The Bike Story

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Julie, my subtle conscience (and a damn talented writer and singer) encouraged me to just write the damn bike story, so here it is. Thanks, Julie, for the burr in my shoe. Really.

Several of Akiva’s school friends have bicycles, most with training wheels. Akiva decided he wanted one, too, and we went to the bike store. (My first mistake. I should just have posted on freecycle for one, but shamefully I didn’t think of it until too late.)

Even as we were approaching the bike store, Akiva fell in love with a purple bike. I mean, really purple, with hearts and fairies and flowers and sparkly streamers on the handlebars. I knew that The Thing would come up, and I was prepared to handle it as I always do, with respect for his natural preferences along with gentle suggestions of less-encoded colors. (Backtracking a bit: when we went to get him a spring jacket, he fell in love with a pink fuzzy fleece. I told him it was really cute and I liked it too, but that some people might assume he’s a girl because some people think pink is a “girl” color. I said that if being mistaken for a girl was likely to bother him, he might consider a different color, but that I would buy him the pink one if it was important enough to him to have it.)

We entered the bike store, and Akiva made a beeline to the purple bike. Remember he has long hair and a gorgeous face. (Truth is, even if he wore camouflage and carried a rifle, he might still be mistaken for a girl.) I saw a salesman approaching, and I saw around the corner to The Thing. I wanted to protect my son — both to protect the innocence of his preferences and to protect him from embarrassment. So when the guy came up to us with a cool, “So…you like the purple one, eh?” I said with the clearest diction ever, “Yes. Purple is his favorite color.”

The salesman’s reponse was abrupt, almost scary. “Naw, man, you want the red one. The red one’s faster.” He proceeded to lead Akiva’s eye to the manliest training-wheel bike in the shop, the one with flames and a race-car motif and numbers on it. (How come girly things don’t have numbers on them?) Honestly, I thought the tactic of saying the red one was faster was somewhat clever, but the anxiety it rode in on was hurtful to watch. And I felt usurped. I was ready to handle it respectfully and to give Akiva some choices among the other colors, and instead we got the hard sell for the macho red bike. (I didn’t think to check and compare the prices; the guy may well have been motivated by his commission…)

As the encounter progressed, I tried gently to suggest that Akiva could consider other bikes (there were green ones, blue ones, silver ones, etc.), while the salesman stuck like glue to the notion of his choosing the red one, and Bill stood silently.  I felt more and more like the nagging mother who as a female couldn’t possibly understand, while the other male who could have subtly stood up for our son was oddly absent.

Eventually we purchased the red bike, and every time I look at it, I think how silly it is that people, myself included, grind their gears so much about color-coding.  And how sad it is that I, supposedly a strong woman, could not register the point to my own child that he didn’t have to buy into the macho thing to the hilt.

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4 thoughts on “The Bike Story

  1. I’m so so glad you wrote this! How interesting. The salesman could have been motivated by commission or — really — he might have thought he was doing you a favor, steering Akiva to a more generally regarded “boy” color.

    Methinks you are a plenty strong woman. But I think you were probably aware that the subtle approach to shut this sales guy down wouldn’t have worked, and the firm approach would have had to be firm, indeed. Probably extra-firm. And would that have helped the situation, for you, Bill or Akiva? I think a child (not knowing Akiva very well) could take a spirited exchange on the social appropriateness of certain colors and color-coding ramifications the wrong way — i.e., that Ima is upset and it has something to do with the bike, so which should I choose? Am I doing something wrong?

    I think the important thing is that Akiva is happy with his choice, and that he’s riding the thing. Is that the case?

    Oh, and one more important thing: don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ve reflected on it, and realized what made you uncomfortable, and why. That knowledge will percolate and the next time a situation calls for a cup of that, you’ll have the mama mojo java ready.

    (Not a comment…more like an essay.)

  2. wisekaren

    All discussion of gender issues aside, speaking just from a pragmatic standpoint: A bike is a (relatively) big-ticket item, so you were wise to think it through. If Akiva had loved the purple bike for 6 weeks and then started school and decided (read: become persuaded) that Big Boys don’t do purple, he would have been miserable, and you wouldn’t have wanted to replace the bike. A purple balloon at the fair? Sure. A purple T-shirt? Why not? But a bike that he’ll have for a while … not so much. Worst-case scenario with the red bike: He’ll still like purple in a year or two, and you’ll realize you could’ve bought him the purple one after all. Worst-case scenario with the purple bike: He’ll regret his decision before he outgrows the bike and then not want to ride it.

  3. What was Akiva’s reaction to the red bike suggestion? I agree that you’re a strong woman, and I’ll guess that if Akiva had been upset by the red bike idea, you would have been more than a match for a salesman pushing it on him.

    Dunno why other men sometimes get so threatened by young boys who enjoy things outside of what’s typically considered boyish. Sam adores Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Saddle Club…you’d think that every time he sang “Chim Chimminy,” he was saying he wanted gender reassignment surgery, by my male relatives’ reactions. 😛

  4. By the way, I asked Sam whether boys could ride purple bikes with streamers, etc., and he was adamant that they could and demanded to know why I was asking. I sketched your story out for him a bit, and now he wants to road trip there and give that salesman what-for. 😀

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