Bicycle Stories

There is a family in our church who makes bicycles, mainly kids’ bikes. They search for bicycles that have been outgrown or left to disrepair, take them apart, lovingly sand down the frames and carefully repaint in vibrant colors. They straighten out the cranks and handlebars and from two or three broken-down bikes create a gleaming unique masterpiece, pink with luminous ribbon bedecked handlebars for a six-year-old princess or matte black with lime green pegs for the twelve-year-old daredevil. Each bike is more than a reassembling of cast away parts – it’s crafted as a new story, the means to explore the world for a particular child or teen.

My friend did not make this bike. But this bike looks like the sort of bike he makes.

My friend did not make this bike. But this bike looks like the sort of bike he makes.

I teach a sixth grade Sunday school class, and work in the third through sixth grade department. I’ve known the stories behind many of recipients of these free bikes.

There is Abi, which is short for Abigail and woe to those who mistakenly spell her name Abby. I happened to do that – once. She has a habit of leaning dangerously far back in her chair, defying the hard tile beneath her. She also has a habit of grabbing a peer’s arm and “hugging” it, refusing to let go for minutes (it seems like hours). Those who know her look up at me plaintively, as if to say “Abi’s connected herself to my arm again,” and I give some teacher advice like “Abi, remember, we don’t touch other students,” followed by “Abi, we don’t cling to people,” as she swings off the arm of her peer to latch on to me. This, I suppose, is preferable to the times she slaps unsuspecting kids in the face, or punches their arm.

But then I ask Abi what she is currently reading – she’s always reading. She tells me and if I’ve read it, we discuss. If I’ve not read it, I ask for her review. These conversations are lively and intelligent, filled with literary insight and practical commonsense beyond the world of most eleven-year-olds. And in these conversations, I hear snippets of another story. She tells me she’s tired. She and her sister sleep on the living room couch because their dad sold their bed. She’s hopeful he’ll use the money to buy her new shoes, as she peeks her toes out of the threadbare ends of her two-sizes-two-small converse, but figures they won’t because he had to buy the Corona for a party last weekend. “He can’t disappoint his buddies,” she delivers like a maxim she’s heard countless times before.

She got a blue bike that sparkles like the night sky and fades ever so slightly into purple near the headset. It has a purple banana seat, which she loves, “ooooh, so retro!” and matching purple hand grips and basket. Abi tells me the basket is for bringing books home from the local library as she dances around on one foot, excited that she’ll not be stuck re-reading the same book for days.

Again, my friend did not make this one...

Again, my friend did not make this one…

Then there’s Elijah. The first day I met him he raced into class and slid under the table, barking like a dog. His younger sister showed up to mournfully inform me that he’d not taken his medication that morning. My husband did a masterful job of talking him out from under the table to engage, mostly successfully, in the class. The following week, Elijah limped in, slumped in a chair and stared into space while picking at a scab on his hand. We had no luck pulling him out of his stupor, even with the bribery of ice cream. He’d taken his medicine that morning. I didn’t know his full story, but I wanted to tell him to not take his medicine before coming to our class. We liked him alert, even if it wasn’t under control.

Elijah got a lime green BMX with matte black rims, cranks, seat-post and handlebars. He received it on a day he’d taken his medicine, but the bike managed to bring a flicker to his eye.

This year we have Carlos. Our Sunday school promoted one month ago, so I don’t know much of his story yet. In the four Sundays since promotion, he’s given me a different name to call him each week. There’s been Bruce (presumably in honor of Batman, given that he wears a Batman shirt every Sunday). There’s been Joe and Frederico. Last week’s alias was Homer (Simpson, I presume). Carlos is loud and talks out of turn. In the middle of class, he’s jumped to his feet and screamed, just to watch the other kids react. And he asks amazing questions, questions that show he’s thinking about things.

Walmart pink bike

Another bike my friend did not make…

Each of the kids in our class has, not just one story, but many. In The Danger of a Single Story, author Chimamanda Adichie warns against defining an individual or a culture based on just one of their stories (2009). I don’t want to use one story to pigeonhole my students. Abi is more than the girl who ignores personal space, Elijah is more than his medication, Carlos is more than Batman. In The Rhetoric of Empire, Spurr warns against “idealizing” another person or group of people. We can be guilty of labeling another person as “that poor kid sleeping on her couch,” or “that kid who has to have his meds,” or “the practical jokester,” and we miss something so much greater – we miss getting to know the person.

I asked the father of the family who pieces together unwanted bikes for kids why he and his own children invest so much time into the process. “When you’re a kid, you just want that new bike for Christmas – it’s like the pinnacle of excitement in childhood. It’s freedom to get out of the house. It’s a ticket to the library or the park. It’s like a childhood gateway into all sorts of things.”

Perhaps it’s a chance to write another story about yourself.

 

References

Adichie, C. N. (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

 

Spurr, D. (1993). The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

 

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6 thoughts on “Bicycle Stories

  1. This was an interesting take on this modules blog. I liked the inclusion of all the different stories. I really appreciate your comment, “we miss getting to know the person.” For some reason it made me think of all the times that I asked people about them and where they are from. When you sit and listen there is so much we can learn about another person from their stories.

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  2. Once again, you rocked this blog. I loved this week’s writing. I also think you should receive some kind of award in heaven for that Sunday School class! I enjoyed how you wove individual stories in with the readings. I think that is a tough thing to do. You did a great job. My favorite point is that you stuck with the theme of bicycles in the writing and how they impacted the lives of others. It was great. What a neat perspective. Although we are warned of focusing on a single story by Chimamanda Adichie, I feel that your individual stories painted a much larger picture and lesson, encompassing kindness and the needs of others. I still like the individual stories. I think that the personal level ties us more tightly to the people and their lives.
    Really nice work this week. I will read this post again and again. Your writing in funny, insightful, and tender. Way to go!

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  3. There is something beautifully peaceful and peacefully beautiful about this blog. I like the overall message about giving to the kids in a way that acknowledges their already existing stories and encourages the development of additional stories. The fact that the story surrounds the making of bikes — a mode of travel — is the icing on the cake that is this blog!

    The dialog very much enhances your story. I felt like I was in the church, making a bike, or receiving a bike myself.

    I also could relate a little when you wrote about having a conversation about books with “Abi.” My mother always said, “When you read, you are never lonely.” It’s true.

    Also, you wrote, “Abi is more than the girl who ignores personal space, Elijah is more than his medication, Carlos is more than Batman.” I know what you mean. I teach, so I never forget that my in-class students have lives (and stories) as humans outside of class. So true.

    Vibrant pics!

    Nicely done.
    Denise 🙂

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  4. What a great read! I love how the story of each child was told in a way that offered more than the one story people would see first. Abi was clingy, but she was also outgoing and loved to read, and a sister. Elijah was on medications for something but he was also a brother and probably liked to ride bikes and was happy to have a new green one. It’s interesting to see how some children wear their emotions on their sleeves and others are very private. It takes someone who cares enough to wait for another story to emerge without making the child feel threatened by rushing to try to “fix them”.

    I volunteered for a hospice organization for mourning children and worked as a facilitator for 13-15 year olds who had recently lost a loved one. We waited for them to open up, or not. We weren’t there to fix them or make them feel better about their loss. We were there to listen and allow them to fix themselves. Every person has more than one story. Sometimes they are sad stories, but almost all of those children had happy stories to share as well,

    Your writing flows easily and leads your readers along. The pictures added depth to the narrative, and, like the children in your post, were all different but similar.

    Nice job!

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  5. I really enjoyed this post! Each of the stories that you told about the kids were so inspring! It made me want to come to church just so I could be around these kids. I love that those church members build the bikes for the kids. I think that is such an awesome way to show God’s love to those kids. Your writing and storytelling ability is excellent. I’ll be honest I wasn’t really sure how you would be able to include this week’s readings in your post but you did so in a way that was relevant and well done.

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  6. Vanessa-

    Appreciate the unique response to our blog post challenge… you used the bicycles to tell the story of three children, crafting the narratives in a honest, poignant way. You showed instead of told…I felt angst for the children, and deep gratitude for the bikes. You wove the academic readings into a moving tale about bikes and kids and loss and hunger and blessings in disguise.

    Conclusion: great success.

    This reminds me of my sister’s poems, who writes from the perspective of books, boots, macaroni and cheese.

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