, wish I had done this). This passage that I excerpted was RIGHT ON for my family. You expressed what we believe in words I don't think I could have used. So many, many thanks!

miss sarah said...

@Quinn. Come to Edmonton!

Sara, thanks for sharing this. Again it's good to know I'm not alone. I have piano students who live no more than 6 blocks away from me and their parents STILL drive them. Not sure how to approach this situation yet....

Travis A. Wittwer said...

I finished Momentum last month. It was the first book of Joe's that I have read. I like his style of writing. Like talking to him, which I have on a few occasions, although he does most of the talking :O)

Nancy @Family on Bikes said...

I had forgotten that part of Joe's book! Thanks so much for a wonderful reminder. I love the way he puts it - I don't want anything to happen to them. Oh wait - I want everything to happen to them. And the beauty of it all is that it will.

Quite a few people criticized us for taking our boys from Alaska to Argentina on bikes, but really - what's the difference between biking the length of the Americas and biking to school every day? Except that you aren't rehashing the same roads all the time, there really isn't. You do what you can to stay safe and enjoy the ride - that's it.

thanks for a lovely post!