So we were banished to the hallway and the adjoining rooms-- which there were a-plenty. We played in Grandpa's basement-- which held more treasures than a sunken pirate ship, we watched Nickelodeon in the back room, we spritzed Grandma's perfume, draped her jewelry around our shoulders, and we scoured the floor of Grandpa's closet for so-much-loose-change. And every once in awhile, Grandpa's roller skates would be sitting out-- begging to be played with and put to use in that long, long hallway.
Neither my sister nor I ever owned a pair of skates. We're not sure why, exactly... because I assume that if we really truly madly deeply wanted roller skates, my parents would have purchased them for us. However, my parents usually (still) bought things for an occasion (Read: Christmas and birthdays. And maybe Easter). And since Liz and I both have winter birthdays, I'm guessing we never truly madly deeply wanted roller skates (or even had them in mind) when our birthdays rolled around. Whatever the reason, we just never had them and for obvious reasons, never learned how to skate.
So fast forward to 1989, when I was in sixth grade and miraculously invited to Morgan Nothwehr's birthday party (it was an obligatory invite--only because she was friends with Kelly and I had invited her to my party b/c I thought she was super pretty from afar). My ego was flying high with one small detail-- this party was a roller skating party. So somehow, in the past five years, everyone around me had learned to skate and aside from my clunky trips down Grandpa's hallway, I....hadn't. But, I was eager to learn (and even more eager to fit in to this new group of friends) so I went to the party.
I vividly remember Morgan's mom and my new friends awkwardly holding my arms as my skinny legs splayed out in all directions, the heavy roller skates foreign on my feet. Fortunately, I don't remember feeling embarrassed, but I do remember feeling a little upset-- that aside from those few trips down the hallway in Grandpa's skates, I somehow missed out on learning what everyone else had apparently been privy to. Let's not forget that in the late 80's/ early 90's skating rinks made a huge comeback and for the next three years, I'd be expected to Aqua Net the hell out of my bangs and skate away my Friday and Saturday nights if I wanted to maintain any social dignity. Which is exactly what I intended to do.
And while I was bound and determined to learn how to skate well enough, I never really learned. And I never forgot this whole thing. Definitely not disgruntled about it, but I made a vow then and there, under the sparkly disco ball lights while slow-skating to Michael Bolton (OMG-I held Kevin Oestenstad's hand!) that when I was a grownup, my kids would know how read, write, and roller skate.
So here we are, in the future. (One fourth grader once told me while playing MASH, "But Miss Bomgaars, you can't play-- because you're already IN the future!") And it's time for my kid to learn how to roller-skate. Last summer, the opportunity presented itself while we were at Mindy's when her girls lugged out their skates and performed routines around her living room. Charlie wasn't convinced until he saw Harry give it a try-- and then his fire was ignited. He laced up the skates and gave it a go-- only to be super disappointed by how difficult it was. But he saw the fun potential and later asked for a pair of skates and signed up for Roller Skating class at the Y.
I was so proud of him-- a six year old, ready and brave enough to learn something new. But on the first day of his roller skating class, things fell apart. As we walked over to his class, his eyes filled with tears. He looked up at me and asked, "Do I have to go?" Of course, we were on the playground blacktop after school, with plenty of moms and kids within earshot. I felt like I was on display-- like I was supposed to somehow give the right answer-- but what was the right answer? Let him off the hook and tell Charlie that no, he did not have to go? Force him to go and do more harm? ("My mother, your grandmother, forced me to learn how to roller skate! I've been traumatized ever since!")
In the end, I knelt down and looked him in the eye.
"Charlie, you do not need to love roller skating, or even like it. But you signed up for this and you do need to try it. So today, we're going to go in to that gym and put on your knee pads and elbow pads and wrist guards. We're going to strap on your helmet (which all the kids think is super cool, by the way) and lace up your skates. And once you have all that protective gear on, you can sit and watch kids roller skate the entire time. You don't have to even stand up if you don't want to. But you're not going to quit before you even start. I'll walk in with you and stay by your side as long as you want me there. Promise." He looked up at me and slipped his hand into mine-- silently agreeing to these terms.
That day, Charlie surprised me by not sitting on the chair. In fact, he never even sat down. He walked in and saw his peers clumsily flailing around, some whizzing by, others skate-stepping their way around the gym. They skated and fell and chased and laughed, giving Charlie a much better lesson than I ever could: this could possibly be fun. And in the end, he skated the entire time-- even giving me permission to leave for a bit. When Anna and I came back to pick him up just minutes later, he was on two feet--with wheels. And the look on his face was priceless. At that moment, I saw pride and happiness that only comes with overcoming something that is fearful or scary. And at that moment, I realized that maybe all these years it wasn't really about the roller skating but something more. Maybe it's about noticing when your kids are interested in and wiling to try something new. Maybe it's about challenging them to do things that push them out of their comfort zone-- and standing by as they stumble and possibly fall. Maybe it's about not just saying you believe in them, but actually giving them the chance and the challenge to show that you do. Perhaps it's giving them space to try, but also providing them with boundaries that protect.
Then again, maybe it really is all about the roller skating.