The Scar

Middle has a scar on his cheek. He got it in the spring, when he had a fall biking home one evening from soccer. Sometimes when I look at it I find myself back on the road, biking with the spouse and Little in front of me, and Middle behind me. Then I hear a crash and a scream, and I brake my bike swiftly, and look around to see him lying on the road. I get off my bike, but my limbs seem to be moving through water and it takes seemingly hours to disentangle them. I run back to him, still lying next to his bike, and as I run, I see a car approaching him from behind. My heart leaps in my throat. The car has time and room to pass, and I lift my boy and carry him to the sidewalk. The spouse runs to get the bike. Middle sobs on the sidewalk. There is blood on his cheek and his leg, and he is clutching his arm.

We get into coping-parent mode, and decide I will take him to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for X-rays, in the car-share car. Luckily there is a Vrtucar parked about 200 m from the accident. I stop off at home, for snacks and drinks and books and a blanket, because I am experienced in the ways of CHEO and know what I will need in the emergency room. We get to the hospital, he is registered, and finally I can sit with my arms around my boy and the blanket around both of us. Then the images come back, and I am seeing him on the road again, with the car bearing down on us, and I’m trying not to cry. What if? What if that car had been right behind him when he fell?

His arm was not broken and neither was his cheekbone. The scrape on his cheek didn’t look deep at the time, but still it left a scar. The doctor who examined him asked me several times whether he was wearing his helmet. Yes, yes, of course, but that is not the question, I kept thinking. The question you need to ask is, what sort of infrastructure was he biking on? That would yield you some useful data. But I didn’t say any of this.

He was biking on North River Road south of Montreal Road. There was little traffic and there was no collision with another vehicle. His wheel hit something in the road a bit askew and suddenly he was off his bike. There is no painted or segregated bike lane there. Usually on the way home from soccer we would all be biking on the Rideau River Eastern Pathway, a National Capital Commission multi-user path. It’s a lovely safe route right along the river, well away from the road over most of its length, and the children have been cycling there since they learned to ride. It’s our route to the wider world spring, summer and fall.

It was a very wet spring in Ottawa, and the path was closed because of flooding. Earlier that day I had seen lots of bike traffic on that stretch of road, including our very own city councillor biking to work. I thought to myself then that it might be a good idea to put out some pylons to make a temporary separate path for the cyclists on the road. All over Ottawa this spring, while the MUPs were flooded, so many cyclists were forced onto roads. I don’t think temporary segregated lanes were provided on any of those roads.

I recently read that a (segregated, protected) cycle track along a road is one ninth as dangerous for cyclists as a road with no marked cycle lane at all. That statistic is one good reason to keep asking for safe transportation infrastructure for all, including children. A lot of my motivation for bike advocacy is based on statistics. There is a good solid evidence-based case for why safe cities are better, and cheaper, for us all. But now, in addition, I remember that feeling, the feeling as I looked up and saw 2 tons of metal bearing down on my own child.

I didn’t cry at the hospital. I held it together and took my boy home and was in bed by 1 a.m. Then I cried. I wept my fear and terror into the spouse’s shoulder. I know now that I did not weep it all out that night. Every time I see the scar on Middle’s cheek, the fear is back. Please make the city safe for all. Please.

Dear Adam van Koeverden

Dear Adam van Koeverden

I recently saw you race your last Olympic race. I always forget how fast you are, and how totally earnest and Canadian you are in interviews. I remember you racing in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. I was in the hospital after giving birth to my third child, our daughter. I watched you in the middle of the night, while I was feeding her. I had never bothered to get a TV in my room when I had the boys, but they were not born during the Olympics. It was totally blissful to have mandated time in bed and nothing to do except look after one baby (the two-year-old  and six-year-old were safely at home with Dad) and watch Olympics.

I remember that there was something in that Olympics about you not doing as well as expected in one of your races, but that is very vague in my mind. What is very clear is an image of you in your boat, racing like the dickens, the picture of health and capability, and let’s face it, good-looking like crazy. I initially felt envious, like you were capable of so much more than I. I also felt surprised that I was able to appreciate your physical beauty not long after a Caesarean section. There was still life in me yet, it seemed. I felt the opposite of capable, with a wound in my abdomen. This was my second C-section. You see, it turns out that when I am pregnant, my pelvis separates, front and back. All three times. My first labour exacerbated the damage, because it lasted 52 hours. I had 9 months of physio, and had another baby boy three years later, by C-section to bypass the pelvis. After that pregnancy, I had 16 months of physio. Our baby girl was born 33 months after our second boy. I had a year of physio, and that was the last baby.

I lay there in my bed, feeding my baby and feeling totally battered. One sweats a lot after giving birth, and I was really itchy after the drugs they gave me for the C-section. I felt lumpish, and could barely walk, and I looked upon you as someone almost from a different species.

But then I realized that our project was really the same: to do something that was not easy for the human body to do, and to keep doing it even though it hurt. I realized that the human body was astonishing in its capabilities, and that your body and my body and the body of my little girl shared that quality. You helped me realize that, and I want to say thank you. I too am super-earnest and Canadian.