Daniel, Road Warrior

(This is one of a series of posts about my estranged son, Daniel.)

bike awardI opened the front door, looked down and almost fainted. There was my small son, clutching his throat, blood spurting out between his fingers. I screamed. His father came running and pried Daniel’s fingers open. It was his chin, not his throat after all. Blake swept him up and into the car while I stood there, immobilized. The small tricycle lay overturned on the sidewalk. The other children, including Daniel’s sister Julia stood beside their tricycles, most of them larger models. They had been racing like maniacs up and down the sidewalk and shouting in glee.

Daniel had had his first serious bike fall. It would not be his last. In the years to come, he would take many spills – on his first small two-wheeler, on his banana-seat bike, on his mountain bike, on his road racer, on his commuter. He would up-end over handle bars, somersault over car hoods, narrowly escape leg crushing in traffic, get doored, get run off the road on highways. He would bleed from road rash; his wounds would turn red, then blue, then yellow, but curiously he would never break a bone.

I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that my husband who couldn’t stand the sight of blood, who fainted in movies that depicted blood loss had just leaped into the fray while I stood helplessly by.

After a few hours, they returned, Daniel sporting a series of brown stitches under his chin, which he rushed to show the other kids. He has that white scar still, just out of sight until he lifts his head.

(Strangely, it always turned out that when Julia was bleeding, I handled it. Daniel shut her in the oven of the toy stove – at her insistence – and I dealt with her bleeding hand, holding the compress in the emergency ward, etc. But whenever Daniel turned up bleeding or even reported a close call, I got weak in the knees.)

In summers in Guildwood Village, the kids would take off on their bicycles in early morning, riding off to the cliffside parks, ditching the bikes to climb the bluffs, coming home late for lunch, dusty and scraped, only to set out again. No questions asked. Well, none answered anyway.

When Daniel’s doctor recommended exercise to deal with his incipient asthma. we foolishly enrolled him in soccer. In full regulation gear, knee socks and all, he spent his time avoiding the action, hanging back, taking an ego hit until he decided that he was meant for racing. He began by racing on his feet and was soon doing training runs up the big hill and around our neighbourhood. It was later when he was in his twenties, living with me in my country village house that he moved on to bicycle racing. It’s a complicated sport because it involves a machine as well as physical conditioning. A bad tire or a dropped chain can finish off a skilled, fit rider. He started with road racing and moved on to mountain bike racing and then to cycle-cross. For many years, he was guaranteed a top spot in his category.  Training consisted, probably still consists, of hundred mile group rides on the weekend. (Much hated by some country types.)

The scariest time for me was the year or so he worked as a bicycle courier. Speed was imperative and this interval found him at his road-warrior scariest. Eventually, he quit to save his life, but he carried that style over into his commute to his safer job. He tangled with a car on Bloor St. and ended up because of our no-fault insurance having to report it to my car insurance company. An agent called me to confirm details. He asked me if Daniel was married. I said no. Then I said, “Hang on. He is married.” The agent said,” What’s with you people? Your son said exactly the same thing.” For political reasons, Daniel had been married for five minutes to a girl he loved. Politics changed. They had moved on, neglecting divorce.

After that accident, he gave up wearing a helmet. He said it was the only way, he could make himself slow down. Work that logic out.

When I was recovering from heavy duty surgery in 2001, he showed up, just back from a race and gave me his winning medal, pictured above.

So there it is, a snapshot of my reckless son, who has unorthodox principles.

Daniel’s Birth Day

My son Daniel’s birthday was last Saturday, so I sent him a card and wrote “Happy Birthday, beautiful boy” inside. Last year, he thanked me for his card by email; otherwise, we are “non-speakers”. I could indulge in a “Danny Boy” moment here – “And I shall hear though soft you tread above me and all my gr…” and all that malarcky, but he hasn’t been Danny since he started walking. And that was some time ago.

His birth was a notable occasion. For all concerned.

On his sister’s first birthday, I was walking the corridor of the labour ward, listening to the cacophony of vocalization attendant on severe pain from women who were getting somewhere. I was reciting Psalm 23 to myself. Because I was getting no where. Or rather we were getting nowhere, this new baby and I. Imagine the sheer embarrassment. Eventually, my husband had to be called out of class to come pick me up. Well, of course he had gone back to work. It was 1962. That’s what husbands did then or so he thought.

A week and a day later, I was back at being a toddler’s mother, getting dinner, when it slowly dawned on me that this “new” baby was going to make an appearance after all. My husband had moved smartly enough the week before, but now he was inclined to take things easy. He delivered daughter Julia to our friends around the corner in Don Mills and came back to find me waiting in my winter gear and it must be said in an agitated state.

“Surely, there’s no hurry,” he said. Julia had taken the better part of a day to arrive.

“I don’t think we have much time,” I replied, gesturing at the puddle of water on the floor.

Fortunately, the Don Valley Parkway had just opened and this north/south freeway would take us downtown. And Blake was nothing if not good at speeding. As it turned out, I had a skill I was not aware of. Unable to sit, I found I was able to climb over the back of the seat while the car careened around curves at 70 MPH. I was even able to conclude that underwear impeded birth and take appropriate action. I did a quick review of what would be involved in self-delivery. All the while clinging to whatever I could grab and more or less ignoring the shouted questions from the front seat.

Once we hit the surface streets, Blake leaned on the horn and cut in and out of traffic, running red lights as necessary. I was way past fear by now, off in some zone, trying to hold on, in spite of the urge to let go, but in the end, of course, the urge got the upper hand. Anything, anything to resolve this awful pain.

He pulled the Dodge up to the emergency room door and ran in screaming, “The baby is coming. The baby is coming.”

“Calm down. Calm down,” I heard voices say, as I climbed -very awkwardly- out the back car door.

A stretcher appeared and I was helped up onto it. The nurse took a look and all hell broke loose.

“The baby’s head is here,” she screamed, as she tore off my clothes.

In a split second, I was being wheeled stark-naked down the hall at very high speed. Who cared? Just get me out of here. Ether, epidural, whatever it takes.

In the delivery room, all was calm.

“I seem to always make you miss dinner,” I said to Dr. Anchelson.

“Oh, I’ve had my dinner,” he said.

“The baby’s heart is fibrillating,” someone cried.

“Have you eaten,” the anesthetist asked.

“No,” I said.

He brought a mask to my face. “Breathe deeply,” he said.

Absolutely, I thought, and passed into oblivion.

It was a glorious dark, deep sleep, but someone kept trying to wake me up. They were laughing and shouting.

“Wake up. Wake up and see your son!”

“I only have a daughter,” I said, grumpily. I wanted to be go back to sleep. “I don’t have a son.”

“Well, you do now,” they laughed.

And sure enough, there was a boy’s bottom being presented for inspection and a beautiful round pink baby face.

“What happened to you? You went out like a light,” the doctor asked.

“He gave me something,” I said, gesturing at the anesthetist.

“Oxygen,” he said and everyone fell about laughing again. “That’s why the baby’s so pink. No anesthetic, just oxygen. Now that’s what I call suggestible.”

I arrived at the hospital at 6:03 p.m. and Daniel arrived 3 fun-filled minutes later. Daniel just turned 52, but I still shake to tell it.

Not that you owe me, Daniel.

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