My two young boys stood shoulder to shoulder, hunched and dripping. A flash of lightning had prompted the lifeguard’s whistle signal for all swimmers to vacate the pool. Holding their collective breaths, every elementary-school-aged-brain rivetted to the task of counting the seconds… aching for a mental superpower that could launch the clock safely past the fatal, 30 second ‘flash-to-bang’ mark and magically prevent pool closure for the rest of that July afternoon.
But there it was: a loud crack of thunder, as the ominous dark clouds rolled in. Another shrill whistle ignited a scramble to collect towels, swim goggles, fish crackers and hastily jam the flotsam into backpacks. The sky lowered and the first large drops of rain dimpled the surface of the pool.
Parents and kids funneled en masse through the change rooms to explode into a stampede for the parking lot, as another thunderclap snapped like a whip overhead. Abruptly, my older son halted. I quickly grabbed the younger before he was subsumed into the madding crowd. “What is it? Did you forget something?” I asked. Eyes wide with concern he cried, “We biked here!”
Yes. We did. Today we biked. For the first time. Ever.
The Subaru was in the shop again. It was like a tired, old dog with which the kids had grown-up… faithful and much-loved. Though more often too achy to stir, our friend kept needing a tow to the mechanical vet. And this summer we had splurged and bought a family pass to the more popular pool, the one with the diving board and spiral slide. And it was too far to walk. And public transit was out of the question. And, so, today I had determined we would bike it… and we would like it!
I simply replied, “We’ll manage. Come on.”
The rain began pouring down in gusting sheets. We unlocked our bikes. Turning away from the main parking lot exit, I took a sharp right and we pushed our bikes and drenched selves up through the steep, winding path of Mt. Lebanon park… a short cut. At the summit we stopped to catch our breath and wait for the crosswalk light. When it turned green, we plunged through a deep curbside puddle, crossing Washington Street to a broad sidewalk beyond.
Glancing up to face the incline of the street, I realized why our trip to the pool this morning had been so effortless and glee filled. This section of road had always registered reasonably flat in my mind. But our current boots-on-the-ground perspective confirmed otherwise. Of course, one was hard pressed to find a street in the South Hills of Pittsburgh that wasn’t built on a cliff… three stories up one side, three stories down the other, generations of rolling children. No matter. This was the best route home.
My younger son was a bit of a spitfire and by now the initial rush of our predicament had given way to a sparkly-eyed excitement. His appetite for this kind of adventure washed over me and I yelled over the deluge and traffic, “We can do this!”
In unison we hopped back onto our bikes. My older son, responsible, jaw set firm with determination (despite heading toward ‘ticked-off’) bravely took the lead. My younger followed. I took up the rear. We pedaled strong, facing the on-coming traffic, immersed in ear-numbing sound.
At long last, we crested the hill. However, my relief was cut short. We continued pedaling in our tri-tandem formation, but now as if in slow motion. A Mack truck suddenly appeared barreling down toward us, plowing a veritable tidal wave of street water, which in a moment crashed over us. The force and volume of the water shook me, plastering shut my eyes, nose and mouth in a drowning panic while the truck roared past. Gasping and wiping my eyes I feverishly searched for my sons. How it was that we all remained on our bikes and still moving, I couldn’t say. But there they were. The older, doggedly in the lead, turned around briefly and shot me a look that announced, “Now I’m royally ticked-off”, followed by a glance back by the younger with a broad grin as if to say, “That was awesome!”
We eventually made it home to dry clothes, Legos and an engrossing read-aloud, while the storm ran its course. In the end we knew we had lived something grand. Our shoestring, post-doc budget had ironically been the catalyst for a priceless family memory. God had moved heaven and earth, or more specifically, a Subaru and summer storm to infuse imagination and water seeds of deep character in two young souls.
“Examine everything carefully and hold onto that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 21).
Paula and her husband Kris are members at CTK Cambridge. Their sons continue to squeeze in adventures when they have time, between their graduate and medical school studies.