You'll save us, won't you? My kids the idealists

Ann Handley inspired me with her piece Innocents at Home, about the optimistic and idealistic Millenials. Go read it now—I’ll wait (and hope that you come back—you could get lost reading her other posts, and I’d understand).

I have a couple of those innocent idealists at my place too, although Eldest Daughter would probably describe herself as more of a cynical pessimist or pragmatist than an idealist.

Eldest Daughter is 19 now. She loves it when I say that out loud, “my 19-year-old.” I am somewhat less fond of this, since I can't continue to be 35 in my head unless I had her at 16, which I didn't.

Her birth came six days after I was elected to the Idaho legislature on my birthday lo, these many moons ago. I went home from an organizing session the weekend after the election, woke up at 2 a.m. to pee, and my water broke. Nine weeks later, I was in Boise with her as a freshman legislator and new mom.

There was (I assume still is—legislative traditions don’t change quickly) a color-coded name tag system in use that let you identify people at a glance in the capitol: white type on black for House members, black type on white for Senate, white on green (the color of money) for registered lobbyists, white on red (the color of we’re-out-of-money) for staff in the executive branch.

My friend Jane, who at the time served as executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, had name tags made for my baby and a girl born to another freshman D House member a week after mine (and here I thought I was so unique, campaigning pregnant and all). The name tag for my bundle o’ joy, burgundy type on light pink, read “District 2 Legislative Baby” with her name.

And thus, the die was cast: She’s always been a political baby. She has a poster of four-time Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus autographed "to the future governor." She has been in parades doing the float queen wave, but not as a float queen--she walked alongside her mom the candidate. She has gone doorbelling a few times, although I quickly realized that people would think we were Jehovah's Witnesses if I brought a kid with me. She listens to NPR.

Second Daughter is 15, born in 1994 (the year I lost my re-election bid for the State Senate, after winning the seat in 1992). That means she was six in May 2001, about a month away from her seventh birthday, when U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent.

I remember it because she burst into the garage to announce, “Mom! Jim Jeffords left the Republicans! Now education will be safe!” She knew the balance of power in the Senate had changed and that the change would affect policy. (You may also guess from this that she had been exposed to influences and opinions from a Democrat.)

Let me repeat—she was six years old.

This is the same kid who, just a couple of years later after becoming a vegetarian, would walk around her elementary school handing notes to people that read “Save a cow—be a vegetarian” and “Cows don’t eat people—why should people eat cows?”. She carried a petition to gather signatures asking Skittles to remove gelatin from their recipe so it would be a vegetarian candy (which it is in Europe, apparently. What gives, Skittles?).

Second Daughter also quizzed me when she was in a math team in about fifth grade as to whether the president really needs to know math, since she plans to be president someday. (Her comment when Hillary Clinton was doing well in the 2008 primaries was, “No—I want to be the first woman president!” to which I responded, “Sweetie, I can’t wait that long—you won’t be 35 and eligible to run for another 20+ years”). (And yes, the president needs to know math.)

I remember reacting defensively when Eldest Daughter—at about age 12 or so—responded to some news story about environmental devastation by turning to me and saying, “Your generation ruined everything.”

Now, hang on just a second....

For one thing, I’m really from the very tippy-tippy-trailing-edge of the Baby Boomer generation, not dead center where the big rabbit sits in the boa constrictor, so it’s not my fault, right?

For another thing, that generation did manage to work its way--painfully at times--through civil rights, feminism, the Environmental Protection Act, access for people with disabilities, and other signs of progress. They/we didn’t ruin everything.

Still, she had a point. The consumption-driven economy creating/created by our nation’s wealth after World War II used up a lot, and we’re now seeing the cracks and potholes in that system.

My daughters think and talk about big issues. They recycle without having to think about it. When Eldest Daughter realized she wouldn't be able to vote in the historic 2008 presidential election, she said, "Oh, well, I'll get to vote in the school bond and levy!". They pay attention to the news. They accept, embrace and exemplify human differences I wasn’t even exposed to as a kid. They're smart and compassionate.

They’re going to save the world.

I’m counting on it.

Friday the 13th, Or, Why Some People Need to Lose a Driver’s License

Two things happened today, one lucky and one unlucky.

Lucky: My older sister sent an email to the family distribution list to announce that finally—FINALLY—my dad will no longer be endangering the pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, small pets, landscaping and signposts of Lewiston, Idaho. That is to say, she’s going to sell his car and he won’t drive any more.

Last week Dad turned 92. For years his hearing has been going, his eyesight has been getting worse, and his interest in following all those “suggestions” planted along his route (like, say, STOP, or 35 mph, or SLOW—School Zone) has been decreasing while the terror threat level has been increasing.

Some of his cognitive abilities have probably faded a bit, too, since he can’t tell you much about whatever little incidents are behind the numerous scrapes, dings and dents in his gold Honda station wagon. (Ever since my parents moved to Lewiston in 2001, I’ve told any friends planning to visit the town to flee for their lives if they see a car matching this description headed their way.)

My sister has been dealing with this for years, bless her heart. Even after she worked with Dad’s doctor and had a meeting with him and Dad that included some tearful moments and the clear statement that his driving days were over, Dad went right back to the dementia facility where he lives with Mom (who has vascular dementia, which I’ve written about here and here) and tried to load her in the car and take her for a visit to his younger brother. Luckily the on-the-ball staff at Guardian Angel knew about the situation and handled it with great creativity (lured him back in, snagged the keys, disconnected the car’s battery, and called my sister. Way to think on your feet, people!).

Now the car is physically gone so that won’t happen again, and Dad seems to have accepted it. I feel great certainty that lives have been saved (and I know for 110% certain that property damage will go down).

The email from my sister arrived this morning, providing an appropriate context for….

Unlucky: I was almost hit by a car today. Driven by an old man with gray hair who couldn’t quite meet my eyes at first after we both stopped, shaken. A man who made me think of my father.

Backing up, here’s what happened:

Leaving a great potluck we had at work and lugging a small laundry basket with my Crockpot, the remains of a batch of African Yam Peanut Soup (vegan AND gluten-free—I’ll post the recipe one of these days), the coffee travel mug I won as a door prize, and my backpack with cell phone, laptop etc., I looked both ways before stepping into the crosswalk.

This crosswalk is one of several on Spokane Falls Boulevard, a four-lane street that runs through the heart of the WSU Spokane campus. We’re looking forward to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Way that will help route some of the traffic to the south edge of campus and off this particular road, to help calm the traffic. As you might imagine, I’m looking forward to that even more eagerly after today.

As you enter from either direction, road signs tell you that you’re coming into a campus. Westbound on SF Boulevard, though, drivers have a tendency to slingshot around a curve as the street crosses over the Spokane River. They come shooting into the heart of campus, passing one crosswalk about a half-block before reaching the one I was using.

There’s a median we like to call the “Island of Refuge” in the middle of the road. I crossed the eastbound lanes successfully, paused at the median and looked to my right. I saw cars and trucks up the street with plenty of room to stop, paused, and took a step.

Over the years we’ve all learned to be a little bit bold in asserting our rights as pedestrians on this stretch. It’s like taming wild animals: make eye contact, speak in a soothing voice, but show them who’s the alpha.

I took another step as I looked to my right again, just to be sure we all agreed I had the legal right of way.

A compact car was bearing down on me without slowing a bit, doing at least 35mph in this 25mph campus zone.

The driver and I both realized this at the same moment. I heard the brakes screeching and the smell of burning rubber filled the air as I leaped back toward the median. The car was about three or four feet away by the time I started my backward move—close enough that I could have fallen forward and hit the hood with my hand, had I not been trying desperately to avoid any physical contact whatsoever.

When the car came to a stop—smack dab on top of the crosswalk I had entered—we both just stopped. I stood there, looking at the driver, who had his head down and didn’t seem to want eye contact. He finally rolled the window down, looked at me and said, “Sorry. I guess I was daydreaming.”

“Okay, well, this is a campus zone,” I said, not knowing exactly what to say. (Screaming “You stupid a-hole” isn’t really my style. I can hear all of you saying that, though, and I don’t disagree.)

He rolled the window up and pulled away, revealing a rear tail light held in by tape that demonstrates he’s been in at least one impact accident already.

I looked to my right again. Every other driver was frozen at the wheel, probably thinking they were going to witness a body flying into the air and hoping it wouldn’t make them late to some important meeting. I crossed the rest of the street, took a few steps, then realized I needed to stop.

I set my laundry basket down, bent over and propped myself up with my hands on my knees, breathing rapidly and realizing that I was shaking all over with a fine tremor—adrenalin rush. Two coworkers stopped and helped me out by carrying the basket to my building and giving me an arm to lean on while I walked, feeling pretty shaky all the way.

The man who almost hit me today may have kids somewhere wondering if it’s time to take away Dad’s keys. I have an answer for them. And I know we were just incredibly lucky that my dad didn’t hit or kill someone while he was still driving.

Have you talked with your aging parents about how you’ll all know when it’s time for them to stop driving? Have you thought about your signals for yourself?

Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style

Inspired by Bicycling Magazine

Cyclists who reading Bicycling know that its content aims primarily at racing cyclists and people who like to think they might be someday. Ads for Hammer and GU gel, car ads that compare the feeling of driving to the feeling of cycling at high speed, training tips for people who plan their lives around “base/build/peak”—this isn’t for a 12mph rider on an old Schwinn, or someone who adds an electric motor to his/her bicycle to make it possible to get up hills without working.

Their Rites of Passage piece has a lot of high notes for their typical reader, and a few for the rest of us. I thought I’d add a few of my own.

First, you might go read their list and the comments. I particularly like the one who said “Realizing that you want to ride so bad that the trailer and kid on the back that add 60lbs to the already 7% climb is a small price to pay.” This person is hard-core, but a parent who's ready for Spokane's hills. (And don’t assume this is necessarily a DAD, either!)

In no particular order, here are some of my own rites of passage—some specific to Spokane, some not. Why not start riding and rack up a few of your own?

  • Catching and passing a guy (after he first passed you) on a steep hill on the Old Palouse Highway coming back from coffee at On Sacred Grounds in Valleyford with your husband who cheers you on, after which he explains the meaning of the phrase "to get chicked," as in, "You just chicked that guy!".
  • Leaving for your morning commute in the rain, knowing that you'll be riding home in either rain or snow.
  • Riding down Stevens at 30-35+ mph when all the lights are turning green for you and realizing it would be so much easier to shoot the lights if the cars didn’t get in the way. (Drivers who aren’t hypermilers do a lot of jack-rabbit starts, then have to slow for the next red light just before it turns green, instead of going at a nice steady pace that would let them keep rolling. They could learn something from the cyclists.)
  • Recognizing that downtown Spokane has a slight rise heading west to east—something you never really noticed when you drove through.
  • Avoiding the Centennial Trail as a commute route because it slows you down. (Did you know there’s a speed limit? 15 mph)
  • Choosing the Centennial Trail as a route because it lets you ride by the Spokane River, and that’s worth slowing down for.
  • Discovering there are some great biking bloggers in Spokane.
  • Creating a log-in at a cycling site with your main email address, not the one you use for warranties and junk email, because you actually want to read the newsletter they'll send you.
  • Volunteering to do something in your community to make it better for cyclists, whether it's working on bike infrastructure, helping put on a family ride, or showing up to testify at City Council in support of a master bike plan.
  • Asking candidates for public office where they stand on using transportation dollars to pay for bike infrastructure—and voting accordingly, since bikes are transportation.
  • Joining cycling organizations and clubs that advocate politically and publicly on behalf of cyclists, not just ones that put on club rides.
  • Realizing you don’t know the price of gas—and you don’t have to, any more than you have to carry change for parking meters.
  • Learning that within downtown Spokane, it’s usually faster to bike to a meeting than it is to find your car in the parking lot, drive, find another parking spot, realize you don’t have change for the parking meter, run to the meeting to borrow some, run back, plug the meter, and scurry back to your meeting in high heels. That could just be me J but for most trips under two miles--and most trips ARE under two miles--the bike is frequently faster than the car.
  • Drawing the circle within which you’re going to house hunt based on three factors: high school zone for your kids, legislative district for your politics, and bike distance to work (and associated hills) for your legs and butt.
  • Walking into a Chamber of Commerce event taking off your helmet and carrying your panniers like they're your briefcase.
  • Saying jokingly to a Chamber staffer, “You put in that new bike rack outside the building because of me, right?” and having that person answer in all seriousness, “Yes.”
  • Having people look twice when you show up at a meeting without your reflective lime green/yellow jacket.
  • Realizing that a building or establishment that doesn’t have a bike rack or other secure bike parking facility isn’t your problem—it’s their problem—and asking them where you can put your bike so they have to solve that problem, the way they solved it for their car-driving customers. (Just last week at the Davenport Hotel they checked my bike like a suitcase—awesome service, delivered without batting an eyelash. If enough of us ask, building owners will catch on and put in parking. They do it for cars.)
  • Falling for the first time as an adult—getting up bleeding—and finishing the ride instead of calling for help with your cell phone. (This one is for Betsy J, founder of Belles and Baskets.)
  • Smiling at a motorist who yells, “Get on the sidewalk where you belong!” because you know the law, and he clearly doesn’t. (Bikes on sidewalks are illegal in downtown Spokane, by the way.)
  • Particularly for women: Realizing that you now evaluate potential clothing purchases based on whether you can bike comfortably in them, in addition to how they look on you and whether they’re on sale.
  • Having bikes in your living room because—well—your house is where you live, and bikes are how you live.

I’m sure there are many more. Add yours in the comments!