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How Ice Skating With My Kids Brought Me to My Knees

Most of the things I do with my children involve me sharing my greater skill level with them. I can read, so I spend a lot of time reading them stories. I’ve taught them how to ride bikes, climb trees and break eggs for pancakes. Occasionally, we engaged in an activity they excel at and I am in the student role, like the time my daughter taught me how to use the rainbow loom or schooled me on making a Lego car.

Rare are the instances when all three of us—my 4-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter and I—find an activity that is novel for all of us. Actually, it had never happened until that fateful Sunday when my daughter suggested: Let’s go ice skating!

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My children had never been on skates. I think I skated once at the mall back in 1985, but I had only shadowy recollections and zero muscle memories. In theory, hitting the ice sounded like a cozy winter activity. I was more concerned about where we’d park and how much it would cost than about how I would fare on those thin blades while also keeping my children from busting their heads open.

We navigated all the preparations and found ourselves face-to-face with a shiny, crowded rink. The kids looked up at me with expectant, now-what-do-we-do expressions, and I had no idea what to tell them. This wasn’t going to be an activity where I could guide them step-by-step. I didn’t have the first clue about how I was going to stay my feet, much less how to advise them.

Because I couldn’t say nothing at all, I gave them a pep talk about being willing to be a beginner and to accept that they would probably fall. A lot. I waxed poetically about practice, humility and tenacity. For good measure, I told them to “use their core,” because I figured that’s probably always true any time you do something physical.

There was only me and them, finding our way together around that slick surface, hoping to learn something new.

It’s impossible for me to overstate how uncomfortable I felt on the ice. I had my son on one hand, my daughter on the other, so that little pep talk from earlier? I had to use it on myself. I was dying to grab the wall and urge them to give it a whirl on their own while I watched. The last thing I wanted was to feel physically vulnerable in the exact same way my kids were.

I was scared of falling.

We shuffled a few feet. I was able to keep us upright. We shuffled a few more feet. I begged my daughter, who was on the inside, to hold the wall with her outside hand. It seemed like one of us should reach for an anchor. My son went down first, followed by my daughter. By some miracle, I was able to stay up while getting them sorted out. Eventually, I went down too. Twenty-seven minutes later, we’d made it half way around the rink. I was sweating through my wool cap and my shoulders were aching from being jerked out of their sockets every time my children went down.

Slowly, we started to figure stuff out. My son observed that if you kept your feet moving in a fluid motion, it was easier to get around. My daughter realized that if she kept her torso tilted forward, she would be able to balance better. I contributed the keen insight that when we fell, we should scoot to the side so that the skaters going 50 mph didn’t slice our skulls.

In our two-hour trip to the rink, we made it around three times. All three of us falling, getting up, sharing what we learned, and, at times, complaining about how cold, hard and unforgiving the ice was.

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I wasn’t expecting a profound experience that afternoon. But it was. It was the only time in my life I was a beginner in the exact same way my children were. It was monstrously uncomfortable and humbling. I much prefer the role of their sage mother, the one who’s seen it all and done it all, or at least can credibly fake it. There was no faking out on that ice. There was only me and them, finding our way together around that slick surface, hoping to learn something new with each step that would make the next go round a little easier.

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