This would be a great neighborhood for bike riding, I speculated as the clonking windshield wipers ticked like a metronome on the glass. The car, at a 12 mile per hour crawl, took us around and through tree-lined streets where serene parks seemed to pop up at every bend. Zach had a day off from school, and I decided we would explore central valley suburbs without an escort from a realtor. Knowing that my gut instinct works best when given a chance, I packed the car with some gluten free snacks, water bottles, and an Angry Bird umbrella, determined to get a clear idea on whether or not we should move. As a confirmed cartophile, my maps were ready on the passenger seat.
The Bay Area had been my home for two decades, but circumstances arose that prompted a possible relocation to lands farther east. Making major decisions is not on my Top Ten Favorite Things To Do list. I agonized over whether or not to move, knowing my vacillation had everything to do with how my son would process the change. Just as I scoped out neighborhoods that day, I also kept a keen eye on Zach, hoping to get a reading on his feelings. His special needs made a family conversation about moving nearly impossible. The very last thing I wanted to do was make my child unhappy. I was on a continuous quest to find whatever I could to bring him happiness and health. Throughout much of his young life, my time was utilized in almost-daily searches. I searched the internet (which I learned to use because of this quest) for pertinent articles that would educate me in raising a child with disabilities. I bought and studied books about special diets and sensory integration activities and successful IEPs. I requested medical journals from my local hospital. I foraged thrift stores, garage sales, and craft shops for items from which I could make adaptive toys. I chased after good babysitters. I met with countless doctors, and when certain therapists didn’t seem to be helping us, I searched for others. In the early 2000s, gluten free food was not widely available in stores; quite often I was on the hunt for GF pretzels, GF bread, GF cereal, GF pasta. And perhaps most critically, I raked clothing racks for soft, tagless, buttonless, zipperless, collarless, and plain-colored clothes. With the steadfast focus of a hawk on a telephone pole, I searched the horizon for whatever could provide a happy, healthy life for my boy.
That particular rainy day, I was combing neighborhoods from the comfort of my car, but I did not know exactly what I sought. It was one of those times when you’re just hoping that the cluelessness you feel in your core will be replaced with cognizance. The rain was relentless and the roads slick. Two new housing developments looked like their model homes were open, but deep water made them unreachable. I pulled over to check my maps.
Now, there are times when what we’re looking for is easily found. Fantastic! How fortunate we are! There are other times when we’re fine-tooth combing it, and it proves futile. Frustrating. How about when the journey jumps up and drags you along? Well, I just jumped on board and enjoyed the ride.
The journey led us to a wonderful neighborhood that would be great for bike riding. And as I unpacked a thousand things in the 100 degree heat, I kept feeling the urge to go bike riding. In that Queens neighborhood where I grew up, my blue Schwinn with the white basket (complete with plastic daisies) took me on many adventures. Cruising the concrete, once those training wheels were off, gave me my earliest feelings of independence and mastery. I wanted that for my son. One of the biggest purchases we made when Zach was out of toddlerhood was a two-wheeler (with trainers), but sadly that little orange dragon remained stagnant in its cave. It was several years later – his middle school years to be exact – that a kind and caring coach/PE teacher took Zach under his wing and taught him to ride. My dream of bike riding together just had to be pursued. I had to get Zach a tricycle of his own, as soon as possible. The cardboard jungle in my new house and garage could wait to be attacked!
For months prior to the move, I searched for a tricycle. Pedaling and steering a three-wheeler was a newly acquired skill that gave Zach joy, but he hadn’t done so for a couple of months. For a kid with sensory difficulties, he donned an uncomfortable helmet just to be able to ride. My searching had led me only to rusty ramshackle trikes left too long in the rain, or to special order versions that had a hefty price tag. No amount of searching produced the “just right” Goldilocks bike. Maybe that 100 degree heat squeezed my brain just enough, and I remembered a website the realtor had mentioned. Well, okay…heat can make things blurry too. Was it neighborhood.com? Communitysomethingorother…? RedDoor?? Nextdoor?? Yes! Nextdoor.com. Account created. Inquiry posted. I paused for a minute thinking someone would magically see my post right that second and magically, instantly respond to it and miraculously have a tricycle for sale at a price I could afford, in a size just right for Zach. And…they’d be right around the corner so we could just go pick it up. We could bike ride that afternoon for goodness sake! Ugh! Maybe I was dehydrated and breathing in bubble wrap fumes!
As I unwrapped the 12th wine glass (you collect a lot of these when you live in Napa Valley), a small bing emitted from my phone. Must be incoming email, I thought, and I continued the task at hand. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Bing! I was suddenly bothered by the bing and it’s ability to barge in when my goblets needed washing. I ignored it. As the searing sun hit the kitchen window at just the wrong angle, beads of sweat rolled down my back. I sat down to check my email under the AC vent. I have an adult tr showed up in the preview window. An email message from Nextdoor.com. My heart skipped a beat. I have an adult tricycle and would be interested in selling. Wait….WHAT? Who? Where? Is this for real?
It was for real. Just like that, I found a bike for my son. Someone in the neighborhood actually had an adult tricycle that she was interested in selling. Magically, I found Aida. We went to see her that afternoon.
Aida was inside, said her husband, who was in the garage shimmying a beautiful red tricycle away from the workbench. “I’ll go get her,” he said quietly. Zach made a loud noise which caused the man to casually glance back at us. Moments later, Aida came to the front door and said, “Hello?” I could tell she had a bit of difficulty walking.
“Hi! I’m Keri, and this is Zach.” I held out my hand but wanted to hug her instead. Zach gave Aida a high five which I thought might knock her over.
“Not too hard, Zach,” I cautioned.
“It’s alright,” said Aida. “Hello Zach. Nice to meet you,” she said. Zach nodded.
“Does he want to try the bike?”
“Yes, yes…I think he should. Can he?”
“Of course, of course,” she offered. “My husband will bring it out. Our street is safe; he can go over there,” and she pointed to the dead end.
It had been several months since I joyfully watched Zach zip his way around the middle school track in the fog on Coach Wayne’s borrowed tricycle, and I held hope in my heart that he’d get on this trike and know exactly what to do. He sat on the seat, he grabbed the handlebars, and he perched his sneakers on the black pedals. And he sat. I looked over at Aida. She looked over at him. Her husband looked at her. More beads of sweat dripped down my back.
I smiled at Aida and said, “I think he just needs a little help.” I walked over to him and touched his knees, right then left. A physical prompt. I gave a little push from behind. I coaxed. And he just sat.
“Pedal, Zach.” I whispered. Nope.
Then, I looked at him and realized…he’s waiting for permission. It’s not his trike. He knows it’s hers. “It’s okay Zach. Aida is letting you ride this. She says it’s okay. Go ahead and ride…” And ride he did. Every muscle knew what to do. Every motion propelled him up the street. He went so fast and enthusiastically that I had to run to catch up to him. (Thanks 108 degrees.) When I did, he was smiling from ear to ear.
“Do you like it?” I asked expectantly. And with a gigantic nod, he affirmed he did. We u-turned back to Aida’s driveway, and she commented on how good he looked on that bike. Her husband was smiling. Zach climbed off and pointed to the garage. He wanted to put it away. He’s like that – everything has a place. His vocalizations of excitement probably made Aida and her husband aware at that point that he could not communicate verbally. I filled in the blanks and told her about how Zach had learned to ride. Aida listened and nodded, and I swear I caught some moisture in the corners of her dark eyes. There was something endearing about her, and I felt in that moment as if I’d known her a long time; as if she were that cherished neighbor who bakes you cookies just because. That someone whose house you keep an eye on without her asking you to.
Zach began tugging on my arm. He was insisting we go. I asked Aida about the price of the tricycle…a blank check tucked into my pocket. She glanced at her husband who was putting the brilliant bike at the top of the driveway. She looked at Zach and touched his chin delicately, perhaps connecting with him in a way I couldn’t describe. She looked at me and asked, “Has he ever had a bike?” I told her why we gave away the orange one. Then she paused before saying: Every child deserves a bike he can ride. I want Zach to have it. It’s his. Take it.
And it was that simple and wonderful. Her heart was open to him. Her gesture was about a child’s joy. One boy’s pursuit of fun and adventure. One human being’s freedom from the things that far too often confined him. Zach would have his own wheels, and we could literally ride into sunsets together. For all the stones I had turned over (and will continue to fling upside down in years to come) there was a magical ease to this one which led us exactly where we needed to go. No map necessary. Finding Aida was indeed a blessing.