Sunday, 25 May 2014

Safe Cycling






Back in the Netherlands my 11yo daughter needs to grow up fast. From a sheltered and cushioned existence at an international school with mum taking care of her social life and the transport involved in said social life; she now needs to become as independent as her Dutch peers. Which means, amongst other things, she needs to be able to cycle everywhere.

That is why, together with tens of thousands of Dutch 10 and 11yo's, she has had traffic lessons for the past six months, preparing her for the National Cycling Exam. If she passes both the theoretical and the practical exam, she'll be awarded the much coveted Safe Cycling Certificate. So far so good. She managed the theoretical part and she had her bike approved by the nice policeman who set up shop at her primary school to make sure all the candidates have a fully functioning bike (preferably one with working breaks and lights).

I promise my daughter to take her for a test cycle along the exam route, but rain gets in the way. I never want to go cycling when it is pouring with rain again. Which it does. Six days in a row. When the heavens finally dry out and the exam is getting really, really close, we finally get the bikes out, study the route and set off. We/I decide that my daughter should go in front, so that I can check she looks the right way, signals and behaves impeccably.

We get off to a good start. She almost twists her neck, trying to get a 365 degrees helicopter view before crossing a road and makes the appropriate hand signals when turning left or right. She is focused and in control. Until she hits the first roundabout, that is.

Instead of letting the cyclist already on the roundabout have the right of way, she plunks her bike right in front of his bike and stoically cycles on, completely oblivious to the fact that the elderly gentleman had to hit the brakes hard. I stop her, point out the mistake and let her enter the roundabout again, wishing the man would play along to re-enact the scene. Needless to say I haven't got the guts to ask him.

On to the next tricky point, which my daughter doesn't get at all. Two streets on either side of a narrow strip of parkland, both one way streets, no exception for bikes. The 11yo completely misses the sign and ploughs on. So I stop her again. This time she is really not amused, as she doesn't see much harm in cycling the wrong way down a one way street, as 'there wasn't a car or other bike coming towards me, so what does it matter if I cycle here or on the other side'.  Besides 'you are allowed to make four mistakes, mum'. Yeah right. Over my dead body.

By the time she has to cross a really busy road she is so angry with me and my completely unjust comments, that she must have decided  to wait and wait until she is absolutely sure there are no cars in a five mile radius of where she has planted herself. It's as if she is playing musical statues without the music. Completely frozen. After five minutes or so a truck full of street maintenance guys behind us start to honk, which she ignores quite successfully.

Of course I act like a total idiot, telling her to 'just go', while at the same time shoving her onto the road. My daughter is in tears. I am almost in tears. Luckily she accepts my apologies and after some serious roadside bonding, she is ready to try again, this time noticing there is a wide strip of tarmac between the two lanes, allowing her to cross half of the road, look again, brace herself and cross the other half of the road, which she does. I am really proud of her.

Much more mature than I am this afternoon, my daughter decides that she wants to do the whole circuit again. But only, if I promise to shut it. Point taken. This time she is almost flawless. I follow my chick around like a very meek mother hen, keeping my distance. Of course she is much, much better without me interfering (aren't they always?). We celebrate in a posh little café with cappuccino and completely over the top white chocolate milk with all the trimmings.

When the day of the exam finally dawns my daughter all of a sudden is pretty nervous. Will she be able to remember the route? What if she forgets that awful one way street sign, the one which doesn't have the 'except for bikes' sign attached, or what if she doesn't dare to cross the busy road? I really don't know, but tell her you can not do much more than your best. And that, by the way, I am really proud of her anyway, for taking part in the cycling exam, considering the fact that she hasn't really cycled much at all, before moving to the Netherlands only eight months ago.

Of course the whole thing goes really rather well. She tells me that she lost her way a couple of times, meaning that although she left after number 15 and just before number 17, she manages to finish only just ahead of number 20. But she doesn't seem to have made too many mistakes. At least she proudly brings home the official 'Safe Cycling Certificate'. Of course Mr S. and myself are really proud.

It isn't until days later when we suddenly realise the flipside of the much praised certificate. Ever since she passed her cycling exam, the 11yo thinks she completely masters every kind of traffic situation and therefore assumes she can now cycle solo anywhere she likes. May be, just may be that would have been OK, had I not been on that practice run with her. But I have witnessed her ignoring traffic signs and failing to spot other cyclists or cars.

But I have to let her go (she'll never speak to me again if I don't). All her classmates bike to school without their mums hovering around them, so my daughter demands her freedom. So every morning I have to watch her cycling away from me. But instead of the relief I should have felt, now that she has her Safe Cycling Certificate, I can only frantically repeat my latest mantra until I finally feel my heart rate go down. 'She is much better, without me interfering', 'she is much better without me interfering', 'she is much better without me interfering'...