[img_assist|nid=10056|title=Big Rock, Pennypack by Melissa Tevere © 2013|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=500|height=508]
I was Bonnie Blair, the Olympic speed skater. I skated, head down, torso forward, right hand tucked behind my back, left hand gracefully sweeping my long, sloping driveway, back and forth. The rapid steady rhythm of my roller skates hitting the asphalt punctuated the freedom I felt when I skated, the same freedom whenever I played outside, no matter what I did. Freedom from homework, my older sister’s right hook, or my mom’s torturous math drills. As I imagined myself racing against Olympic skaters, my fingertips tingling as I gained speed, I forgot about being the only brown girl at an almost all white school. Instead, I felt the freedom to be me: a sixth-grade girl with unabashed glee sporting a Dorothy Hamill haircut far longer than any Indian girl with coarse curly hair should have. No medals to win, no records to break.
When I didn’t roller skate, I swung on the rope swing that hung from the tulip tree branches that leaned precariously over the road. My friends and I took turns doing stupid stunts, feeling the thrill swell in our bellies as we pushed off the ground and teetered above the street. Or, I rode my yellow banana seat bike on the 2.5-mile loop around my neighborhood, hands-and-helmet-free. As the wind whipped my face and my not-so-white tassels fluttered from the handlebars, free of my little sister’s whining, my thoughts centered on when I would get to ride my older sister’s red-three-speed.
The Dorothy Hamill haircut, gone. Roller skates, thrown away. The banana-seat bike, donated. A different kind of freedom flourished in college. Between lectures on Chemistry and Calculus and lounging on dingy sectionals with friends, I searched for an identity, far different from whom I’d been at home and the person my parents wanted me to be. Packs of students shuffled to class, sure of their journeys, while I faltered on my path to becoming a doctor, cherishing literature and composition instead. On sunny days, the outside beckoned me away from homework with the promise that a quick run around the short loop that circled the campus would clear my mind. The exercise offered freedom from decisions about careers, from finicky roommates, and from the nagging fear of spending the rest of my life as a spinster.
Newly wed and harboring an insatiable lust for a non-coin-operated washer and dryer, my husband and I settled in a leafy section of Baltimore in a boring cookie-cutter apartment. I didn’t want “old bones,” otherwise known as drafty windows and poor heating. I wanted central air and same-day service for a broken water heater. Among the large trees that shaded the streets of our neighborhood and threatened to uproot the sidewalks with every violent storm, I ran and trained for various races, most often too focused on timing to feel again that long-forgotten freedom. Occasionally, I let go and enjoyed the staccato of running on pavement as I bounded over a curb, feeling free, if only for a minute. Freedom from laminate desks and metal file cabinets, freedom from reams of paper and proofreading, meetings about nothing, management and managing. Freedom from rent and bills.
[img_assist|nid=10057|title=Passing Through by Nina Sabatino © 2013|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=500|height=505]
My husband’s new job in Philadelphia prompted a welcome change of scenery. I left my office job for the freedom or fetter of freelance writing. We traded rent for the shackles of a 30-year mortgage and home ownership. Walking or running the path along Kelly Drive-an escape from our tiny twin in East Falls-rendered me member of a sorority of inner-city athletes determined to find recreational release along the Schuylkill. There, between the shadows cast by the bridges that spanned the river, I fought to clear my mind and allow those elusive endorphins to work their magic. Instead, as my feet pounded the pavement, I yearned for freedom. Freedom from the engines roaring along Kelly. Freedom from the “Heard of sharing the path?” and “Don’t bother moving for us!” sarcastic remarks spewed by passing cyclists at every pedestrian. Freedom from mortgage payments. Freedom from paint chips and long lists of repairs. Freedom from months of ovulation calendars, basal thermometer charting, and fertility testing. Freedom from websites of forlorn-looking children in distant lands waiting to be adopted.
With a Bjorn baby carrier in front, then a double jogging stroller, and finally, a double jogging stroller and Bjorn, I persisted running or walking on cold days, my baby’s tiny fingers and toes safely bundled from the whistling wind, sippy cups safely stowed in the upright position. On some days, the river’s stench overpowered any thought except how-to-clean-the-house-after-the-last-fort-building-fiasco and the next carefully choreographed tango between music, tumbling, dance, art, or other brain-boosting activities and the sacred naptime. Enviously I watched the rowers moving smoothly along the Schuylkill’s surface, their rhythm belted out by the coxswain. Nothing on my postpartum body moved that smoothly anymore. I pretended I sat cradled in the boat with them, rowing in cadence, marking our movements in unison. Maybe in a boat in the middle of the river, I would feel freedom from the mean mommy cliques, freedom from Fakebook friends’ status updates, freedom from another parenting article about tantrum-free children.
My helmet too snug with my ponytail, I bike the streets of Swarthmore with my young sons riding next to me. They negotiate each turn, wobbling without training wheels on uneven sidewalks or sticks in the road, passing the town library and their friends’ houses. My thoughts race from how they will clear the next street, with cars parked on both sides, without snagging a side view mirror, to which of them I should let cross the busy street first while I block oncoming traffic. We have one hour of freedom between soccer practices, play dates, and bouncy birthday parties, but this hour is ours. We climb a hill, then start to coast down, not a car in sight. I take a deep breath and watch my sons relax their hands on their brakes. That old feeling of freedom resurfaces. Their gap-toothed smiles and dimples reveal unabashed glee on their first bike ride with me.
Sonia Elabd grew up in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland and now lives in Swarthmore with her husband and three children. She received her MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and works as a medical writer. Her essays have appeared in several smaller publications and online. She is currently working on a young adult novel.