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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!
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
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.
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.