I don’t quit many things, but today I quit cycling.
OK, cycling is not quite a normal topic for this blog… unless it is… I promise I won’t spend too much time on the non-parenting stuff. (Also, be forewarned: There may be swearing in this blog post.)
Not-so-big-secret (though this blog has been anonymous since its inception… the job-related need for anonymity has lessened, so…): I live & work & play in Chicago.
Despite being named a top cycling city, I still quit.
You see, no army of blue bikes, no quorum of bike lanes can make Chicago friendly to cyclists.
I’ve been cycling in the city since we moved here over two years ago. I take my son to school on the bike. I go to work many days out of the week on my bike. I do my grocery shopping on my bike. MFA Dad & I have date nights on our bikes. … You get the picture: Obnoxiously smug cycling family. (Ok, we’re not really smug about it; far too humble for that crap.)
Until tonight. This one is done.
Why do (did) I ride? I’m a busy mama with not even a minute to think about exercise, let alone do it. Except if I ride my bike everywhere. Then I can move my body and get shit done, which is awesome! Yes, I love the environment & it makes me happy to keep my car off the road. But there’s a bus route around the corner & the train isn’t far away… so, yay, environment!
Today I realized that I love to move my body but can’t deal with the stress cycling in Chicago causes me. “Hard core” cyclists, including MFA Dad, might call this a cop-out. When cyclists quit riding, that’s a win for cars, for poor infrastructure, for assholes. All that is true.
But here’s the thing… I’m a competent, safe cyclist. I haven’t so much as fallen off of my bike since I started riding in this city. Yet my commute to & from work feels like a minefield. In fact it kind of is a minefield: I’ve changed my route more than once to avoid danger zones, which I only know to be danger zones after someone dies in a terrible accident or is otherwise injured by a less terrible accident.
Riding on the Lakefront bike path is almost relaxing, especially when its 25 degrees outside & there is hardly anyone on it. But there’s the little problem of getting to & from the path via city streets & riding home in the dark, which is alright when it’s packed in the summer but lonely & scary when there’s no one else there.
So, for me, the stress isn’t worth it. The mini-heart-attacks. The constant vigilance required to, you know, stay alive. The animosity I feel aimed at me. The honks & yells.
It’s not so much the safety as it is the panick-inducing state cycling causes me. Mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t fix this one. (Unless he can find a way to make drivers & cyclists play nice together… I’ll be waiting!)
MFA Dad asked me today if I was feeling a bit of PTSD from a near-miss I had last week. Probably. And that is no way to live. (Being a lawyer & a mom & a primary bread-winner is plenty stressful enough, thank you!)
Of course, there are many people to thank (I couldn’t quit this alone!). The asshole talking into her phone, slowly turning right into my path. The cabbie who buzzed me trying to squeeze between me & another car at an intersection, literally making me scream in fright & then accusing me of “road rage” because I let out said scream (& a few choice words) in an out-of-breath & panicky tone due to the heart attack he had just given me. No thank-you-asshole-roll-call would be complete without also thanking my fellow cyclists, who not only make drivers hate “us” even more but who have also cut me off, yelled at me, played chicken while riding the wrong way in the bike lane, buzzed me, and nearly caused many an accident in my general path or vicinity.
So I’m queuing up my iPod & finding a good book… Tomorrow I start commuting exclusively by train & brainstorming other ways to get this busy body moving in a more relaxing way.
It sucks that this is my response to the biking situation in this city. But I only bike because it (ostensibly) makes me feel good. I’m not making a political statement when I get on my bike. I’m just listening to my body. Maybe someone will convince me I am wrong. Or maybe my mental state will change & I’ll be able to handle the stress of riding again one day. But for now, it doesn’t make me feel good or strong… it makes me feel like a frazzled mess.
Which leads me to the mama-parenting thing…. I have to find a way to deal with the stress thing. Cycling took care of part of the problem very efficiently (physical movement & health) but created another (stress & panic). So now what? I’m working on a couple of posts about self care as I explore this problem. I feel there is some barrier to taking care of myself: Is it simply a matter of math (not enough hours in the day)? Is it an ugly manifestation of “mommy guilt”? Is it something deeper?
I need both a mental & a practical solution to this problem that has vexed me almost since T was born. So far, I don’t have either…
(And I realize the need for self care is universal & that we all have various obligations that complicate our ability to find the time for the activities that we need to function as individuals. But mothers in particular—and I’ll be exploring this in an upcoming series of posts—have notoriously not only short-changed ourselves but also complicated the very idea of self care…)