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“They’ll make fun of me.”


Part of being a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) instructor, or regular volunteer, one is ‘inclined’ to fit many, many bike helmets on as many young heads. And, heads, shape and adornment, vary. Sometimes dramatically. Being a bald fellow I can be confused easily about the challenges of the focially abundant.


We were at an elementary school doing what’s called a Bicycle Rodeo. It is a riding course set up, with sponiety and creativity, made up of colorful cones, chalk, and mobile street signs. There’s a Stop, Yield, Ped Crossing and pretty well all the others. It’s amazing how our lead instructor will turn an outdoor paved basketball/4 square/kickball court into a very specific training area. The lead designs and we execute. It’s a ballet of coordination. Since many of us are, shall we say, mature there tends to be a groan or two. (That is except for the Yoga folks. They seem to enjoy stretching to Ma Earth, lining up tennis balls halves and designing elaborate chalk art directions.) It’s kinda amazing and I’m grateful when they join us. I groan.


Usually the lead does a quick introductory talk in the school’s gym. We, the non-leads, hover about in the gym watching. We’re obvious by our neon yellow safety vests. We smile, check to make sure their shoe-strings are tied and  generally try to not let our biases rule the day. We are here for them, not us. As many of us are parents, of adults, it is easy to try and solve every ‘issue.’ Parents have a ‘fix-it’ reflex. I will always be a parent, and not just to my biological kids.


It was time to get some thirty kids in properly sized and fitted helmets.She was one of the last to get in the line for a helmet. As kids giggled I walked up and smiled, “We gotta get a helmet for you.” I grabbed a suitably sized lid. “I don’t wanna do this,” she looked up with sad, stunning black eyes. They glistened with moisture. “Why, my friend?” She was probably only eight or nine. I squatted down to eye level with her. She took a deep breath, “They’ll make fun of me.” “Why?” I asked as gently as my skills allowed. “I’m not very good.”


I stood up quickly and looked down at this fragile flower of a human. “Not while I’m here, or while Dot’s here, and Lisa, and Cathy, and Kevin’s here. Not while Gib or Deb or Nancy or Sandy’s here!” I pointed to the team - again - obvious in our safety vests. “No one will make fun of you.” I don’t think she believed me but we got her helmet fitted and it was Rodeo time.


I didn’t get to work with her much during the class but a couple of times I caught her eye and gave her a big smile and a thumbs up. She smiled shyly each time - connecting.


Typically we are outside resetting the rodeo for the next class, and don’t get a chance to say good-bye to the kids. This day, for some reason, was different. I was in the gym organizing helmets by size. She walked up as her class got in line with their teacher. 


“Mr. Jim, thank you.” I looked up. “For what?” I was confused. “You watched out for me. Thank you,” she took a deep breath, “I love you.” The world slowed down as I smiled at her, glad I had sunglasses on because my eyes were tearing up. “Thank you. I love you too kiddo.” And I hurried outside trying not to sob out loud.


Some times are hard. People can be hard. It’s been a hard time lately. But there are those times when the heart soars. We, the SRTS instructors, mechanics, volunteers and logistics folks remember those times. We feel lucky, blessed. I know I feel blessed.


Thanks kids! You continue to inspire and let me be a better person. That’s why I and so many others put on the neon yellow safety vest.

by Jim Williams

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