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Friday, January 7, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

This week, I have embraced the fact that one of the perks of being a grown up is that you can take charge of your own life and do that thing you always wanted to do but never got around to doing.

For me, that thing is learning how to ice skate. And I don't mean any old wobbling my way around the rink in slow circles, either. I mean really ice skate. With jumps and spins and grace and footwork and rhythm and soaring speed. And maybe even with music.

I started lessons when I was about six, making my way through the first four levels of figure skating basics in a year or so, until my mother got tired of the long drive to the rink, my sisters got old enough to want to do activities too, and somehow we all switched over to dance.  Ballet was fine. Tap was fine. But neither of them gave me that sense of freedom, of flying, like ice skating had.

As I got older, I would go skating with friends whenever the chance presented itself (which wasn't very often in Georgia).  Mostly, I traced endless circles on our quiet street in my roller skates, perfecting my limited skills, pretending asphalt was ice, dreaming of sparkly skirts that floated enticingly around powerful legs skimming effortlessly over the frozen ground.

Preparing to go off to college, I had a $100 prize that I'd won from my high school and, bound for Vermont, I bought myself a good pair of ice skates with the money.  This seemed at once an extravagance and an absolute necessity. I took ice skating to fulfill my PE requirement.  I went to the rink during open practice sessions and glided around on the ice to my heart's content. It felt like coming home.

My sophomore year, I discovered the water trap in the golf course that backed up to campus, and--armed with a borrowed cafeteria tray--I cleared its frozen surface of snow.  One thing about winters in Vermont: if it's not snowing, it's brilliantly sunny. So it didn't take more than a few days for the surface I'd cleared to become as smooth as glass.  All that winter, whenever I felt stressed or in need of a little solitude, I went out to my own private rink and dipped and soared and imagined that I had the grace of ballerina and the skills of an Olympian.

In truth, I had neither. But I could skate smoothly and fast, do a few minor tricks. And I could, in my mind's eye, perform brilliantly. At the ideas of ice skating, I was second to none. My body felt one with the skates; the peace, the utter rightness of the way it felt to move across the frozen surface, were incomparable.

By the time I started graduate school, I could manage a wobbly spin or two, a basic waltz jump. It somehow didn't surprise me that I ended up living on a street that bordered a wonderful park whose pond system was kept cleared all winter for skating. There was a loop for speed skaters, an area for hockey practice, and sections for those of us who just wanted to glide and dream of what we might do, if only anyone had ever taught us how. That first winter, the cold hit hard and fast, and I learned the miracle of black ice: ponds frozen so quickly that the ice was perfectly clear to a depth of two feet or more.  Apart from starburst fissures below the surface--like comets with fantastical tails frozen in time--the ice was clear and glassy, with a surface smoother than any Zamboni could ever have produced. That winter, I must have skated miles, forwards, backwards, in giant arching loops, feeling a combination of exhilaration and intense longing. My body, unfettered by shoes, unmoored from its usual pace, felt poised to take flight. And yet, I could only manage three-turns and crossovers, the entrance to a spin, but not a lovely spin itself. Icebound, afraid to trust my body to the air, I did not jump but only glided along dreaming of jumping.

Until last fall, it had been years since I went ice skating. And then, on a whim, I bought some skates--new for me, used for Daughter--and we started going weekly to the rink that's five minutes from our house.  She got to the point where she could toddle across the ice without holding onto anything, and I found my rhythm again. I hit that stride where I could hear the music, feel the power and the grace, sense the longing for more.

And so, I signed us both up for lessons.

In twenty-five minutes this past Tuesday, an instructor managed to correct half a dozen problems I was having, showing me how lifting up through my ribcage here, or twisting more there, or being conscious not to flick my heel at that point, would change everything.  There are no other adults signed up for lessons at 10am on a Tuesday. The preschoolers are all clad in snowpants and helmets, marching around, leaning down to pick up stuffed toys as a ploy to practice their balance while shifting their weight. Wee ones with hockey sticks in hand smack at pucks they can only send scuttering six feet across the ice.

And at one end of the rink, a forty year old woman in black sport pants dips and glides, guided by the first real skating instructor she's had in thirty-odd years.

The eight levels of Figure Skating Basics are condensed to four for adults; it turns out that I already have all the skills of the first two, so she will starting testing me through level three next week. The instructor told me we will move on to some ice dancing. I think this is code for, "you're too old to manage those gravity-defying jumps the young whippersnappers are practicing"--since ice dancing is all about footwork and grace rather than mind-blowing tricks--but I'm okay with that. I told her I would like to get to the point that I can manage some basic spins, perhaps a jump or two, but I have no desire to break anything.

I spent two hours practicing yesterday and could feel the difference in my skating just from that first lesson. To be sure, I had to take some ibuprofen for my aching knees last night, but that did absolutely nothing to mute the glorious freedom of movement that still clung to me from the morning.

There may not be glittery, floating skirts in my future; I will never be an Olympian; but finally, as a grown up, I am going to learn to do what all my life I have longed to do--come as close to flying as is humanly possible, given that we don't have wings.


Fawn said...

Beautiful, MommyTime. I had skating lessons when I was a girl and I was pretty good, too, until puberty hit. I seem to have lost pretty much all my athleticism at that point. Now I am wobbly and uncertain on skates, too afraid to break myself, I suppose. So happy that you have found your wings again. Thanks for taking me along for the ride in my imagination.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Oh! I am so happy for you! I hope it continues to be a source of joy and happiness!

Mrs F with 4 said...

I love, love LOVE that you are doing this! I have fantasies about skating (no, I haven't done it); gliding effortlessly across the gleaming smooth ice....

As part of our never-ending efforts to assimilate - and three of the children ARE Canadian, after all - we built an ice rink in the back yard this year. I bought the eldest three secondhand skates and sent them out there. Naturally, they can skate. How can that be?!

Jaina said...

What a beautiful image and story you have created here. It reminds me of how one of my best friends describes ice skating. I am so happy that you are doing this for yourself :)

Momo Fali said...

Good for you! Everyone should do something they're passionate about.

Bejewell said...

WOW. I am totally saluting you right now. And no, I don't mean the old one-fingered salute (which I'm a whole lot more well-known for) but a genuine, I-Do-Not-Have-the-Balls-Nor-the-Ankle-Strength-To-Do-That, undying-respect-forever kind of salute.



Suburban Kamikaze said...

Stop apologizing and make your peace with the glitter.

Vice President, Midwestern Chapter,
Moms on Ice

Circus Queen said...

It's fantastic that you're fully throwing yourself into this. I'd planned to step out on the rink for the first time this winter then found out I was pregnant and decided it might not be such a great idea. I'll take your cue and go for it next year for sure though!

MommyTime said...

Circus Queen, yes, this is probably not the best time to start learning to skate. But I can't recommend it enough once you're able to try it! It's fantastic exercise and so much fun.

SK, where do I sign up for your chapter? Does membership come with sparkle-wear?


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