Fade in: Chirping birds and classical music.
Hot cup of coffee, black. Kids sleeping, quiet house. Early morning stillness that fortifies the day. My Bible and journal lay next to me on the floor where I lean against the faded loveseat. I will drink my coffee, read, pray, jot down those pesky ideas that invade my mind. I want quiet time with God, undistracted. I crawled off my mattress at five this morning to go on a run. Running energizes me, but waking up so early is always met with resistance from my brain and body. I now reward myself with alone time, me time, God time. Peace.
Record scratch. Music abruptly ends. Birdsong ceases.
The phone rings. Hmmm. I see my husband is the caller. How can this be? He left on his bicycle thirty minutes ago for a fifty minute ride to work. I answer, unenthusiastically, expecting he is calling with less than good news.
“I had another flat,” he says.
“Um, okay,” I say. “Good thing you have a repair kit this time.”
“Well, that’s just it. I didn’t buy one. Too bulky to carry with me.” Pause. “I’m in the city. Orange Street. Can you come get me and take me to work?”
“Um, okay,” I say, exaggerating my irritation, lest he not pick up on subtlety.
Here’s the thing. I, as do all logical people, enjoying running. I figured this out about eleven years ago when I started having babies and had an abundance of mommy angst to burn off. I’m not an athlete by any means. I am not fast. I don’t go long distances. I did foolishly complete a marathon several years ago. Got it out of my system and NOT going to pursue such nonsense again. Twenty-six miles? Seriously? I do not have the attention span necessary for distance running. My habit is to go three-ish miles every other day, at my own pace, walking up the hills when I want to. This works for me – just enough sweat to make me feel good.
Despite my relentless adherence to this routine and my gentle, refined attempts to convert my husband to my preferred method of staying fit, Lee continues to despise exercise. Physical labor is not his adversary – he can chop wood, shovel snow, move furniture with the best of them, not at all minding exerting himself. But as his career is maintaining computer networks and his home is in the suburbs, he doesn’t get much chance to bale hay or dig trenches, so he needs some coerced physical activity. He’s goal oriented so treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, lifting weights – these all get him nowhere.
For the good of his health, he began running a year or so ago. I had deliberately NOT nagged him to do so, fearing a comeback, such as: “Oh, so you think I should exercise? Well, I think you should stop eating a quart of ice cream every day,” or “Do you think it’s wise to eat that raw cookie dough the day after you were at the doctor complaining of stomach pains?”
Whenever the poor guy finished a jog, he declared, “I hate running!” I assumed he was going about it with the wrong mindset so I coached him by encouraging him to listen to music or a book. He sneered at me. He couldn’t be bothered with lugging around headphones. I mentioned maybe he should use a mapping app on his phone to mark his route and speed, adding intrigue and motivation. More sneers! “Or how about slowing down?” I suggested. “Sometimes when I go too fast, my labored breathing detracts from the joy.” The sneer became a squinty-eyed glare. Grrrrr. Such a difficult man!
Over the years, he has toyed with bicycling as a hobby, but didn’t normally ride for a serious workout. If you want to talk about ridiculous hobbies, biking is one! It’s just too hard, for one. And dangerous. Bikes cruise way too fast down hills for me. Those little rubber brakes can’t possibly be enough to stop such momentum. And running is far superior because one must run FACING traffic. Bikers have to ride WITH traffic. I prefer seeing the cars coming at me so I can jump out of the way when needed.
Various times, biking as a family hobby has been proposed by the hero in the house, Daddy. The kids rallied around him, while I remained a steadfast opponent. Usually I end up staying home alone while they all ride away, carefree, never looking back at me with my crossed arms and scowl as I yell, “Be careful.”
Now, Lee is a smart man. I have never doubted that fact. So when he cooked up the idea to start riding back and forth to work, I didn’t roll my eyes too far back in my head. He had it all figured out – his office is only ten miles away. He would alternate biking and driving, there and back, so he would be riding one way each day. His first ride home was in a thunderstorm.
Heroically, he pulled into the garage, dripping wet. “I feel great – alive!” He said. “That was so much fun. I’m saving money and time! I’m cutting out my normal exercise time. And the ride doesn’t take much longer than driving! And think of the gas I’ll save!” He was definitely pumped for his ride the next morning.
I brought up the issue of breakfast and a shower and that he might want to get permission from his sister-in-law, who happens to live in a house attached to his business office with her family of seven. Maybe she should be notified if Crazy Uncle Lee is going to be using her shower and eating up all their corn flakes. He took my advice (or so he claims) and got all the recommended clearances from Holly before his first morning ride.
He realized he needed a way to transport his work clothes, so he borrowed Alex’s camouflage backpack. I recommended he take shampoo, soap, a razor, and a towel as well. (My unsolicited advice is endless!) Then, as if the kid backpack wasn’t enough, he wanted to use Emma’s brand new stainless steel water bottle from Bible school, but I nixed that idea and hooked him up with a BPA-heavy plastic bottle from the garage.
This man is a pilot, has two master’s degrees, wisely invests money in rental properties, spends quality time with his children, takes amazing care of his family. He is loaded with sense, so it confounded me why he waited until a minute before his departure to realize he needed water and a bag. But alas, he placed the bottle in his bike’s pink cup holder, donned his jungle-ready backpack, kissed me goodbye, and took off.
A half hour into his journey, he called to say he had a flat tire. Like the compassionate person that I am, I said, “What? Oh. Well, I could come get you but I am supposed to be taking our kids and the neighbor kid to a camp at school. So if I come pick you up, you will be inconveniencing me, our kids, the neighbor and his kids, and the camp instructors. Can’t you call one of your loyal employees to rescue you? Bye now. Love you. Call me if you can’t find anyone to help you.”
He grunted and hung up.
Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang again. Lee said he was safe at work (no thanks to you, Wife!). A friend just happened to be driving through the city when he saw a familiar looking figure on the sidewalk talking on his phone. He circled around the block to see if the man in the bright yellow shirt needed help. He did. The heaven-sent neighbor delivered Lee and his bike to work and, being a cyclist himself, gave firm instructions on what to carry along with him in the future. (Hint: Tire repair kit.)
So, days passed, the bike got repaired, and he rode home again yesterday in another thunderstorm. Our six-year-old wonders why Daddy always rides in rain. Lee was again ecstatic. He said the exercise curbed his normal afternoon ravenous hunger, he looked forward to the ride all day, his sore eye felt better. “I can’t wait to ride again in the morning.”
That’s how I feel after a run. But he won’t listen to me. He preached for a good ten minutes about how efficient biking is – saving gas and time. Better for him than running. Blah blah blah.
And that brings us to this morning when I was in the middle of my happy place and the phone rang. He made it a block further than his last flat.
I push the sleeping (one of them with a fever, I might add) children out to the van and tell them that Daddy didn’t plan well and now we have to go rescue him. Sidenote: If our parts in this drama were switched, Lee would have told the kids how great Mommy is to be riding her bike to work. How dedicated and fit she is. How smart she is for choosing to take care of herself. What a fun adventure this is to go and get her. But, can I help it if I play so well the role of martyr? I know it’s unfair to Lee, but if I can’t be mean to him, then who?
“No, kids. We don’t have time to eat or drink anything. No time for shoes. Daddy needs us right away.”
The first thing Lee says when he and his bike are settled in the minivan is, “Sorry.” I grunt. I bite my tongue, because all I want to say is – “WHY don’t you have a tire repair kit? Did you learn nothing from your last flat tire?” Oh wait. Maybe I do say that out loud.
Lee mutters, disappointed, something about needing an emergency plan in case this happens again, because his current plan is grouchy.
I deliver him to work. My sister-in-law doesn’t miss the chance to come out and laugh. After telling us to shut up, he slouches out of the van hauling with him the bike.
I love this man. When my friend calls to hear what was going on with me this morning – she sensed some distress when I began texting her at 6:30, she listens to this whole story and just laughs. She also loves Lee. She sees him with his kids all the time doing silly things like walking around the block barefoot at 10 p.m., cleaning off animal bones for Alex’s collection, baking pies for people in Cambodia and South Africa. She sees him treating me like a princess all the time. (Though I am a low-maintenance princess, who shops at Goodwill and clips coupons, doesn’t like make-up, prefers burgers to steak, hates the mall…)
My friend says, “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”
She is correct. The man should be honored – Father of the Year, Husband of the Year, Business Owner of the Year, Cub Scout Leader of the Year, Sunday School Teacher of the Year, Youth Group Leader of the Year. (Can I get an Amen?)
Whenever I start huffing about one of his crazy ideas (Hey JJ, I’m going to get my pilot’s license; I’m going to make thirty pies today; I’m going to put fish in the bathtub with the kids; I’m going wear a sombrero to Bible school; Oh look – if I cut my jeans, they turn into shorts!), he just says he is helping me out by giving me blog material. For that, I am grateful.
Applause. Fade out.