One evening last week, I took Josh on a bike ride down to Spanish Banks. He was determined to make it all the way to the anchor and back home. It would be a 14-km round trip, with some decent hills on the way back. Since he was so determined, I was happy to oblige.
It was a beautiful evening with the perfect temperature for riding. We stopped along the way a few times to play at a playground, throw rocks in the ocean, and climb some logs on the beach. All was well.
On our return leg home, we had about 4 or 5 km to ride along the ocean, mostly on gravel. Josh wanted to lead the way back, and I was happy for him to set the pace. I’m not very good with gravel riding, but I didn’t expect him to go too fast anyway. I trailed behind him about 7 or 8 feet at a leisurely pace.
There was one narrow part of the trail that was occupied by some pedestrians. Josh went off the trail, riding between some trees, bumping along over some roots. He did great. Just at that time, another cyclist came up from behind us and past us at a pace much faster than ours. Josh let him past. Shortly after that, Josh started speeding up his pace. I thought he was just having fun, so I started riding quicker too. After a kilometre or so, I can tell he was straining to maintain the fast pace. I was starting to struggle with keeping up.
Firstly, I’m lousy on gravel. Secondly, I couldn’t figure out why he was riding so fast. I called out for him to slow down, but he kept flying down the gravel path, mashing down hard on his pedals. He nearly took out a few pedestrians, but he didn’t hear me yelling for him to slow down. WTF?
Finally, we got close to the Jericho Sailing Club, as the trail cuts through the edge of the parking lot. He slowed down before entering the roundabout. I was finally able to catch up to him, riding up beside him. I barely finished my sentence of, “Hey buddy, why are you riding so fast?…” His face was all twisted up, showing all sorts of emotions all at the same time within a fraction of a moment, and he started bawling. I quickly scanned him from head to toe–no blood anywhere–ok, what can be the problem? He was crying so hard that he couldn’t say a word.
I made him pull over. I asked him what was wrong. He was sobbing and snot was flying. He said, “I thought you left me.”
My mind was going at 100 miles an hour. Left you? Left you for what? Dude, you’re the one who left me behind! I was smiling and trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. I said, “Hey, buddy, I was behind you. I never left you.”
He said, “I thought you went so fast that you left me.” He was still sobbing.
The light bulb went off in my head. I stopped smiling. That other cyclist that past us a few kilometers back! Josh thought that was me passing him, riding fast and leaving him behind! That makes sense now. No wonder Josh was riding so fast all of a sudden, trying to catch up to that other cyclist this whole time!
Oh, my little guy!
We sat down on a log, while Josh finished crying and riding through his feelings. I felt so bad for him. I held him, and repeated told him that I would never leave him behind.
We slowly made the rest of the way home. We had to walk the last kilometer uphill, because he just had no energy left to ride the hills. He fell asleep in record time that night.
Me, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep that night. The scene of what happened played repeatedly in my head. I looked for any crack in the logic of what happened, but I couldn’t find any fault. I couldn’t have guessed that he had mistaken the other cyclist for me. Once I decided no one is really at fault, and I couldn’t have prevented this, I let myself go through all the feelings that came with the event. I cried and cried and cried.
My heart broke in a million pieces, just thinking that my son thought I left him behind. What a horrible feeling for him to go through! He was straining so much to keep up, and the person he thought was his mommy just rode faster and faster until she was out of sight.
Life is kind of funny sometimes. It turns a perfectly great bike ride into a shit show. But what other occasion will allow me to look my son in the eye and say, “I will never leave you, ever!”?