This morning while grinding home-roasted coffee beans for his morning cup, my husband, in his most upbeat, listen to how fun this will be voice, asked our 6-year-old if he wanted to go shopping in Beacon after school.
“No,” said our completely uninterested kid.
“We can have dinner there, too,” his dad offered.
“What if you bring a friend?”
“What if we take a car?” my husband added to sweeten the deal.
I piped in, “If we use the car as an incentive then it makes it seem like living without a car is not a rewarding endeavor.”
“Well, it’s the only way I am going shopping in Beacon,” he said tersely.
“What?” I felt like I had been punched in the head. Luckily I was wearing an imaginary bike helmet.
My husband went on, “I don’t have time on Mondays to go shopping in Beacon without a car.”
I wanted to start a fight right there. Who was this car-using interloper and what was he doing in my kitchen?
Wasn’t this the same man who just yesterday talked me out of using a car for an all-day apartment hunting trip in NYC with our 24-year old, where we would be covering distances that spanned three boroughs? Back then (yesterday) he spoke from atop his
car-less perch to say, “if you drive, you’ll just be paying the idiot tax.” When he said that (yesterday) I made fun of him for thinking he needed to shame me into make the right choice. Yet, I admit, I was still on the fence, as driving would have saved us at least three hours of travel time. In the end, we took Metro North, lots of subways, and I popped my Uber ride-sharing cherry with a 40-minute ride from Bensonhurst to Bushwick.
I am proud to say that I did not start a fight. I did, however, walk out of the kitchen confused and dejected. Are we just impostors? Zero Car Mom was feeling like a fraud.
Here we were, a mere 24-hours later standing in my car-free kitchen with my DIY, brick repointing, sewer-pump fixing husband who appeared to be hatching a plan to use our “standby” car to drive to a nearby town. The “standby” car is a red Prius donated to us by very supportive neighbors who have an extra vehicle and apparently a little guilt about their car surplus. Oh, I am sure you are thinking, well, maybe this is a really important shopping trip. Maybe your husband needs to get a prescription filled for a rare neurological disorder that sometimes causes people to completely flip-flop on their personal values. Luckily, the cure for this is available as an OTC homeopathic remedy at the Beacon Natural Market. Dear reader, how very compassionate of you to consider that my husband’s trip might be so critical to his health and wellness. He clearly does need something to happen so he can remember who he really is: the patriarch of our zero car family. I suspect, however, that my husband’s wish to travel to Beacon today was probably (and I am just hypothesizing here) to refill some pantry staples, namely our huge jar of organic popcorn and fresh peanut butter.
The good news is that my husband’s body has not been invaded and our status as a zero car family remains in good standing. Maybe all he needed was a good cup of coffee and a gentle reminder to stay focused on our commitment. (Just like I sometimes need.) A simple text from the train, with an offer to help out, seemed to do the trick.
Now I can relax. It’s a beautiful day to ride my bike to work.
A few moms at soccer practice drop-off today were commiserating about the rebellious dawdling of our second-graders. I could relate to that complaint on a physically painful level.
When my son decides to be oppositional on the trail-a-bike, I can’t just throw up my hands and say “whatever.” We’ve got places to go, dammit, and I need some serious pedaling participation!
Today Lenny did not want to go to soccer practice. I incentivized the trip by offering to stop at a local bakery for a treat. Fueled by a molasses cookie he was slightly more willing to hop on the bike for our three mile ride to the town park. However, once we were rolling I realized that my physical reserves were low. Fuck this, I did not want to do this today. Right away I was thinking, “this is hard.” I didn’t remember it being this hard the last time I did it. I was shooting for 20 minutes of travel time (my PR or personal record) or better. The weather was pretty much perfect at 72 degrees and sunny. This summer the roads were freshly blacktopped, so I knew the ride would be smooth and relatively speaking, safe. I didn’t even have any particular aches or pains beleaguering me. I simply was not in the mood to do it; but do it we would. As I pedaled, my heart pumped from the hard work of dragging 70 pounds of weight behind me, in the shape of a non-compliant six-year-old (“I’m six and a half, mom!”) and my adrenaline surged, as it always does when we travel busier roads. My mind was also working hard with a stream of thoughts:
Inner dialogue: “This sucks. I hate this. Why are we doing this?”
Inner dialogue counter-argument: “if you keep doing this, you’re going to get so strong. In a few months you’ll be kicking this trip’s ass.”
Out-loud dialogue from non-pedaling spawn: “Dad would be up this hill already.”
Inner dialogue: “Shut up kid.”
Huffing and puffing mom to slacking son: “Pedal harder. PEDAL HARDER!!”
Leisurely pedaling blossom from my womb: “Stop yelling at me. I can hear you.”
Inner dialogue: “Then fucking pedal!”
The trip home had a similar flavor, though we had less hills to climb. The reverse trip is much easier. The main difference was that some of the inner dialogue accidentally made an out-loud appearance in a burst of total exhausted frustration. Lenny was nonplussed by my outburst of obscenities. He simply said, “I wish you were dad, we would be home already.”
How did I get here? About ten years ago I started participating in amateur triathlons. I was not good but I had discovered that my body had some powers that I never knew it had. “A middle-of-the-packer” I would always say about my racing ability. Prior to those events, I comfortably identified as not athletic, in part thanks to the discouraging words of my tenth grade PE teacher, Ms. Newton. She wrote on my report card, and I quote, “not the best athlete, but tries hard.” Oh, the power of those words; she confirmed my nascent paranoia that I stunk at sports and I locked it in for the next twenty years. When I rediscovered cycling, the one sport I had been remotely good at as a kid, at age thirty-three, I was filled with trepidation. I set a goal to participate in one of the AIDS rides of that era—a 300 mile / 4 day ride from Montreal to Portland, Maine. In order to do this, I had to make a commitment to train. I remember getting loads of expensively printed motivational literature filled with beauty shots of regular people like me looking like athletes; glistening, proud, and strong. One booklet stood out. It focused on how challenging it is to commit and how impossible a goal can seem when viewed from the starting line. The message was that you have to take it a day at a time and never waver from your training schedule, especially on the days when you most want to stay in bed. The not unexpected ending to this story is that I did the 300 mile ride and I was really proud of myself.
Frankly, I was completely amazed that my body could ride a bike for 300 miles. I set my next goal on participating in sprint triathlons. I kept that going until I turned forty, got injured from under-training, fell in love, and had a baby.
No excuses. Staying committed to our car free lifestyle means there is no room for excuses. Although we can easily catch a ride, and are so grateful that so many of our friends and neighbors offer us rides, we are committed. But it is hard. Sometimes it is really, really hard.
Sitting near the parking lot I observe eight children from one small town less than four miles away arrive in eight separate cars. Another mom points out the lunacy of this. Maybe something will change if they all have to keep passing us on the road. Maybe the screaming looks like fun.
At four months I am still basking in the glory of our big life change. According to the economic researcher Steven D. Levitt, author of “Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness,” acting on important life decisions can have “a measurable impact on later happiness.” Despite a powerful urge to maintain the status quo or as he puts it, “a substantial bias against making changes” his research shows that our lives can be considerably enriched if we act now!
The research was discussed in a this New York Times article in which the journalist writes about the phenomenon of making big changes as “giving ourselves permission.” He uses the example of uprooting his family to live abroad for a year; a project that I also happen to be plotting for us. He suggests that we are all secretly waiting for someone to give us permission to do something outrageous, something big, something we have always wanted to do. The NY Times writer posits that what other people think is the thing that is holding us back more than anything else. Mr. Levitt’s research doesn’t tackle the reasons for the bias against change so much as how we can get over the hurdles rather than smoking pot under the bleachers. I agree that it takes some courage to jump into the unknown. But right now I am reveling in it with the occasional throbbing heel and sore quads.
I feel strangely invincible; like anything is possible. I guess that’s something like “happy.”
The author, in examining biases and problems inherent in any research study, suggests that some participants may have reported that they were happier after the life change, such as quitting their jobs or leaving their spouse, because, well, who would want to admit that they made that mistake? In his words, “It is possible that the coin tosser misrepresents his or her happiness not just to the experimenter, but also to friends and family,” and even to themselves. I sometimes worry that I am engaging in the unconscious mental game of self-deception to avoid “the regret associated with the action.” I really don’t think so. People may expect us to stay how we are, to maintain the status quo, but my experience is that people are curious and supportive of our choice. And that definitely makes me happy.