My family owes a lot to ice skating. In fact, my first date with my wife of 25 years was at a festival of lights that featured outdoor skating. I still remember how we both pretended we were not good skaters so we could cling tighter to each other.
I grew up in New York’s Niagara Falls area right next to the Canadian border, so ice skating has always been a part of my life. When I was a child, one of my best friend’s fathers created that magical oasis that cold-weather kids crave: a backyard ice rink. Looking back, the rink was quite small, but in my memories it had NHL proportions complete with chain link fence “boards” my friends and I would check each other into. I’ll never forget how heavy an actual puck felt on your hockey stick compared to a street-hockey tennis ball.
As our bodies grew and our skating skills sharpened, we eventually moved our pick-up hockey games to a nearby frozen creek. But I miss the backyard rink more than the creek, which required more shoveling and did not include a post-game meal in my friend Tim’s warm house.
Learning to skate benefits children
Such memories flooded my mind when the time came for my two daughters to learn how to ice skate. While our yard has never been suitable for an outdoor rink, my wife and I made sure they took skating lessons at a local rink. The look of pride and wonder on their faces when they first learned to keep their balance was priceless.
No one remembers the feeling of gaining balance when we learned how to walk. But we can relive a fraction of that conquest of gravity through learning how to do things like ice skate, roller skate, ride a bicycle, snow ski or waterski. That’s why it’s important to help children achieve at least some of these balance-focused abilities that also fuel self-confidence.
Over the years, my family has enjoyed skating together every winter at local rinks or school events. A few times one of my daughters would even choose to have an ice skating birthday party. Caution: if your child wants such a party, make sure everyone invited knows how to skate reasonably well. My back nearly gave out one year trying to help an adorable but very wobbly boy make his way around the rink.
Skating backwards benefits parents
My most poignant memory of ice skating with my daughters as teens occurred a few years ago. I was with my friend, Greg, who has two daughters the same age as mine. We were all skating on a little practice rink, and the older girls were trying to skate backwards. I can only skate backwards very slowly, and I was having trouble explaining how to do it.
Suddenly, Greg’s older daughter figured it out by herself and excitedly showed me how to skate faster. Basically, you push outward on alternating skates while leaning back slightly. I tried it — and it worked! Life had come full circle … or more like a figure eight. Years ago Greg and I had helped teach our daughters how to skate forward, and here they were teaching us how to skate backwards.
Then it dawned on me.
Metaphorically, all children eventually teach their parents how to skate backwards. When we meet our mates and start a family, our eyes (and skates) are fully on the path ahead. But as our children grow and push forward in search of their own missions and mates, their skates leave a trail in the ice that parents can’t help but retrace, savor and — let’s face it — miss terribly.