On the exhaustion of motherhood and why I want to bike with other families on Mother’s Day

Resting a mere 2.5 miles into a big day.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Ah, motherhood!

What’s that saying again? “The toughest job you’ll ever feel too guilty to complain about because everyone else makes it look so easy, but they’re probably silently struggling, too.”

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I’m exhausted, and have been for 11 years and 21 days. Not quite as much these days now that my kids are older and more independent, but I vividly remember the days we were together nonstop, day-in and day-out (actually, day-out and day-out as we spent most of our time outside). And while I didn’t appreciate it at the time, my bike saved me. Being able to carry myself, my kids, and our stuff far from home to places of peace and to do it via my own pedal power — versus the expense and hassle of using car or bus — made me feel capable, strong, and free!

The things we do for our kids. I’m not sure why our tandem bike even has a second set of pedals.

Bikes give all of a sense of freedom when we first learn to ride. I was seven and very cautious, not to mention very jealous that my little brother had figured out biking before me. After a gazillion false starts and a few scraped knees, I finally committed to keeping my feet on the pedals and just going for it and before I knew it, I was flying down the block. Then there’s a second breakthrough when we start riding without supervision and our world suddenly becomes huge!

But these are usually childhood milestones, with no good equivalents in boring adulthood — except for when you’re a mom and you start biking with your kids.

I love that collecting a sad or tired kid onto my bike saves the afternoon.

For as exhausting as they are, kids are excellent at forcing us to slow down and view things through their eyes — not only hazards like dog poo to accidentally step in (again?!) and food to eat off the ground, but also the simple joy of getting around by bike that you don’t feel walking, driving, or busing.

But it’s more than just remembering and reliving how magical those early days of biking are. When I combine that with having brought my whole family somewhere — be it by my clunky old bike with an eBay baby seat, a second-hand trailer, or my brand new cargo bike — it makes me feel like I can survive anything. That’s not to say there aren’t difficulties and tantrums even in this magical bikey world, but they’re certainly a lot fewer and a lot easier to weather.


All that being said, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that my Mother’s Day plans are to go for a bike ride with my kids. And hopefully a bunch of other moms and their kids. As well as anyone else who wants to come.

Perhaps the novelty of riding with just my own kids is wearing off a bit because I tremendously enjoy riding with other families. It’s still easy to make a day feel like an enormous adventure when it’s just the three of us out on bikes, but it’s even better when there are friends along.

I’ll be riding with Kidical Mass on Mother’s Day.

This Mother’s Day (This Sunday! 10am at Westmoreland Park Nature Playground!) I’ll be leading a Kidical Mass group bike ride for CycloFemme:

CycloFemme is a Global Celebration of Women created TO HONOR THE PAST from the shoulders of those who stood before us, for the freedom to choose and the chance to wear pants. TO CELEBRATE THE PRESENT with strength and courage, voices raised, moving together. TO EMPOWER THE FUTURE of women everywhere, the backbone of positive social change.

All the information is on our BikePortland calendar listing and you can RSVP on Facebook if you want.

I may have let my excitement for this special day go to my head and have decided upon a 10-mile loop — much longer than the usual Kidical Mass ride. It’s sure to be an adventure of epic proportions for all of us! And we’ll have a playground break in the middle and swing by a grocery store just before the end to get fixings for a picnic lunch.

Thanks for reading. Do you have a fun memory to share about biking as a mom, or about biking with your mom? Feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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Timo Forsberg
6 years ago

Families and biking – they go together like peanut butter and chocolate (smeared on a bike seat).
If anyone needs a warm-up for the epic Madi 10-miler, there’s a shorter kid-friendly ride on Saturday, starting at Powell Park (SE 26 & Powell) and traversing several bridges – only one over water. It ends at the Portland Tram’s “Celebrate Moms” event, where kids can make a little something to gift to their celebrated (and exhausted) parent/guardian/special person.

10:30 by the swings …

6 years ago

As a single dude without kids, I’ve been hesitant to take up comment space on any of Madi’s columns. But with Mother’s Day approaching, I wanted to say that your writing is both enlightening and inspiring. Thanks for bringing your wealth of knowledge, experience, and talent to this blog!

6 years ago

This was beautiful!

I’m having my own biking/kids/doctors adventures and I’m worn out too. I also think I’ve been missing group rides because I find myself trying to catch up with other families on the way to school to join them for a spontaneous bike parade. Looking forward to a Kidical Mass Cyclofemme Mother’s Day!

B. Carfree
B. Carfree
6 years ago

How about a wee story of grandma’s ride with our granddaughters from grandpa’s point of view? Grandpa took a sick day yesterday and skipped out on picking up “the girls” from pre-school, sending grandma off on the trustee tandem with kiddie crank plus trailer-bike in his stead. Unfortunately, grandma forgot to release the “parking brake” (1980’s Phil Wood disc brake) and rode the eight mile round-trip with a bit of added resistance.

Today, granddaughter number one said she wasn’t going to provide her usual dose of girl power because her legs were still tired from powering grandma the day before. She looked visibly relieved when we told her why it was so tough yesterday and did provide a goodly amount of girl power to the pedals.

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
6 years ago

Mom was born in 1930. In 1940 she begged for a bike incessantly. My grandma refused her saying bicycling wasn’t “ladylike”. . .

I AM mothers revenge/upgrade/evolution. I was encouraged, supported and nurtured into cycling ASAP. My beloved grandma bought me any bike I needed until I was approaching “license” to ill age at 14. Mom finally settled into biking for bliss only later in life. I made sure my daughter was allowed to have it her way around bikes. She faithfully rode to school EVERY day until California made a bad hair day mandatory for her at age 12. She has never been on a bicycle since. . . I hate any sort of road diets and mandatory hellment laws too. Perhaps you can understand why now ?

For this vehicle of transcendance in my life, I am eternally grateful. Thanks MOM for your wisdom and support.

6 years ago

As a young parent, work, grad school, and transporting my young son to daycare and everywhere else on the back of my bike was exhausting. But somehow 30 years later, the work and school schedule still sounds exhausting, but the time with “tons of fun” on the back of my bike are my most pleasant memories.

It is not just moms.