Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lessons from two family bicycle outings

We did two family bike outings [1] recently. One was a flop. The other was a great success.

We have few pictures of the flop, lots of pictures of the success. The children watch the pictures on various screens. That's how we create (false) memories of perfect childhood.
"What is the secret to happiness, Oh Exalted One?" said the student.
"Editing." said the master.
The fiasco came first. Actually, it wasn't a fiasco -- but only because we bailed.
"What is the first lesson of special needs adventures, Oh Great One? said the student. 
"Know when to fold 'em" said the master. 
We should have known better. Actually, we did know better. I just forgot. I chose a new route we'd never explored. I didn't measure distances carefully. I didn't adjust when the weather turned hot and humid. I wasn't sure of the exact route, so we I revealed anxiety inducing uncertainty early (the captain must always know). I didn't outline the rules well enough, and I didn't specify queuing order.

Inevitably we had meltdowns. Mercifully the wisest one declared it was time to bail, even though I wanted to push on. We got back to the car, drove for ice cream, didn't have a bad day overall. Hours of preparation, 25 minutes of riding, but it could have been a lot worse.

When we did the postmortem it we knew we were off our game. Time to do better. We'd registered for the big St Paul Classic bicycle tour, so we knew another chance was coming. This time we remembered our lessons.

We studied the route in detail, using direct surveillance and satellite images and maps. We tracked the forecast. One week before the ride, in good conditions, we took the kids for our target distance on a representative stretch. We planned a van drop off point, so the kids would ride the target 6.5 miles without a turnaround. I took son #1 from our house to the start 1 day prior, using a route I'd researched and memorized and printed for him. We took all the kids for a car tour of the entire route -- so that two of them would know the full route was too long.

We had snacks. We had liquids. We had firm queue rules - son #1 and son #2 to be separated by mother #1. Son #1 had a phone in a saddle bag. Everything was ready in the garage.

On the day of the ride we were dynamic -- adjusting departure to suit son #2 morning malaise. We adapted and returned to the plan.

It was fantastic. Every child met their goal tired and happy. Son #1 did the 17.5 mile loop - even I got some exercise when I sprinted from the van group to catch him. (He could go ahead because he's oddly cautious and he's a wizard with  his iPhone -- not something that fits his measured IQ).

Complete victory. Based, of course, on lessons from a fiasco.

Some people have to spend a fortune to climb Mt. Everest to test themselves and rise to great challenge. We only have to register for a bike ride. An unexpected advantage of the special life.

[1] Teaching two kids on the spectrum to ride bikes was one of the substantial achievements of my life.

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