Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
What would life look like right now if my wife and I hadn’t decided to have kids? It’s a question that seems cold in the face of actually having children, but ask any parent whether they’ve conducted this thought experiment and they will answer in the affirmative. If they don’t, they’re probably lying.
I’ve asked myself this question a handful of times in the 15 years since having kids, and not in the yelling, arguing, pig-headed moments you might automatically expect. Often these moments of reflection are encountered when I’m engaged in doing something alone, like being out on a long solo ride, or spending hours plein air painting. The thought occurs to me: “Is this what it’s like for those without kids?”
I proposed to my wife one summer evening at a stoplight while riding our bikes back from a dinner (where I had planned to do the deed, but chickened out). A few months later we moved from our childhood home in Southern California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I started at college and she became a bike messenger. While we’d left a lot of the temptations of the past behind in California, a constant stream of alcohol, cigarettes, weed and the occasional hit of acid were still present in our lives.
Post graduation, instead of deciding to have kids and subsequently get (relatively) healthy by quitting smoking and giving up acid, what if we’d doubled down and engaged in all the heady, international, drug-crazed adventures some of our friends took part in? What if I’d decided to re-form my old punk band and tour around Europe and Japan (with wealth and adoration almost certain to follow…)?
My favorite non-kid daydream involves following in the footsteps of Disney studio artist and animator Eyvind Earle, who, in 1937, at the age of 21, rode his bike 3,000 miles in 45 days from Hollywood, California, to Monroe, New York. He made 42 watercolor paintings along the way and showed them at the Charles Morgan Gallery in New York City, in a solo art exhibition.
This dream combines two of my longstanding life goals: riding across the country and having a solo art show in a New York City gallery. The painting along the way is an added bonus, though I can’t imagine having the focus or desire to paint anything meaningful after riding my bike for 8-10 hours.
It’s entirely possible that I’d have ended up in dire straits on the wrong end of some sort of terrible addiction; who knows? The point is, you can’t go backwards, and thinking about “what might have been” is a little foolhardy at best, and unhealthy at worst.
In the end we decided to have kids, and while I may never have a solo art show in New York City, or tour Europe and Japan with my old punk band, I can still ride across the country and paint what I see along the way. Better yet, I can try to instill in my kids (and subsequently myself) the focus and attention such activities require and maybe inspire them to come along with me, or go out on their own.
This is the first in a series of columns at the intersection of parenting and (sometimes) cycling to serve, not as a manual for child-rearing, but rather one parent’s anecdotal struggle to preserve his sanity and waistline. It will be an adventure, for sure.