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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Heather Ijames

We were riding along the bike path on Saturday when I realized we were a sorry bunch. I don't think the family had ridden together in more than a year, so our equipment needed a little bit of love and probably a bunch of money.

The bike rack was all wobbly in the hitch, a consequence of lending it to some friends. I don't know what they did to it, but when cars start backing off from behind you on Calloway Drive -- and I mean way, way off -- because the bikes look like they're going to end up in someone's grill, it gives pause for concern.

Charles had already pumped the tires full of air at home, but we like to take precautionary measures and always bring the foot pump along. It was a good thing too, because by the time we parked at one of the empty office buildings along Stockdale Highway, five of the eight tires needed more air.

We were determined to make a fun afternoon of it, though. Yet, we hadn't gotten 50 feet before our youngest started having trouble. First problem was that he was riding his old 4-year-old bike when he's now nearing 6. Although he didn't particularly mind having his knees hit his chin with each pedal, his slow pace made the whole family chug along like snails. Then, he called it quits before we hit a mile. I found it odd because of the entire Ijames clan, the little one has the largest measure of stamina. But he was red, sweaty, and I was sure he was about to crawl into a squirrel hole for some rest.

Soon after, I realized he gave up so quickly because he was working 10 times harder, if not more, than the rest of us. His tires were the worst, and already flat. In other words, he had ridden the last mile with no air in his tires. It made me feel like the mother of the blasted year, since I had been barking at him the whole time, telling him to suck up whatever was hindering him, and go, go, go!

All in all, it took us an hour to get basically nowhere and feel completely miserable. I started to think that getting everyone's equipment up to par, including our bike rack, is going to cost us money I didn't want to part with.

But then it dawned on me that it'd be money well spent, as it usually is. For us, these expenditures are called Family Fun Toys, things we buy to spend time together as a family. I have no individual interest in bike riding, and Charles always complains that his bike seat is cheaper than a vasectomy. But the boys love it, and we know we should do it more often. Time together is the most fleeting commodity known to the American family, so any kind of investment of Family Fun Toys is the perfect solution.

It isn't necessary to buy pricey toys, though. Even the cheaper ones seem to provide a great experience. One of our favorite purchases of the year is a LEGO game I bought on for $19.99. It's called Pirate Plank. It's simple, quick, and all together cathartic when I convince the boys to join my secret alliance to feed Daddy to the sharks first. Then, and only then, when Charles' little LEGO arm is dangling off the plank, the square, block jaws of the great white below licking his chops at the imminent defeat, do my offspring and I turn on each other and have at it like the filthy little bilge rats that we are. And that, my friends, is what family is all about. Sort of. Well, you know what I mean.

Sometimes, Family Fun Toy purchases aren't even things we get to keep, but rather, outings. A few Saturdays ago, we did Go Karts at Camelot Park. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you're in a high-powered Go Kart and your 9-year-old speeds on by calling you a big, wet, trembly baby. And then, just because it is your right of honor to remind said child you used to wipe his bottom, do you floor it and then ram that child of yours into a guard rail? Because that's love, folks. Family love.

Yeah, I think I will shell out the clams to get the youngest a new bike, especially one with air in the tires. Maybe I'll even fix the bike rack, because I don't want to cause a pile-up on Calloway, and spending time together is probably the best thing I've ever experienced in my measly little life.

But, Charles' seat can remain as is. We're done having kids, anyway.

-- Heather Ijames is a community columnist whose work appears here every third Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. Send email to her at