Another long weekend ahead of us here, this time for commemorations of the 1918 Armistice on Monday the 11th.
As I continue commuting to work by bike, a distinct pattern of experiences has emerged, one I never expected, and yet that is a wonderful balm for the soul. Children. I’ve always loved kids, and apparently have a face that shows it, since babies spontaneously coo at me even when I haven’t looked at them. It makes for fun surprises at parks and in public transportation: there’s nothing like getting on a crowded tramway, hearing “wheee! gaaa! heee!” then looking in the voice’s direction to find a giggly-eyed, happily-squirming infant meeting your gaze, who punctuates your eye contact with that pleased flop-the-arms-and-legs motion and a bubbly “daaaa!”
My commutes usually have some overlap with school opening and closing hours; I cross toddlers with their parents, grandparents, or friends’ parents. Without fail, little girls are delighted to see my bike. Boys love bikes too, many will make eye contact and share a smile. I nod and return the smile, and they turn back to their playing. Little girls, though… I’m a woman, I remember being a little girl and noticing early on that you don’t see many women on bikes. Even the cycling competitions that get broadcasted are overwhelmingly those with men. I remember being excited at Jeannie Longo‘s feats: here was a woman being awesome on a bicycle, something I too loved. And so, today, when little girls look at me, stop in their tracks, and stare, I get it. The little girl in me who grew up riding around her valley hills also smiles. I nod at them, as I do with all the kids.
The girls almost always widen their smiles into elated grins and respond excitedly:
“Le vélo ! Le vélo, le vélo !”
“Coucou ! Tu fais du vélo !! Du vélo !!”
“Ouaaaaaa ! Le vélooo !”
“C’est… v’zêtes sur un… un vélo !!!”
“Mamie ! Le vélo ! Le vélo !” This little girl yesterday paused for several seconds, taking in everything about my bike, until adding, entranced: “il a un CLIGNOTANT !” which means, “it has a BLINKER!” I do indeed turn on my blinky lights as soon as twilight falls. I call them my blinky-blinks. “Faut penser à mettre en route les blinky-blinks,” I remind myself before starting out on dark rides.
Another little girl yesterday evening, riding on her father’s shoulders, made an already fun commute even more so. I had just turned onto the last street before reaching my place and slowed for a yellow light. Next to me was a souped-up Citroën Saxo with windows open, blaring Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky“. I started whistling along, bopping on my bike at the red light, happy for the evening ride. I heard a tiny whistle nearby. I whistled again, and heard another whistle response; definitely a kid. I looked towards the whistling’s source: there she was, a little girl cozy in her puffy white winter coat, who bounced her arms and giggled as our eyes met. “Vélooo !” she said. I grinned, whistled a bit more, and father and daughter both smiled. The light turned green, I nodded to them and rode home.