There’s nothing so humbling as teaching a child ice skating.
Part of this is my problem–I’m not a natural teacher and I’ve managed to screw up just about every lesson I’ve tried to impart on my children, from reading to baking to swimming. But I think teaching ice skating is a special kind of misery. It requires many physical skills (balance, coordination, core strength), some intellectual understanding of what happens when tiny blades meet ice, plus a solid dollop of plain old tenacity. You are going to fall a lot when you learn to ice skate. A lot. A lot lot. That’s guaranteed. It’s challenging to talk a kid through all of those things.
But my daughter wanted to learn and my husband, who is a native of South Florida, doesn’t know how to skate himself. That leaves me. The non-natural teacher. The impatient one. The one who can only explain things like this: “So what you do is…you stand up on the skates, see, and then you kind of…go forward.”
It’s taken a while. Three years, so far. Partly it’s taken so long because there’s no indoor rink near us which means we need to go to an outside rink or a pond. Outside skating is vulnerable to weather disappointments, either it’s too windy or too cold or the ice is pocked up from snow, leaves, sticks, air bubbles, what have you. But we’ve been picking away at it and by the end of last winter I felt like she was getting it, like with just a little more practice we’d be there.
Over the holiday break we went to visit my sister in Vermont, where there is an inside rink with public skating hours. I knew it was a great opportunity. No sticks! No wind! A railing to hold on to! It seemed perfect.
I was right. With the advantages of inside ice, all of the pieces started to click into place. I skated mostly beside her, encouraging her and giving advice while over the course of two hours she grew into a somewhat confident skater. She was still mostly holding the side, but she was doing it. She was skating more than falling. She could go whole minutes without tumbling down. It was a success. With about 30 minutes left in the public skate time, she asked to hold my hand so we could skate together.
Then it happened. She fell. Her feet tangled with mine. And I performed the greatest trick of my 30+ year ice skating career: the inverse inclined plane with a dismount into the prone position.
(My feet went over my head and I fell on my butt.)
It was one of the most dramatic, painful falls I’ve had…well…ever. It was so bad that everyone around me gasped out loud. It was so bad that the rink guard, who had to be about 17, came skating over at top speed and said “Ma’am? Ma’am? ARE YOU OKAY?” with panic in his little puppy dog eyes. It was so bad that, after dismissing the rink guard and standing up–powered only, I might add, by dignity–I immediately had to hobble/skate myself over to the benches on the side and sit down until nausea subsided.
My daughter, however, kept skating. She’d figured it out. While I sat on the side while my stomach churned, meditating on the state of my coccyx, she moved away from the side wall and started skating in the middle with her cousin. We had achieved full ice skating status.
And that’s what’s important. While I fail at teaching outdoor skills, and indoor skills, and most skills, actually, I do succeed at showing my kids that you can fail and get back up over and over again. Even when “getting back up” means lurching to the side of an ice rink before you vomit all over a teenager.
It’s been well over a week since that fall and, yes, my butt still hurts. Varying other areas of my back are hurting in alternating waves as well, I assume from trying to compensate for my aching lower spine.* But I will pull through and ice skate again, this time with a kid who has finally gotten it. We will hit the ponds and lakes of Maine in style. We are destined to be a glorious skating duo with a specialty in inverse inclined planes.
Of course, while all this was going on, the Floridian husband was watching our son attempt to push himself around with the support of stacked milk crates, because the boy child decided he now wants to learn how to skate.
Fine. I will teach him.
But I am definitely not teaching your kid.
* Incidentally, if you are under the age of 30 and generally healthy, do me a favor and stand up and run yourself directly into a wall. Then appreciate how quickly your body bounces back from injury. It won’t happen like that in a decade or so, so enjoy it while you can. (While you’re up, go eat a doughnut. That also will be off-limits soon.)