When your birthday is in mid-November and you live in the northeast, it might very well snow that day. And so it did the year I got my first new bicycle. A metallic blue Schwinn Stingray with chrome monkey handlebars, streamers, and a sparkle-flecked banana seat. Getting that bike was a dream come true. The weather did not deter me from giving my new wheels a test drive. I ran that bike into the snow-covered cul-de-sac and rode around in circles, leaving a tangle of tread marks in the snow. On a future November birthday, I would make a similar pattern with much larger treads, practicing my driving skills in a snow-covered parking lot.
When my boys were young, one of their favorite songs was Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game. The happily-ever-after lyrics lulled to sleep: A boy catching a dragonfly in a jar, painted ponies, ice skating, cartwheels, car wheels, fears and dreams. For me, it was Brothers Grimm, camouflaged by rhyme and a lilting voice: Ten, 16, 20. The years spin by. We’re captives on a carousel. You can’t drag your feet; you’ll get burned. You remembered what happened when you tried to stop the playground merry-go-round before your friends flew off. Better to hang on for dear life and push through your fear, repeating, “It’s only a ride. It’s only a ride.”
If Joni had written more than four verses, I’m sure the calliope would have played through the decades until the boy turned 90, taking his final nap in the lion chariot. Round and round, ups and downs. Odds are that the years won’t all be clear, frozen streams and carefree, cartwheel days, but each birthday we celebrate is another chance to inhale a wish and blow our smoke signals to heaven.
The girl who dreamed tomorrow now is 60. Pedaling through the years like a possessed child on a metallic blue bike, she’s on the ride of a lifetime.