Stress and the Ideal Life

Pre-scalawags, my husband and I used to ride our bikes a lot. Taking a 90 mile trip over a weekend was nothing to us.

I rode my bike to work, which was about 15 minutes away. Not that far, but still. Enough that doing it everyday kept me moderately healthy. When that bike was stolen from under my nose, I replaced it immediately.

When I was in the clinic for a miscarriage, some jerk broke into our basement and stole both of our bikes. I lost my babies and one of the little joys of my life in the same day.

We didn’t replace those bikes. The scalawags came shortly thereafter. I didn’t get a chance to miss biking for quite some time. The thought came up from time to time: oh, wouldn’t it be fun to take a family bike ride…one day…when they are bigger…

Last year for my birthday my boys and indulgent husband bought me an amazingly beautiful vintage bike. I remember riding it home from the shop. I was wearing my rainbow dress and my funny new helmet which looks like an equestrian helmet. I must have been quite funny to look at. I was so happy.

I think I rode my bike twice after that before it began to have technical issues. Then a brutal winter. Then my husband tried to fix it, but because the bike was so vintage, we discovered they don’t make mass-market replacement parts for it anymore. For a professional to fix it up right would cost three times the price we paid for the bike. I was heartbroken.

At least someone got to ride my bike…

One solution opened up to us: a brand new association was chartered this year, a little workshop where people can bring their bikes and get help fixing them from other bike enthusiasts. This might be an option, but it wouldn’t be available until later in September.

The boys were going to be starting at a new school and we were going to need a palette of transportation options and soon. Their school is two and a half miles away. Not far, per se. But far enough that driving it four times a day (ah yes, because they still come home for lunch) is going to cost a lot of money that we don’t necessarily have. Tramway being one option (although the money thing comes into play here, too), and bicycle being another.

A very dear friend mentioned that she wasn’t using her bike, and would be happy to loan it until we got our situation sorted out. We accepted.

Trial Run

Everything is fine. We’ll be fine.

The boys did a first trial run to school with their indulgent father. The whole trip took 22 minutes, but took them through the thick of downtown pedestrian zones.

I took a partial trial run with the boys the other day, but we got sidetracked by a park and didn’t make it all the way to school.

There is a very particular kind of stress when riding with a mini-peloton. Keeping everybody grouped, signaling that we are slowing down. Preventing boys from yelling at each other when they brake too abruptly. It’s a new process of learning how to trust them, even when one of them isn’t particularly trustworthy. Add sidewalks which kind of blend into streets downtown, cars that are driving too fast on small streets, pedestrians that dart here and there…

Oooooffffff. It’s a bit stressful.

That said, it is an option that motivates the boys. So it was worth giving it a try.

The real thing

On Friday after lunch, I drove the boys back to school, having loaded their bikes into the car. They parked their bikes at school. I drove home.

At three thirty, I hopped on my borrowed bike to bring them home. It was a strange sensation, riding by myself. It had only taken one outing to get accustomed to having eyes and ears for three. When I was stressed out like that, I didn’t pay attention at all to what my body was experiencing. It turns out, riding a bike can be hard work. I literally did not notice it when I was with them. My mind was on other things.

Sure, I haven’t ridden a bike in years, so a little discomfort wasn’t unexpected. But this stark a contrast between riding with them and without them was a surprise.

My bottom hurt. I could feel how my hands had to stretch to reach the brakes. I noticed the hills much more. The bike’s handlebars are a bit loose, something I absolutely did not notice when I was with them, now it was completely distracting.

The motivation and inherent stress of keeping our peloton together had completely inoculated me to my own physical experience of discomfort while we were together.

I picked up the boys at school, they hopped on their bikes, we took a different road home. It was busy, so busy. I was aware, this time, of how differently I felt my own physical discomfort. My mind was so pre-occupied with keeping us together that I simply adjusted.

My super important back-to-school lesson

What seemed distracting and uncomfortable and all-consuming when I was alone riding a bike all but disappeared when I was responsible for the bigger picture for all three of us. While this may be a universal truth, I have never experienced it so starkly before.

I’ve been a parent for six years. I have had the gift of not having to work outside the home (not to say that I haven’t been working…I have. But as my own boss, I have been able to give myself lots and lots of grace.) I have never been this conscious of the natural anesthetic properties of stress.

Sometimes I wonder how single parents hold it all together. The answer is stress. Sometimes I wonder how women in high-pressure careers can manage their professional life and their personal lives. The answer is stress.

Stress and the Ideal Life

I haven’t felt “stressed out” in several years.

After the gents and I got home Friday afternoon, after I made dinner and finally wrangled everyone to sit down together to eat it, I found myself rubbing my eyes.

Like, unstoppably, rubbing my face. My forehead. Like I was trying to keep myself awake. I knew, intellectually, that my body was reacting to the stress of our little bike ride, to the stress of showing up on time, the stress of the ups and downs of little boy moods. But I was incapable of mastering the reaction.

I knew right then and there that my peaceful little Ideal Life was changing and I was going to need to adapt to it.

In my Ideal Life, I handle transitions with ease and without stress.

I don’t have this figured out yet. But because I know that my Ideal Life depends on reducing stress, I am hellbent on working on it. Not just the commute. Not just riding our bikes as a mini-peloton. But making the changes necessary so that maybe commuting isn’t necessary. Finding solutions that take me out of my comfort zone but take the stress out of the equation.

Wish us luck…we have the whole month of September to figure this out!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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