cafe mama

finding magic every day

a letter to my representative . january 13 . 2011

lawbreakers on the streets of portland, with raspberries
Today, I had call -- nay, imperative that had my stomach roiling and my breath short and shallow -- to write my state representative. A bill was proposed to ban the carrying of children on bikes or in trailers, punishable by an up-to-$90 fine. I sent this email to the sponsor, Mitch Greenlick of Northwest Portland, and my own representative, Jules Bailey.

I am finding it hard not to give in to a sense of great hurt and anger when faced with the text of Oregon HB 2228 and comments from Rep. Greenlick posted to Bike Portland last night. I am a parent of three small children -- ages three, five and eight -- with a husband serving in the Army in Kuwait and no car. While we're car-free by choice, it's an economically necessary choice. I used to own a car, a Mercedes SUV no less. When I began a family, it slowly became harder and harder to justify. We gave up the car in June 2006. We now get everywhere by bike and bus, though occasionally, I'll borrow a family member's car if a trip is longer than 10 miles or can't be reached by bus. I feel a great sense of freedom and control, even though I often feel poor; because we don't have a car I can afford to buy my family healthy food (we eat only organic produce and grains and grass-fed, humanely raised meats); I can afford to pay for a few activities for my boys (they're in wrestling and LEGO club); I can afford to buy books.

I wrote a post on Portland's local parents' site, urbanMamas, about this bill. You can find my comments here. But these are not, by a long shot, all my thoughts. Adopting this as law -- in fact, even "starting a conversation" about this bill -- is damaging to the very core of what I believe Oregon stands for. Other parents across the country (even the world) write me and tell me, oh, how lucky you are to live in Portland. I couldn't live a life like you live, here (in Florida or Minnesota or Washington, D.C. or Palo Alto or any number of cities and towns). You have it made.

Surely, I do. I can wake up in the morning and choose: bus or bike?; and have either choice be equally safe for my children. If I wake up in the morning and don't have bus fare (it's happened, many a morning), I still have a choice. I have three children and a husband 10,000 miles away serving his country. I don't have the choice to leave my three-year-old at home or the patience to watch my five-year-old ride his new bike, slower than I walk, up the considerable hills and over the sometimes-dangerous streets, 3.3 miles to the school where PPS has chosen to place my boys (both are special ed).

This bill says to me, own a car, or don't have children. I can't accept that -- I wonder in the middle of the night if that is even constitutional? -- it is certainly discriminatory. Families need to have a right to live without a car. Parents, especially single parents, need the ability to accompany their older children as they learn to bike. Surely you are acquainted with the terrible statistics about obesity. A third of our nation's children will suffer from diet-related diabetes or heart disease in the next 20 years.

Not my kids. Not if I have anything to say about it. Not if I have the ability to shout from the rooftops -- this is my hometown, my one heart's love, my homeland! -- that biking with children is an affirming, life giving choice. It supports everything I believe in, health and community and a slower life and time enjoying my children, not yelling at them from the front seat while they bicker in the back. Strapped in, isolated, dependent on diminishing fossil fuels, locked away from the world.

Let me tell you what we saw this week as we biked through the city of Portland. A bird's nest; a box full of free toys and mugs and glasses (we took some); a couple walking hand in hand, talking in slow voices; a squirrel who sat by the side of the road as if to say, 'you again'; a dozen mothers and fathers on bikes and with their children in strollers (we see them every week, and wave, and say hello); a weather vane in the shape of a dragon; someone smiling at us.

Last week, as we were teaching my five-year-old to ride his bike on a quiet street (Gladstone), in the bike lane, a man in a Ford SUV was impatient that he was unable to speed around the traffic-calming circle near 31st Avenue. When he was finally able to zoom past us, he pulled a screeching u-turn, parked, and shouted at me that I was a word-that-I-don't-want-my-children-to-know. He told me to get off the street. I wanted to cry, scream, punch him. But what could I do? I had children in front of which I seek to be an example.

Last night, reading your comments, Rep. Greenlick, I felt that same way again. Targeted for choices that have not, yet, hurt anyone, and statistics say are highly unlikely ever to do so. Called out as dangerous and socially unacceptable in the middle of the street, in front of my kids. Told I must conform to the most isolated, most destructive (environmentally and to communities and to the very life of my children), norms in society, or pay big. In shame. In $90 fines.

No sensible conversation can result from this bill. It is folly and it is a deep, personal insult to me and people like me. I will continue to shout until it is pulled and an apology is issued. I will work tirelessly to defeat any representative who supports it in future elections. I will support my friends and business owners whose livelihood depends on parents with children aboard (Clever Cycles, Joe Bikes, Bike Gallery, Burley, Nutcase Helmets, Metrofiets; these are only a few of the businesses who could not operate profitably in a climate where children could not ride with parents). I will express my rage this way: I will tell everyone, every day, how gorgeous and vital it is to ride a bike with my children aboard.

It is glorious. It is without equal. It is my identity, my way of life, my quiet space, my solace. Do not dismiss this as risky. Do not state that you seek to save a life, and obliterate mine, in the process.

Jules Bailey wrote me back to say he was moved by my email and would work hard to oppose the bill; since then he tells Bike Portland he has convinced Greenlick to alter the bill and, instead of criminalizing biking with kids, call for a study. Rep. Greenlick's staff wrote me with a form email before the agreement claiming that this is just like the 1950s, when parents opposed seat belt laws. I am waiting for my apology still.

ads with greatly diminishing significance

read my previous post .