Last Saturday I visited with my son and his family. One of my grandchildren had been invited to a birthday party that day and the whole family was invited to come as well. The boys were excited as it was a skating party. My tween granddaughter wanted to go but also was ill at ease as no one her age was known to be there. I tried to talk her into a shopping trip with me but she informed me she just wasn't a "shopping type girl." I offered to do something else but she just didn't take me up on it. I have to admit this was as much for me as for her. At a certain age, skating birthday parties just don't have the same thrill they once did…a very, very long time ago.
Off we went to their towns' only skating arena. There were a fair number of people there but it was not packed. There were adults with kids. The youngest looked to be about four. My grandsons rented skates and hung onto the sides of the rink near the wall. They would try to skate but panicked when they fell. David was very young and cried when he fell. James was older and went with his birthday party friends. Wendy just kept looking at the skaters and I kept encouraging her to go. Although she is very beautiful and graceful, she is very shy and reticent. But I noticed as the afternoon went on she kept looking at the rink.
Neither my son nor his wife had skated much as children and did not want to get out on the rink. My son had a physical fitness exam coming up. His wife was not a skater. David grew frustrated. Mom encouraged and stayed by him (minus wheels). He would walk his skates a few steps when the left leg would suddenly go east while the right stayed planted. The knees on his jeans were waxing the floor.
I had lived near a skating rink growing up and spent a summer there on the rink whenever I could get thirty-five cents from my mom. But that had been decades ago, literally. I had skated one or twice when my kids were young but that too was a couple of Xs ago as well. As I got older I got myself a pair of skates (something I had always wanted) and went promptly out and cracked my tail bone in my driveway. I never tried again. That was just V years ago.
I sat by that rink watching my grands missing the fun I remembered. I remembered the pure joy of the rushing air hitting my sweating face as I drove my skates around and around that wooden oval. Skating had been something I could do alone and not stand out. Everyone (except a few mushy couples that skated with linked hands) skated alone. It was just you avoiding other skaters circling that track. I held an illusion of personal control pushing out to sweep around others not going as fast as I could or swerving away when they would suddenly spill out legs and arms onto the floor. I was able to avoid pain using the skill I had honed. Well, almost always anyway. It was enough to give me the delicious delusion of power over circumstances.
I could read frustration, shyness, embarrassment, awkwardness and longing to belong in those beloved children. Could I do this? Should I do this? Would I just embarrass them? I caught David's eye just then and knew I had to try.
I paid my money and rented skates. The kids were right next to me as I laced up. My son and daughter-in-law looked amused and alarmed. I could hear their silent communication, "Mom really is crazy." The boys were thrilled. Wendy looked as if she wasn't sure if she wanted to disown me or not. I wobbled out to an opening between the retaining walls. I walked a little then felt my feet sliding away undirected and grabbed a hold on the wall. "Great. I thought to myself." Then I saw David and James watching me. I pulled up straight. I reached back into my mind and pulled out that 10 year old girl that flew joyfully around a skating rink. I tried to get her legs to come too but that just wasn't going to happen. But I did get a hold of the image of skating and hung on tightly to it. I walked three steps and fell again. "Oh, that will make a lovely bruise."
I wobbled as I rolled slowly. The wall was my best friend right then and I kept myself close. "This is so lame. You just have to do it. Get going!" I fussed at myself. I pushed myself away the wall (out of touching distance) and started pushing those skates left and right. I was OK until the turn came. I forgot how to turn! Spatt! I was down on my side. Ouch!! The boy looked at me scared. The black stripped shirted teenager came over to me to make sure I was still in one piece. I waved him off. The boys came to me. "Are you OK?" they asked anxiously.
I shook my head at them. "I just fell down. When you are learning to do anything, you are going to fall down. The important thing is to get back up again. Let's go." They looked at me as if they weren't sure that I didn't really hurt my head. But when I said that I knew I had spoken the truth. I was going to fall this afternoon and it was going to hurt. And that was the price I had to be willing to pay if I was going to do this. I had to embrace that choice right now and stop thinking about falling. I got back up testing my limbs. Everything was still connected and pointed in the anatomically correct direction. I pushed off again. I lifted my feet and pushed hard to the back and left and back and right. I felt the wind push my sweaty hair off my face. I slowed at the turn but made it around. I started again pumping my legs left, right, left again. Another three turns then someone spilled in front of me and I turned away and slammed into the wall. Time for another quick inventory and I pushed off again.
That day I watched David as he watched me. He stayed on the rink a solid three hours. He was not quite skating yet but he was close. He still fell but quickly got up without Mom coaxing. There were no tears now as he accepted the fall and just pushed off again.
Later that evening I was in the back seat with my grands. They were exhausted but happy. Wendy told me everyone in the rink had been talking about me. I winced for her. "Did I embarrass you?" I asked softly.
"No, no" she quickly said. "They weren't laughing. They were just amazed you kept getting up." I laughed to myself. "So was I" I thought. David was proudly describing his skating to everyone. I praised him as well. He smiled at me. "You 'teacheded' me. I was watching you and you 'teacheded' me how to skate." He's only six, we'll work on English grammar later. Right now, I love those words.