Chronicles of a Bike Commuter

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I’ve been a bike commuter on and off for twenty years.   But it wasn’t until I began posting about it on Facebook recently that I began to realize that maybe biking is more for me than just transportation to and from work.  I know that bike commuting impacts my daily  life (I’m definitely grumpier when I have to drive), but is it possible that the simple act of riding a bike has also influenced me in other ways?

I started bike commuting back when I was in graduate school in the Boston area, motivated partly by the fact that I had no money and partly because driving, parking and everything associated with cars is a PAIN in that city.  I biked to law school a lot, but I took a break during the long years of managing babies and daycare pick-up for young children.  Although I don’t consider myself a serious cyclist, I have returned to steady bike commuting now that my children are older.

I have to admit that, living in Minneapolis – America’s most bike-friendly city,  I have it easy as a bike commuter.  It is only a 4 mile commute to my office downtown, with most of the ride in a dedicated bike lane (thanks to the 2008 economic stimulus package for cities).  We even have a shower in our office building.  While I don’t ride in the ice and snow of the Minnesota winters, I do bike commute almost every day from late March until early December.

Everybody knows that there are obvious benefits to bike commuting.   Riding your bike to work increases your physical activity,  thus helping you drop pounds, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves your mental health, etc etc.    There is an environmental benefit as well in terms of reduced emissions.  While I can’t do anything about my carbon footprint when I travel internationally, I can do this one small thing when I am at home.  And, of course, there are economic benefits:

October 10, 2012:  The financials are in! By bike commuting for 5 months, I saved more than $700 in gas and parking. (There’s probably a way to calculate the calories burned, too but that’s too complicated for me.)

Upon reviewing and reflecting upon my Facebook posts, however, I think I can identify some other benefits of bike commuting that are a little more intangible.

I have learned to be a little more organized.  Bike commuting  require some planning.    I have a stash of work clothes in my office and a collection of shoes under my desk.  Shopping when you have to transport things in your bike panniers really forces  you to plan ahead. Many a time, I have felt like a Parisian, peddling home with a baguette in my bike pannier.  Other times I have kind of pushed the limits…

July 17, 2012: I’m getting to be an expert bike commuter. Tonight I rode home with two bottles of wine and a litterbox in my pannier.

I definitely notice a lot more about the world around me. I think it may be the combination of the need to watch out for cars and the time to reflect, but I have become a bike seat philosopher.

April 29, 2013: I saw some interesting things on the bike ride home from work tonight: old guy strolling cheerfully down the street in his boxers and fedora; lady going for a walk with her cat in a Baby Bjorn; guy singing at the top of his lungs while driving a black Cadillac convertible, MN license ISLAM4U; guy tossing hot sopapillas out of his apartment window to delighted passers-by on the sidewalk below; lady biking with her little-dog-Toto (whatever breed that is) in a Camelbak; and a lady in a motorized wheelchair racing a lady pushing a baby in a pram, both laughing hysterically.

I guess spring brings out the crazy in all of us!

October 15, 2013:  I’ve noticed that people in convertibles smile a lot more than people driving regular cars.

I feel more connected to my community.  You interact with people much more when you are on a bike than when you are in a car.

October 2, 2013:  On this gorgeous fall morning, the cop directing traffic near the Convention Center called out to me as I passed him, “Have a good ride, miss!”

October 3, 2013:   I am chronically late, always rushing to get to the place I was supposed to be 5 minutes ago. So I had to laugh at the guy who called out to me as I passed him on his bike, “Slow down there, girlie! You’re gonna get yourself a speeding ticket!”

There are certain characters along my bike route that have become familiar to me.  People that I once would have zipped by without noticing are now friendly faces.  There’s a tall homeless guy who wears a gray polarfleece jacket regardless of the weather.  I pass him walking near the Convention Center most mornings and he shouts a hello.  I can tell by his accent that he is from West Africa.  There’s a kid who goes to Whittier Elementary who I have ridden with several times for half a mile or so on his way to school.  He’s saving up to buy a day-pass to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America.   There is an elderly Somali gentlemen who raises a hand to salute me every afternoon near the Horn Towers.  And then there is Gandalf in Boxer Shorts, a grizzled old guy with a long flowing beard who generally strolls down Blaisdell Avenue wearing nothing but boxer shorts and dress shoes.

May 23, 2013:  I spotted Gandalf in Boxer Shorts again on the bike commute home. Then, one block later, a new character – Smeagol, Tan and Extremely Cheerful!

Is it possible that bike commuting has made me into a more compassionate human being?

October 1, 2013:   This morning, I stopped and helped a kid who took a wrong turn and got lost while biking to school. So I was in Good Samaritan mode, see. On the ride home, I stopped to help an old man lying face down on the sidewalk. Imagine my surprise when it turned out he was just taking a little rest between sets of push-ups.

Nope, I guess not.

October 11, 2013: If I were a”Spiritual Healer” (which admittedly, I am not), I do not think I would choose to solicit customers by standing in front of the White Castle on Lake Street and darting out to the the bike lane when the light is red. Also, I would be a little less judgmental when the bikers refuse to take my “Spiritual Healer” card.  And I would definitely not say to them,  “Ohhh-kaaaay. Your loss!”

Of course, bike commuting is not all smiles and sunshine.

October 3, 2013:  On this misty morning, the whole city smells like wet dog.

October 7, 2013:  This morning, I rode over a banana peel in the road and almost fell off my bike. Much funnier in the cartoons than in real life.

October 8, 2013:  Strong winds on the ride home tonight. Once or twice, I was standing up and peddling as hard as I could but literally going nowhere. I felt like I was in the cyclone scene from the Wizard of Oz. (Cue the Wicked Witch of the West theme song!)

 

October 10, 2013: I was biking home from a lovely event on a perfect fall evening under a canopy of majestic elms, gloriously ablaze with color …   when a bird pooped on my shoulder.

 Stay tuned!  More Chronicles of a Bike Commuter to come!

October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota
October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Mind The Gap: Would You Bring Your Child(ren) To Work?

Image source: Reuters

The current Weekly Writing Challenge got me thinking about children in one of the most adult-oriented of all places – the workplace.  Yes, I admit that I have brought each of my three children to work with me at various times, usually because of an unlucky confluence of sickness and pressing work deadlines.  It certainly isn’t my first choice, but in my experience it has worked out fine for short periods of time.  (Unless you count the unfortunate incident when my co-worker Peder accidentally got his finger chomped by my oldest son, who was teething.  New baby teeth are razor sharp. Peder claims that he saw stars, just like in the cartoons.)

But whether or not to bring children to work is an issue that many working mothers have grappled with at one time or other.  It is, in fact, the issue that has made European Parliament Member Licia Ronzulli so popular with moms like me. The photo above, taken in September 2010, of Ms. Ronzulli at work with her baby has made her a cause célèbre for working mothers around the world. 

Although she doesn’t bring her daughter to the European Parliament regularly, there are other photos of Ms. Ronzulli and her daughter Vittoria.  During a vote on the Eurozone debt crisis on February 15, 2012, reporters snapped several photos of Vittoria with her mom at the European Parliament.

Image source: AFP/Getty Images

Now two years old, Vittoria was back in Strausborg – and the European media – just this week.

European Parliament, October 2012
Voting at the European Parliament, October 2012

I think that the reasons that these photos resonate so much with moms here in America is that they symbolize so perfectly the work-family balance that all of us working moms struggle with every day. Ms. Ronzulli’s employer, the European Parliament, has rules that allow women to take their baby with them to work. Unfortunately, this is just not an option for most working moms. So we share the photos on Facebook and hope for a day when working mothers have better support. 

Support such as adequate parenting leave, for example, is important.  But Ms. Ronzulli herself was entitled to a parenting leave, but chose to take only 1 month of it.  She makes the point that it is about personal choice.  In 2010, she told The Guardian “It’s a very personal choice. A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible,” she said.   

I think that Ms. Ronzulli is right. I think that we should create the conditions to make it possible for a woman to choose the best thing for both her family and her career.  Sometimes, that might mean bringing the kids to work with her.  (And yes, I think this goes for dads as well.)

So what do YOU think?

 

Why American Moms are Cheering for Licia Ronzulli

photo source: Reuters

Photos of European Parliament Member Licia Ronzulli with her daughter keep popping up on my Facebook news feed and Pintrest.  My friends are mostly moms, so I speculate that they had an emotional reaction when they first saw the photo of MEP Ronszulli with her baby.  I know that I did.  I cheered and teared up a little, almost simultaneously.   Then I stopped and asked myself, “Why?”

The photo of Ms. Ronzulli at work with her baby is not a new – it was taken in September 2010.   While this photo caused a splash in Europe in 2010, it took  a while for it to catch on here.  That’s about right – as a country, the US is generally well behind Europe in terms of policies that support mothers.

Although she doesn’t bring her daughter to the European Parliament regularly, there are other photos of Ms. Ronzulli and the  now-toddler  Vittoria.  During a vote on the Eurozone debt crisis on February 15, 2012, reporters snapped several photos of Vittoria with her mom at the European Parliament.

Source:  Reuters

The media coverage I have seen has focused on the cutesy (“awwwwwww”) or “hilarious” aspects of the photos.  That’s too bad. I think the media missed the opportunity to talk about WHY American moms like me are cheering for Ms. Ronzulli.

Here are a few reasons:

1)  Ms. Ronzulli’s employer, the European Parliament, has rules that allow women to take their baby with them to work.  Most American women do not have that option.
2)  The photos perfectly symbolize the work-family balance that all of us working moms struggle with every day.   The fact that, according to media reports, the photo of Ms. Ronzulli with her infant was taken during a vote on proposals to improve women’s employment rights makes it all the more poignant.
3)  Ms. Ronzulli is showing the world that childbirth does not automatically flip the offswitch on our female brains.  Women continue to be productive  employees even after they become mothers.  The Daily Mail, which ran the February 2012 photo in an article titled “Does my vote count, mummy?”,  describes the 36-year old Ronzulli as seeming “in complete control in spite of having her baby on her lap throughout.”  Why is this such a surprise?  I know that I, for one, have become better at multitasking and more efficient at doing my work since I had my first child.
4) In the 2010 photo, it appears that Ms. Ronzulli is choosing to keep her 7 week old infant with her as much as possible.  In my experience, that’s important for babies who are still so little.  Yet 6 weeks is the typical maternity leave in the U.S.  That doesn’t mean that it is paid leave, however. The U.S. is also one of only a handful of countries with no national law mandating paid time off for new parents.
5) Ms. Ronzulli was entitled to a parenting leave, but chose to take only 1 month of it.  She makes the point that it is about personal choice.  In 2010, she told The Guardian “It’s a very personal choice. A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible,” she said.   Amen, sister!
6) She looks GOOD!  I know I never looked that good 7 weeks after labor and delivery, but many of my friends very quickly looked like their pre-baby selves again.   I certainly didn’t look my best when I was the sleep-deprived parent of a toddler, but the world didn’t end.  Moms like a little reminder now and then that a having a baby doesn’t slam the door on our ability to look and feel good.  Sometimes it sure feels like that, but really it’s just a temporary setback.
7) Ms. Ronzulli probably didn’t have to nurse baby Vittoria sitting on a toilet in the ladies room.  That’s something I had to do at some point or other with all three of my babies here in America.

So thank you, Licia Ronzulli, for giving us American moms something to cheer for today and a reminder of what we need to continue to work towards tomorrow!

European Parliament, October 2012
Voting at the European Parliament, October 2012
UPDATE 11/20/2013:  A Mighty Girl does a fabulous photo montage of three years of Vittoria at the European Parliament
3 years of Vittoria