Mama Says
Trip out of Edgewater teaches a lesson

by Laura Fratus

(Plain Press, September 2005) Shortly after my two children learned how to ride their two-wheelers well enough to avoid swerving randomly into curbs or traffic, I decided that the time had finally come to do what I’d been daydreaming about since the summer I was pregnant with my second child: ride together to Edgewater Park for an ice cream cone. Embrace our lakefront. Get there on our own steam. Experience summer as an active, urban family.

Back then, in the summer of 1997, I’d been the happy owner of a new red bicycle with a basket and a baby seat, purchased on impulse one sunny day at Fridrich’s and immediately taken on a long cruise through the neighborhood with my helmeted toddler on board. Although I was extravagantly large with the daughter who was due less than eight weeks later, I reckoned that the opportunities to go out riding my shiny new bike would diminish once the second child arrived. So my son and I enjoyed daily rides around Ohio City and the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, gradually extending our range until one day I got the notion to pedal all the way to Edgewater for ice cream. It seemed to me a quintessential summer-in-the-city thing to do.

This was, unfortunately, back in the days before the renovation of the pedestrian tunnel that leads from Fr. Caruso Drive to the lower park. Never having attempted that route before, I was disappointed to discover the only way to access the dark and forbidding tunnel’s entrance was by carrying one’s bike down nine or ten stairs. But I was determined to enjoy this lakefront experience with my little boy, so I lugged down bike, thirty-pound toddler, and my pregnant self, one awkward step at a time. Once through the graffiti-covered tunnel that smelled of urine and stale Mad Dog 20/20, and along the rocky path overgrown with weeds, and we were coasting again toward the lake and our hard-earned reward at the concession stand.

Of course, the trip back up the same path, tunnel and stairs was even more unpleasant with gravity working against us. So by the time we finally arrived home and were sitting together in our wading pool in the driveway, I had promised my grouchy boy that we’d never do that again until he could ride his own bike. Then it would all be easier, I said confidently.

Apparently, the intervening years, my tendency toward selective and sentimental memory, and the hopeful promise of a new, bright, handicapped-accessible pedestrian tunnel combined to blot out my recollection of a few of the other challenges of that bike ride. Because when both son and daughter had had their training wheels off for a few weeks, and had accumulated several hours’ worth of practice starting and braking and making graceful turns on the sidewalks surrounding Carnegie West library, I decided we were all ready to repeat the Edgewater trip.

There was first a bungled bit of navigation in which I chose a route along West 54th to Cass, forgetting that the thrilling descent on that street ended in a sharp curve that was half covered with sand and loose gravel. When we managed to pass that hazard without skinned knees or loss of teeth, there was still the steep uphill to negotiate. Much groaning ensued. Had they not been so focused on ice cream and a cool lake, both children would have probably thrown in the towel on Cass Avenue.

But Cass’s steep hill, with ice cream waiting on the other side, turned out to be a relatively minor challenge in comparison with the completely forgotten matter of the long, gradual incline of my planned return route. It was on West 65th that the true folly of my plan was revealed, and where I had plenty of time to contemplate one of life’s little parenting lessons.

See, it turns out that West 65th Street from Breakwater to Detroit Avenue is the single longest stretch of road in Greater Cleveland. It is longer than Lorain, longer than Superior, longer than the entire east and west Shoreway combined. It is an endless, bleak and unrelenting torture. I know this because both children, having negotiated this street on their own fixed-gear bicycles, have reinforced this fact again and again whenever they retell the story of the day their mother forced them to ride a million miles on their bikes.  It is a long, arduous, constant incline, with — and this is significant — absolutely no ice cream concession stand at the top.

And this was the lesson: when my kids recall our difficult journey, they do not even remember the ice cream cone they had at Edgewater. The whole point of the trip, from my perspective, was completely lost on them, and all because the climactic moment happened at the bottom of the hill. Having earned the reward before the most difficult part of the task, the pleasure was soon forgotten, replaced with the memory of their subsequent discomfort.

But there was more to it than just gaining an understanding that, as a parent, I need to help our kids to achieve the goal before enjoying the reward. I also figured out the hard way that when I set expectations for my kids that are really for myself, I’ve got to be prepared to get off the bike and push it all that long way up the hill alongside them, getting just as sweaty and tired and cranky as they are.

Editor’s Note: There is now an ice cream shop at the top of the W. 65th Street hill.  Juliayns, at 6511 Detroit Avenue, serves ice cream and dessert. The shop opened on July 1st, 2005 – after the author’s adventure described above.

 

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