Riding Bikes

It is finally spring and we’re all reveling in the sunny skies and 50 degree weather. I’ve been back on my bike more, but luckily this hasn’t prevented me from chatting with students.

On Tuesday, one of my favorite seventh graders (who wanted to share his music the other day) eyed me as I walked towards their gaggle, helmet bouncing against my bag and bike clicking along beside me.

“Hi Ms.” he said as I approached.

“Hi N!”

“Ms. can I ride your bike?”

“Sure!” my knee jerk reaction slamming against my rational brain as the word reached his ears. Maybe the middle schoolers aren’t the only ones without prefrontal cortexes.

“Well…” I metaphorically backpedaled, “do you know how to ride a bike? I don’t want you to crash and get hurt.”

“Yes, Ms., I know how to ride the bike. But I don’ have one anymore cause I crash-ed my last one.”

“Ouch! Did you get hurt?”

“Not really, my hands a little bit. They got, how do you call it, scrapped? And maybe bent them?”

“Scraped,” I respond. “I’m glad that wasn’t worse! Would you like to get a new bike?”

“Yes Ms., I guess so.”

“Well there’s a summer program called Bikes not Bombs where you can go and learn how to build a bike and then take it home. I’ll get you the application tomorrow.”

“Ok. Bye Ms.,” and he scooted off to catch his bus. As he tore away I found myself wondering if the kid had been wearing a helmet and how lucky he is that he wasn’t more hurt.

Two days later, as I rode my bike home from school, I saw three young boys dart out onto a major street to catch their basketball. Yesterday I saw a five year old wobble down a side street on his bike as a car approached in the murky darkness of a poorly lit night.

I spend a good amount of time worrying about my students’ safety, exhale only after we pass police officers on our field trips, worry about the violence of racial oppression and aggression (both micro and macro), feel the inadequacy of our sex-ed instruction, see the sense of belonging that teenagers seek, understand the biology of their, at times, warped decision-making. But it wasn’t until this week that I realized how dangerous innocent play could be.  Accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14 according to the CDC. How do we keep kids safe? What is the balance between getting kids to play outside (limiting the impact of obesity, which impacts over 18% of teenagers) while ensuring that that play is safe?

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