We all bring pieces of our past into our present, try though we might to let go of all that. And really, perhaps we need not let go the way we think that we should. Those pieces of before have become part of the now; we can no sooner be rid of them than we can be rid of our hearts. We can choose the way they shape us, and choose the gravity we give them, but we cannot choose that they happened.
So when I went to the roller rink for a birthday party with my oldest girl, the bits I brought with me were apprehension and anxiety. I was the child who never mastered the roller skate. I fell. Maybe even only once. Maybe twice. But the uncertainty of the wheels was not for me. And I abandoned ship. I remember seeing all my friends roller skate with glee, and sitting at the sidelines wishing I had the courage to throw caution to the wind. It was a rite of passage through adolescence, all those roller rink field trips and parties.
And here I was again, 30 years later, no more a roller skater now than I was then. So naturally, my daughter has never been. We pulled up, and she was trembling with anticipation. With the roller-skates on she was not dissimilar to Gumby on wheels. What a nightmare. She practiced on the carpet a bit, and decided she was ready, to my great concern. But I let her go, because holding her back would have been absurd. I spoke to a parent for about 30 seconds and glanced across the floor to see her crying despondently, unable to even get her legs under her. So I walked the walk that I know so well in sneakered feet around all the rollers. Took her skates off her feet, held her hand and walked her out. And she was devastated. Absolutely devastated that skating was much harder than it looked. And that she couldn’t do it. I told her, “let’s just practice out here on the carpet”. She nodded, resigned to her non-rink status.
And then lunch, cake and ice cream. And happy smiling boys who laughed and dumped nine gallons of hershey’s syrup on their ice cream. And who cared not one whit whether or not anyone in the room could skate. And the pressure disappeared over the merry laughter of disgusting looking sundaes. And she gathered herself up and said, “Mom, I’m ready to try again.” And out she went. First one disastrous lap, then another. And each time she stopped. She came off the rink to talk to me. And then back out she went.
Simply put, her determination floored me. Where I would have sat down, she got up. Where I would have given up, she fought. And in the last lap she said to me, “MOM! I only fell ONCE!!! I’m getting so much better!!!” Oh, the grin. On the way home she said, “OW! My butt hurts!!! But when I fell I said, ‘well, my butt hurts, but I’m not gonna let that stop me from learning how to roller-skate!!'”
If there is one thing in life I would want for my children it is quite simply, that they try. May my children never give up because someone says they should, or because they think they should. May they always, always believe in themselves.
On Saturday I watched my 7 year old child fight back, and rise up after the fall. She showed a resilience and strength that blew me away.
Was it because I was there, I wondered? Had I left, would she have still tried to master skating? After her first fall, when she was in tears and slipping in her skates I said, “I’ve got you. I’ll never let go of you.” And I never will. She knows that. Maybe, I told myself, (amid the myriad parenting mistakes I have made) I have done some things well. Maybe her courage in part comes from knowing I’m always there.
Or maybe, just maybe, she is her own miraculous little self.
On our drive home, upon contemplating all the various explanations for her remarkable grit I realized with stunning clarity:
Maybe she is my teacher and I am her student.
Yes, that has always been true.