We bought my daughter a bike last night. In the cool of the early evening we walked to a local big box store. Right before we walked through its electronic jaws my husband quipped, “take a last breath of fresh air- here comes plastic.” I gasped a big, clean breath.
I’ve been ambivalent about this milestone, buying a “big girl” bike. It’s not that I’m worried about my daughter’s safety, or that she is growing up too fast. I’m hugely impressed by her physicality. I want to see her hop on a bike and rush off into the wind peddling her spindly four-year-old legs as fast as they can go. But that beautiful act of motion has nothing to do with the gruesome commercial act of buying a kids bike….. Dora, Spider Man, princess this, princess that, Nemo (or some sort of fish), Minnie Mouse, Hello Kitty.
Lately I’ve been overcome with a deep sense of doom about the evolutionary trajectory of humans. For all but a blink of our 200,000 years we have been a species completely immersed in moving around in the natural world- arms burning mashing the sauerkraut, calves stretching squatting picking berries, stretching of the obliques as we move dirt from a ditch, loping gait of a long distance walk, strong back from carrying a baby, weary legs peddling miles to a distant village. Our physicality, strength and clever brain have been the key to our survival. In other words it mattered how you moved, not what t-shirt you were wearing.
For me it’s one the main reasons I garden- so that I might be in daily contact with the stretch and contraction of my body. My winter squat is as tight as a child in the womb- my lower back aches and my heals retract into my calves. But as spring melts into summer I notice how limber my squat becomes. My back no longer aches, my heals reach towards the soil. I uncoil and relax into this ancestral position. Taking this pose also deeply connects me to my ancestors. Women who sat like this while doing their daily chores. Women who moved all day long. It is the only time I think of them- when my knees draw to my chest and my hands are busy.
It is the physicality of gardening, as much as the food, that I love. Sometimes I conjure a task- like moving large mounds of earthworm dense soil from one bed to another- just to feel my body move. In a society overstuffed with obesity and inactivity it seems movement is the casualty. It lies twitching in the corner- barely alive. But I try to keep it alive. I feed it small bits of the food it likes–gardening, nightly walks, hikes, bike riding. It grins in thanks but still sometimes looks too thin.
In the store my daughter went straight to the Hello Kitty bike. A large lard colored feline with a pink flashing hair ribbon stared at me from the handlebars. Mini kitties covered the rest of the bike. My child caressed the bike and talked about the colors and the nifty storage container (inside the head). She switched Miss Kitty’s bow on.
I was confused. Was this about exercise? I was overcome with a fear that movement had died. Video games, Disney and amorphous cats had won. But my daughter was in love. And I am in love with her, so I resigned myself to living with the kitty. Just before we left the aisle I gingerly said, “this other one is nice. Will you try it?” She huffed and got on the polka-dot covered bike with pom-pom handlebars. Compared to all the other bikes it was orphanage drab. She rode it up the aisle and said confidently “this one.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. Let’s go.”
I was shocked but she was clearly certain. She rode the bike to the front of the store, she rode it out the door, she rode it all the way home. She never once looked back at her parents behind her. She had spent all of 10 minutes on a big girl bike before this moment. Motion had captured her.
When we got home I asked why she decided on the polka-dot versus the Hello Kitty.
“It moved better,” she shrugged.
In a swift, defiant action her ancient voice slayed the TV. Her DNA sent out firefly messages from every corner of her body telling her it makes more sense to move effortlessly than look good. She chose movement over fluff.
Tomorrow morning we will get in the car and drive around. We will sit too much. Our bodies will not be as strong as we are designed to be. But come evening I will squat in the garden and my daughter will ride in the driveway and we will move with the ancients– the wind at our back.
Even before the “big girl” bike….