Nobody bikes to the dentist

It’s an ongoing joke on #ottbike Twitter. People post a photo of a bike in front of dentist’s office, or a clinic, or a hospital and marvel that it is actually possible to reach healthcare on a bicycle. This joke is a jab at the people who claim that the new hospital being built here in the next few years needs masses of parking.

We chose our dentist and our doctor and our optometrist with an eye to biking and walking and transit. It’s easy to get to all those places from our house by bike. It’s easy for the spouse and the teenager to get to work and school afterwards as well. What’s complicated is getting the youngest two to the dentist and to school on the same day.

I’m sharing this riveting tale not because it’s so fascinating to examine the minutiae of our everyday life, but to show that zoning decisions taken by our institutions have effects on people’s lives every day. Schools are far apart because of the implicit assumption that every family has easy access to a car. But not every one does.

The reason it’s complicated to get to school and the dentist on the same day for us is that the children aren’t zoned to go to the closest primary school to our house. That would be perfect on dentist days, since that school is about 1.5 km away, between our house and the dentist. We could bike to the dentist and I could drop them at school on the way home. Instead, our zoned primary school is five kilometres northeast of our house and is not walkable or bikeable. I’ve tried to bike with the children, but all the options were so stressful that we gave up after we started having anxiety dreams about the trip. Bike Ottawa has this nifty new set of maps in which you can do bike route planning with different settings for stress. Level 1, the lowest stress, is listed as suitable for children, and the levels up to 4 increase to highest stress. The routes I tried with the kids are either Level 3 or 4. I tried to get a Level 2 route, but the site told me it was not available. When I tried to find a Level 1 route, the site had me starting at our house and then biking to some pleasant place in Quebec along segregated bike lanes. It reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Well, on second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.” Indeed, but it is their school. So we don’t bike and they take the school bus.

On dentist days I can either take them to the dentist and then to school, or pick them up from school and then go to the dentist. Or I can take them to the dentist and abandon the whole school day. This latter seems rather extreme, but all the options are complicated and/or expensive. When we had a car, I just got in the car and drove where I needed to go. Now that we don’t own a car, the project is rather more involved.I started to write an explanation, but it got so detailed and confusing I drafted this flowchart instead.

If we look at the flowchart we can see that the cheapest and fastest option is Option 3, which involves biking to the dentist and biking home, and ditching school. Options 1 and 5 involve the Vrtucar, and cost about the same in terms of parking and car fees. In Option 1, the kids get a bike ride out of it too. Options 3 and 5 involve public transit. These options cost both time and bus fare.

I have tried all of the options and can freely state that the public transit options are the worst. One day I used option 5 and got home at 1.30 p.m. from a 9 a.m. dentist appointment. All of the buses that day did not come according to their schedule, and because they’re not that frequent I racked up more than an hour just waiting for various buses. I gave up on the last bus, the delightful route 9, and walked the last 2.5 km. The cost of the fares is not negligible either.

The car options seem all right, at first blush. There is the cost of the Vrtucar, but the travel time is pretty quick. Last time I drove to the dentist, however, I parked on a street on which parking was forbidden after 3.30 p.m. The dentist was running late, and I was looking at the time and paying the bill and feeling a bit panicky. Then I went outside and found a $100 ticket on the windscreen. Of course I disliked getting the ticket, but the city is perfectly within its rights to give it to me. I also disliked worrying about parking. I was sitting in the dentist chair thinking that when I’m on my bike I don’t have to worry about such time limits.

I decided after that to resort to Option 3 on all possible occasions. Little had to have a filling done recently, so I excused her from school for the day and we biked downtown. We went to buy wool for some mittens and a hat for next winter, we passed a little free library, we smelt the scent of the locust trees that were blooming at that time. We went to the dentist. We biked home, did some baking and read some books. Total cost of transportation: $0.00. Time spent together: priceless.

 

Zero Waste: The Loot Bottle

Zero Waste: The Loot Bottle

Or, confessions of a parent who hates children’s birthday parties. I am the oldest in a large family and I was burnt out from running children’s birthday parties before I left my teens. Time somehow seems to run backwards when I’m in the midst of one, and I find myself wishing it were all over.

A seemingly immutable tradition is the handing out of loot bags to the guests at the end of the party. One parent I know calls them instant landfill, and another refers to the stuff inside them as shitty bits. Still, Little wanted a birthday party with all the trimmings. Fine. I’ll have the party. But I will not be handing out shitty bits at the end of it.

Inspiration struck, helped by an assignment the teenager had for his outdoor education course. The challenge was to pack a one litre widemouth water bottle for everything you needed to stay overnight in the woods after a 65 kilometre bike ride out into the country. It really made him think about what was most essential, and about how to get as much nutrition into as small a space as possible.

Voila! The Loot Bottle was born. Children do not need shitty bits, but mine at least are in the perpetual state of needing a water bottle. No matter how many we have, there’s always a search before we head out on an excursion. I would provide water bottles filled with zero or almost zero waste treats for the kids.

I ordered a dozen bottles from Mountain Equipment Co-op. The total came to more than $50.00 so, yay, free shipping. Once they arrived I had a better sense of what would fit into them. I went to the drugstore and bought chunky sidewalk chalk, and discovered an excellent sale on Easter-themed Life Saver books for $1.00 each. Six rolls of Life Savers for a dollar!

This wasn’t completely zero waste. The candy boxes were wrapped in plastic and I had to undo those to separate out the tubes of candy. Unlike many of the candies familiar to me in my childhood, the wrapping of those tubes remains the same: a layer of wax paper, a layer of foil, and then the tube of paper holding it all together. IMG_0181.jpgThree chunky sticks of chalk fit in each bottle and I decided to put them in little plastic bags so that chalk powder wouldn’t end up over everything. I should perhaps have wrapped them in paper.

Next time I have to gird myself to throw another birthday party, I will return to my loot bottle concept. The options for fun stuff to put inside them are endless and I may even achieve a version with no waste at all. I could do bike-themed ones with lights and ankle straps.

The children loved the loot bottles. One little girl said to me, “Hey, I can take this with me when I’m on my bike!” Exactly. Then she went off with the other little girls and they sucked their Life Savers so that they could attach them to their noses and look like they had nose rings. That party maybe wasn’t so bad after all.

Monster Cookies, approved by The Cookie Monster

During the ice storm on Monday, the children were home from school and we baked cookies. I tweeted about them and the Cookie Monster noticed.

 

Here’s the recipe, for all the cookie monsters out there. It’s from The Blue Ribbon Country Cookbook, by Diane Roupe. I snaffled it out of the Little Free Library, thinking it would be full of pie recipes. It is, and lots of cookie recipes too.

Monster Cookies

1/2 cup (1/4 lb) softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 packed cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups smooth peanut butter (I used “junky” not “natural”)
4 1/2 cups rolled oats (use gluten-free oats if you want; I use Only Oats, from  Saskatchewan)
1 cup (or however many are left in the cupboard ) chocolate chips
1 200g package M&M’s, peanut or other. Use seasonal ones if you wish.

Preheat oven to 325°C. Grease or line several cookie sheets.

Cream the butter and sugars with an electric or stand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in baking soda and vanilla. Then add peanut butter; mix well. Then add oats; mix well. Add chocolate chips and M&M’s, mixing them in with a wooden spoon.

Dollop the batter with a soup spoon onto the cookie sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool, aka solidify, for about 10 minutes until you transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling. You can also use a teaspoon and make normal-size cookies.

Keep a sharp eye on any bystanders while the irresistible cookies are cooling. img_0197.jpg

Barred owls

Barred owls

I’ve been married now for over 21 years and last spring I fell in love. My marriage is safe, however; the objects of my devotion live in Indiana and I’ve never seen them in real life. One day into my Twitter feed came a tweet about a barred owl camera, I clicked on it, and that was the end for me. This year I was delighted to discover that the same owl parents were using the same nesting box. The three eggs have not yet hatched.

Last spring the nesting box was inhabited by a mother owl, her three owlets and the shadowy figure of the dad, who made occasional appearances with crayfish and worms in the dead of night. When I first met this family, two owlets had hatched and the third egg was still sitting there. When the mother owl left briefly to hunt, the tiny white owlets snuggled up to the sibling egg and slept. Then, on April 10, very early in the morning, the smallest owlet was born.

In those early days, the mother owl stayed with her young almost all the time, leaving only briefly to hunt. I left the owl cam open on the computer, with the volume up, so that I could hear if anything were happening. As I went about the house, I could occasionally hear the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” hoot of the owl, in response to her mate. They would chat briefly, with the female puffing up her feathers every time she called, and then she would settle her wings carefully around her owlets and resume her rest. 

Barred owls are mainly nocturnal, so much of her hunting took place at night. Tiny owlets need frequent feeding, so she and her mate would stock the larder overnight and then she would feed them about every 3 hours all day with the rabbit, or frog, or fish that lay in a corner of the nesting box. She snoozed much of the time, but occasionally would have her gorgeous huge dark brown eyes open. She changed position from time to time, allowing me to admire the lovely fluffy white feathers that are usually hidden under the stiff striped feathers of her tail.C9ovjVXXoAMsR95.jpg

It turns out it’s actually pretty loud inside a nesting box 30 feet up a tree in Indianapolis. The day shift is busy outside, with the jays calling, the woodpeckers hammering and the male cardinals singing enthusiastically to their modest brown mates. I already hated loud landscaping equipment, and when I heard the sound of a two-stroke engine as it is experienced in a nesting box,  my rejection of such machines was confirmed. That this poor dedicated mother, trying to snatch a nap in between feeding sessions of her young, should be so disturbed!

I was much taken by the beauty of the birds: the striped softness of the mother, the white down and tiny winglets of the infant owls, and now their brown and white fluffiness. The facial disk so characteristic of many owls, in which the feathers are arranged circularly around the large eyes, were evident even when the owlets were tiny. It has been a pleasure to see the daily activity of animals so close up.

But it’s not just a question of beauty and biological observation for me. I realized as I watched this mother that I was experiencing profound fellow-feeling with her.  I was remembering my experience with my babies as a physical experience, as a creature. After she fed her tiny owlets and preened them carefully, she settled her wings around them to provide warmth and shelter, and closed her eyes. (Click on the link for an adorable video). I remembered sitting in the nursing chair, nursing my infant, both our eyes closed and peace all around and between us. We were warm and dry and fed, and nestling together was all there was to do.

I saw the owlets, usually huddled together when the mother is off hunting, hear her approach. They stretched their wings, often almost toppling over, shot out their necks and generally got terribly excited. I was reminded of walking up the stairs to get the baby out of bed, after a nap, and hearing a sudden rustling in the bed clothes and shaking of the crib against the wall as the child wriggled in joy at my impending arrival.

I saw the frenetic motions of the owls as they eat, and the stillness of their bodies as their mother preens their tiny feathers, and I remember one day when my youngest was one or two. She was profoundly upset, her body shaking and hot, and I opened my arms to her. She came into them, pressed her trembling body against mine, and was suddenly quiet and still. I thought, “Only I can do this. Only I can be her mum.”

I saw how busy this mother owl was. When the owlets are about three weeks old, they are much more active in the nest. They eat much more, and she and her mate spend a lot of time hunting, leaving the owlets alone. As they have done from the beginning, they snuggle up to each other to keep warm. The smallest owlet is often jammed between the elder two. As they sleep, they sway on their feet trying to keep their balance. Often they lose the battle, flop over and then right themselves. This swaying motion reminds me of nothing more than graduate students trying to stay awake during an afternoon seminar. The mother is so careful with them, and takes such good care. This reminds me of the incredible amount of energy it took for me to care for my human babies. Sometimes it was hard to put their needs above my own. The mother owl spent a long time feeding her young one rainy day with the feathers on her own head wet and bedraggled. Once they were settled, she preened herself.stretched out

I admire this barred owl mother so much. She shows me that I am an animal mother too, and that my focus on the children to the virtual exclusion of all else when they were very young is natural. It makes me feel better about my extreme discomfort at leaving my babies for longer than a few hours when they were very small, and my reluctance now to have them away from me now for much longer than the length of a school day. When they come home, although they are all so much older now, they each want a hug and a cuddle and some quiet time. We all like to be near each other.

It makes me feel better about my initially astonishing lack of desire to pick up my intellectually-based ambitious busy life after the children were born. The physical reality of motherhood is more profound than I had ever dreamed. Thank you, barred owls.

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Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread

We have a new favourite loaf around here. It’s homemade sourdough, made from a starter. I am even more committed to baking my own bread after the recent price-fixing scandal here in Canada, which originated with what has been called the Emporium of Bread-Swindling. It’s also another way to ensure zero waste: bake bread, wrap it in a tea towel, done.

I use the recipe in my trusty favourite, Nancy Baggett’s Kneadlessly Simple. She gives instructions for a “cheater” starter; a small amount of yeast is added to the flour and water mixture, rather than relying on the ambient wild yeasts floating around. I have no objection to this sort of cheating, so I mixed up my starter on January 31. A day later it looked like this as the fermentation had already begun. 20180201_164633.jpgYou can see the bubbles forming as the yeast consumes the sugars and starches and releases carbon dioxide. The children were rather fascinated that yeast poo is what makes bread rise.  This whole project turned into a bit of a science experiment. The process lasts several days, at a few minutes a day.  It’s too much for me to think about when I’m teaching  undergraduates, but it suits me well when I am properly in the slow lane.

As instructed by Nancy, I fed the starter daily for the next ten days and then baked my first loaves. I’ve made two batches so far. My test subjects report that the taste is tangy and delicious, the crust crisp and delightful. The loaves certainly smell divine. I need to practice slashing the top; at the moment my loaves are a bit lopsided. Every time I feed the starter and put it back in a warm place on the counter next to the stove, or bake with it, I remember my first time reading By The Shores of Silver Lake, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mrs Boast comes to visit and gets a little baking lesson.

“But how do you make the sour dough?” Mrs. Boast asked. “You start it,” said Ma, “by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours.” “Then when you use it, always leave a little,” said Laura. “And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water.” Laura put in the warm water, “and cover it,” she put a clean cloth and the plate on the jar, “and just set it in a warm place,” she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. “And it’s always ready to use whenever you want it.” 

 

Starter

Get some distilled water from the supermarket, or put some tap water in an uncovered jar and leave it over night so that the chlorine can evaporate. People with wells don’t need to do this. Then cover it until you need it.

In a glass jar or bowl, put

1/2 cup white flour
1/8 tsp instant or bread-machine yeast

Mix in about 1/3 cup of your water, until the slurry is about the same consistency as gravy or pancake batter.

Cover with a clean cloth and set aside until the next day.

On days 2-5, and days 7-10, add 1/3 cup of flour, and enough water to keep the same consistency as at the beginning. As needed, top up your jar of water so that you have enough low-chlorine stuff to keep going.

On day 6, discard about one third of the glop before adding the usual amount of flour and water.

After about ten days, your starter should smell pleasantly sour and have visible bubbles on the top and visible through the sides of the jar.

About 4 hours before you want to mix up your dough, discard 1/3 of the starter and add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 to 2/3 cup water. Cover and let sit for at least four hours until it’s very bubbly.

The bread itself (for two boules)

7 cups white all-purpose flour
1 heaped tbsp salt
1/2 tsp instant or bread-machine yeast
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups sourdough starter
3 cups cold water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix liquid ingredients in a large measuring cup or glass bowl.

Combine the two until you have a stiff dough, At this point I divide the dough into 2 smaller bowls for rising, since my largest bowl is not big enough to proof this much dough. I do long for one of these….mason-cash-about-us

Cover the bowls and let sit overnight. I usually mix up the dough in the afternoon before the kids come home from school, and then bake before supper the next day. Last night Little made borscht, a perfect companion to homemade bread. 20180221_180134.jpg

Oil two Dutch ovens liberally. Take a stiff spatula and fold the dough in from the outside of the bowl towards the middle, turning the bowl as you go. The dough will deflate a bit and you will have a neat circular mound in the middle of the bowl. Add 1/2 cup of flour to the dough, and pat it in, turning the dough over as you do so. If the dough is still sticky and slumps a bit when you let go of it, pat in more flour. When the dough is quite stiff, make the dough into a smooth ball, tucking the rough bits underneath. Put it in the Dutch oven, and brush more oil on the top. Using a serrated knife or kitchen scissors (my rather ragged efforts are with the scissors), cut 3 slashes in the top and then 3 more perpendicular slashes, so that it looks like a tic-tac-toe game.

Put the lids on the pots and allow the dough to rise for up to 2 hours. It tends to rise rather slowly, so don’t rush it.

Preheat the oven to 450°C. Spray the loaves with water and put the pots in the oven. Turn down the temperature to 425°C and set your timer to 45 minutes. If the edges are browned, remove the lids and let bake for another five minutes to brown the tops. If the edges are still a bit pale, keep the lids on for another five minutes, and then brown the tops for an additional five. Executive summary: total baking time 50-55 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan. The crust tends to brown quite deeply because of the oil, but this does not mean that you have burnt your loaves. 20180220_171321.jpg

So now you have two loaves of bread, and leftover starter. Stir  1/3 cup of flour and about 1/4 cup water into the starter, cover with a clean cloth and refrigerate until the next time you want to bake, preferablywithin a week. If left for too long, starters can become too sour and may have to be discarded. I will be baking sourdough again next week. So there, Emporium of Bread-Swindling.

 

Teaching Kids to Cook: Stir-fry

A nine-year-old made this: Baked tofu, rice and stir-fried baby bok choy. It was delicious. She was very proud of herself. These recipes are of course perfectly suitable for adults to cook too. Here’s how:

Simple Baked Tofu (based on the recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics) and known in our house as Tofood, thanks to toddler pronunciation

1 package extra-firm tofu
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375°C. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes, and toss in a 9×13 baking dish or a cookie sheet, with oil, garlic and soy sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring about every ten minutes. We like ours really chewy so we turn off the oven and leave it in there while the rice is cooking. It is delicious and moreish and one of my sisters calls it crackfu.

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Boiled rice, as taught to me by my dad, who remained convinced, even after he had five children, that one cup of rice would always be enough. He is otherwise a completely marvellous cook.

Use 1 cup of rice for every three people. Add two cups of water for each cup of rice, and put pot on high heat. When the pot boils, turn it down to low. Check it after about 15 minutes. Once there are holes in the surface of the rice and no water is visible, turn it off and leave the lid on.

So, you see where this is going? Two out of the three parts of this meal can sit happily and wait while the stir-frying takes place in all its splattery goodness.

Stir-fried greens in oyster sauce, from the Young Thailand cookbook. Young Thailand is a restaurant in Toronto and going there was one of our favourite treats when we lived there. I have not been able to find gluten-free oyster sauce, so I just use soy sauce instead.

A bunch of any kind of greens, such as bok choy. We used 6 baby bok choys and doubles the sauce quantities for five people, one of whom hates cooked greens.
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp cold water (As you mix it, you and the child can talk about how it’s a non-Newtonian liquid in that the pressure of the spoon causes the liquid to act like a solid for a few second. Newtonian liquids, like water, don’t do this).

20180130_181700.jpgChop the greens into a size you would like to eat. Heat oil until very hot in a wok or large frying pan. Add garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, making sure it does not darken. Add greens and water and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until the greens are starting to wilt. Add the sauces of your choice and cook for about 1 more minute. Add your non-Newtonian liquid and cook briefly until the veggies look shiny and you have a little sauce around them.

Serve your masterpieces!

Our younger two (nine and twelve) started learning to cook in January. The teenager started cooking one meal a week when he was ten. He has always been interested in food, and he started complaining that my cooking was getting boring. “Be my guest,” I said. It would be inaccurate to say I taught him to cook. I prevented the occasional conflagration, but this is a child whom it has always been difficult to instruct. He wants to puzzle out everything for himself. In the early days, while he was figuring out that recipes gave quantities for a reason, we ate some odd meals. The Japanese noodle salad with a whole package of dried seaweed in it, instead of a quarter of a cup, lingers in my memory as one of the saltiest meals I have ever eaten. He persisted, and last week he made homemade macaroni cheese based on a beautiful cheese sauce. When I’m ill, I know he can step in and make sure the household is fed. And that’s the goal. Yes, we want the children to be able to look after themselves, but what they really need to is to be able to look after other people

It’s a different story with my younger children. They relish the idea of cooking lessons. Little has hers on Tuesday and Middle’s is on Wednesday. We start at 4;30 at the latest, for a 6 pm dinner. Cooking takes a lot of time for beginners. I’m trying to teach them useful menus to have up their sleeves, as well as the art of making what it is in the house. Little’s first meal was chicken noodle soup, made from homemade stock and leftover chicken from Sunday dinner. I showed her how to serve it with chopped vegetables, herbs, lime juice and hot sauce in little bowls so that everyone could make it to their own taste. After struggles with the garlic press, she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you had to be a body-builder to cook.” Once the meal was ready, she professed surprise at how hard on the legs cooking is, and how tiring. I concurred, remembering the joyful days of bathing the toddler, putting the baby to bed, and getting supper on the table, all by 6 pm. That first week, Middle made meatloaf and baked potatoes and broccoli. Once we were sitting at the table eating their meal, each of them had an expression of delighted disbelief: “I made that, and it’s good.”

Cooking has made them notice the work others do in the kitchen, and appreciate it more. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware that there is activity in the kitchen that results in a meal, and quite another to produce the meal yourself. It’s like watching Olympic snowboarding and then trying to snowboard on your local hill. It has made them think about food differently. Middle, always, shall we say, a discerning eater, decided to try out the lettuce he had torn and washed himself, and he actually liked it. He was completely thrilled to be using the salad spinner all by himself. He also suggested a lesson on roast chicken so that when he was a grown-up he could invite people over for dinner and cook it for them. One Sunday his dad taught him how to do it, along with the roast potatoes for which the spouse is renowned.

The rules in our house are simple. Don’t complain; you only have to do this once a week. Cook from scratch; opening a jar and calling it spaghetti sauce does not count. Whatever you serve, we have to eat. Right down to the saltiest noodle salad in the history of the world. But mostly it’s a joy for all of us.

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.