La Vie En Rose

By: Celeste Bennekers

The high dive represents a rite of passage. Mine was at Jack Carter pool in Plano, Texas, but irregardless of where you grew up, the high dive at your community pool terrorized your small, but important, youthful world. You gazed for months with envy at the other children carelessly flipping, tossing, and cannon-balling over the edge of the scratchy white platform suspended at an unimaginable height. You carefully calculated the steps, envisioned yourself being one of them, and finally decided that it was your time. But as your tiny feet slapped water on the burning concrete determined to join the ranks, your palms started sweating and doubt filled your mind. Questions raced through your mind like scrolling credits of a movie: What if I fall? What if I hurt myself? And most importantly – What if I do both and everyone laughs at me? As you approach the looming metal ladder with steps that lead to heaven, your safety-net pulls too hard. With the cartoon devil and angel on your shoulder tormenting your little brain, you decide to wait for a more opportune time to risk embarrassment. Slinking back to the shallow end of the pool you disappointingly sit in the shimmering water with ego still safely intact.

That was me. But it wasn’t a pool and I wasn’t ten. I was approaching mid-30s and for more than a year, I watched the skinny Dutch women perch elegantly on the backs of their boyfriend’s bicycles, riding through the picturesque town of Leiden. Their legs crossed at the ankles, heeled boots pointing daintily at the street, and carefully draping their arm around the waist of the man pedaling. I wanted to be one of them. It looked so fun, so romantic, and so. . . free of physical exertion for the lady! Most lovers are not hanging out during the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. – it’s mostly a bakfiets (mini-van bike) crowd at time of day. I had seen the skill required to hop on the back of a bike only a few times – and the running, giggling, girls gave me doubt as to my abilities to replicate the same move. It required the first person to start pedaling in order to balance the bike, and the rider to complete a series of steps then hop sideways onto the luggage rack on the back. The footwork reminded me of a basketball lay-up: step left, right, left, and then hop up! After time, like any successful athlete, I visualized myself successfully completing the steps. But I had yet to practice.

This stunt was not a solo effort, and I doubted my teammate’s ability to complete his job. Now I’ve seen the Dutch carry everything from suitcases, to framed works of art, to Christmas trees one-handed while pedaling down the bike paths. V had trouble balancing his bike with a bottle of wine hanging from one handle-bar. We are American and that obviously means that we have acquired no-such innate balancing skills over the past 30 years. So thus, my dream had been left unfulfilled, unwilling to risk the seemingly unattainable feat.

Then we saw an 80-year old man pedaling his side-saddling elderly wife in front of our house a few weeks ago. If that’s not mockery, I don’t know what is.

Date night, Saturday night. We had planned to take our bikes. There’s no place to park, walking just takes too long, and so it was decided, we’d ride our bikes. As much as I love pedaling my kids around town, my mini-van bike is as sexy as a vegetable. I purposefully put away my thoughts of ever wearing a skirt on a date night again. I know the Dutch cycle with them on, but I just don’t think I’m mentally ready to pull that one off. We say goodbye to the babysitter and close our heavy front door. I’m about to unlock my avocado bike from its spot in the front yard and V gently touches my arm. “You want to try?” he looks at me suspiciously and raises an eyebrow. “Try what?” I cock my head to the side, rolling my eyes. “To ride on the back of my bike?” he says pointedly with a smile. “What? Now!? No way! I’m not ready!” I reply, flustered and smoothing my hair. My hands start sweating and I reflexively look up and down our street to see who is witnessing this ridiculous exchange. “Yes! Now – no anticipation. Let’s just do it,” he says, and I meet his gaze and challenge. He unlocks his bike. Like two kids who jointly agree to a dare but wither during execution, we glance at each other with questions in our eyes. “Should we try it first on the sidewalk?” I ask. “No – look at those bikes parked all over the place. There’s not enough room to get through,” he calculates and shakes his head. We gaze up and down our block and wait for a group of taunting bikes to pass. When the coast was clear, he bravely pedals into the middle of the road. I trot behind him and just like I had envisioned, execute the cadence with wobbly style: left, right, left, hop! Within seconds, I realize that I’m flying through the air with the bravery of my 10-year-old self – I am channeling through this right of passage and I’m ecstatic at my courageous, youthful accomplishment! “Are you on?” V shouts, disbelieving his own elementary success. “Yes! Yes I am!” I say with amazement. We’ve done it! We’re pedaling down the road at a snails pace because, we’re uh, American and V isn’t that fast – but we’re doing it!

We glide through Leiden, immaturely speeding up at yellow bike stop-lights and avoiding left-hand turns because we don’t want to stop the rhythm of this beautiful moment (and more importantly, we don’t want to stop the bike which would force us to repeat the maneuver in front of expert Dutch eyes.) We lyrically sweep along the now-familiar sights of our hometown: around windmills, over canals, and through cobbled alleyways. I berate him for attempting to use hand signals – “Please! Keep both hands on your handlebars you’re going to make us fall!” we giggle like schoolchildren. Like a home-cooked meal that you didn’t cook yourself, after pedaling my kids around town for a year – there is nothing more beautiful and appreciated than seeing the world go by at the relaxing pace of a cyclist without actually having to cycle. The ancient shops and houses dance in the rosy glow of sunset as we smoothly sashay by. I snuggly wrap my arm around V’s waist and rest my head on his back. “You’re so light!” he says and I smile at the seamless ease of the moment. I beam at my crossed ankles and the green high-heeled boots that accent my European-trimmed, but skinny-jeaned legs. I reflect as we pass over the shimmering silver canals, maybe I will wear those skirts I wishfully imported from the U.S. after all.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCeleste Bennekers is an American expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: Celeste is an American Expat currently living in Leiden, The Netherlands with her husband, two small children, and two large dogs.
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Bill Beran wrote 7 years ago:

Great Story. Happy Anniversary.

Tessie wrote 7 years ago:

Such a great memory. Happy Anniversary to you guys.

Nathalie In The Netherlands wrote 7 years ago:

Lovely entry which has inspired me to follow your blog! I haven't tried 'achterop' yet, it may be a while as my partner only has a mountain bike ;)

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