By Brian Lee
Everyone loves May Day but few talk about its dark side. Parents like to believe it’s all cotton candy and unicorns but any kid who grew up here will tell you, May Day can scar you.
Consider the longstanding and seemingly benign tradition of kids riding their decorated bikes in the parade. It’s coming back in a big way this year thanks to a sizable donation of prize money for the winners, but parents:
If you bungle the experience for your child, you risk burdening them with severe emotional issues.
I was just a shy seven-year-old when I learned a family friend had decorated a bike for me to ride alongside her daughter in the parade. I’m not even sure I knew what that meant until the big day when we met up at the Legion before the parade. Maybe it was the crowds or the pre-show chaos of the staging area but something spooked me. I got stage fright and refused to go. Luckily, my subconscious blotted out most of the incident except one horrifying memory of the woman’s (she now drives a school bus) vise-like grip finding my neck as she mock strangled me in frustration over my last minute balk.
The following year I was eight and all my therapists suggested I give it another try. Now a big boy, I was no longer afraid to ride my bike through crowds of spectators ― I might have even warmed to the idea if I had a bike that I was proud to show off. At the time I craved a BMX bike with shocks and knobby tires to hit jumps and slide around in the dirt with. Nothing less would do.
Unfortunately, my mom thought BMX bikes were a dangerous fad that could only lead to a head injury. (Maybe helmets weren’t invented yet.) She even concocted a story about how BMX bikes were about to be banned because doctors had risen up against their medical toll. So, the bike I got that spring was a single-geared, cherry/maroon (I called it pink) throwback to the 1920s with skinny tires and a chain guard that rattled every time I hit a bump.
It became my mission to launch every jump I could find to prove my point that a BMX was a practical necessity for a shredder like me. I destroyed it within months. It was still in pretty good shape by May Day but the last thing I wanted was to be seen riding it through Madeira with crowds of people pointing and whispering:
"Awww, look ― that little gay albino boy is riding a girls’ bike."
But I couldn’t rob my Mom of her May Day parade photo op again, so I accepted my duty like a man. Besides, I was assured, my older sister would decorate it for me. That should have been the tip-off but I pictured it looking like a spaceship or a Second World War tank. Was I wrong.
It’s hard to describe the mix of shame and revulsion I felt on the morning of the parade when my sister ― with obvious pride ― wheeled out that bike flowered up with baby blue streamers and a sign on the front recognizing 1979 as "The Year of the Child." I looked like a tool on it (see photo p. 29), I didn’t place and I never entered again.
So, parents, may you now understand the gravity of your May Day parade decisions. For the sake of the innocent — don’t mess it up.