I remember being eleven. Dreams start revving up, self-esteem heads down, and emotions are as stable as a game of Jenga played on a roller coaster.
So when Jane was absolutely, teary-eyed afraid that none of her friends would
bother to be able to come to her birthday party at the skating rink, I told her that if fewer than five kids showed up, I’d skate with her and we would have a blast.
“You? On skates?”
Yes, me. On skates. What?
To hear my mother tell it, she had me on skates before I could walk, and I grew up zipping around our basement, spending a lot of weekends at the roller rink with my friends, and rolling around the lake paths at the nearby park. I was never a fancy skater—forwards without falling was always enough for me—but I had a fair turn of speed, even over rough ground; once you’ve survived the broken, patterned linoleum in our basement, uneven pavement was a breeze.
It was one of the few things, in my loop-the-loop Jenga days, that I knew I could do in public without (much) fear of humiliation.
“And besides,” I added, mostly to myself, “Bumbles bounce.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Mo-om!” But having a Plan B seemed to settle her a bit—she stopped making scathing comments about her relative popularity and started reminding me about my promise instead.
I spent the next two weeks with my fingers crossed. Because bravado aside, it had been sixteen years since I’d laced up a set of wheels and I was fully aware that this Bumble bruises fairly easily these days.
Luckily, seven girls RSVP’d, and though Jane informed me that I was still on the hook, once the party started, she was too busy having fun pay any attention to me.
I was safe.
Except . . . the lights were flashing as the skaters sped by our table. The music was playing in time to the sounds of wheels on the gleaming floor. My feet were moving a little in a barely-remembered rhythm.
And I really wanted to try, just to see if I could, just to know that I had. For old times’ sake.
Plus, as my husband kept reminding me every five minutes, we did have extra free rental tickets and he’d be happy to watch my purse. And the kids had disappeared into the arcade, so there were no witnesses who knew me.
So . . . I went and traded in a ticket for a set of basic skates. And laced up. And stood up. And headed for the rink. Sort of.
Skating, as is turns out, is not like remembering how to ride a bicycle.
Skating is like remembering how to ride four, small, homicidal bicycles on an extremely hard, slick surface. Using muscles that I’d long forgotten I’d ever owned.
I stuck to the rail, stiff-legged, unsure, trying to loosen up my knees and remember the motions that had felt a lot more natural while I’d been sitting down. I’d forgotten somewhere along the way that roller skates can’t snowplow, and it took more effort that I’d expected to keep my feet pointed in the same direction.
I wish I could say it got better, but it didn’t, much. It hurt, and I felt like all my old times were now.
It was a relief when a partner-only skate was called, just as I reached the end of the rail—I’d been dreading crossing the gap to the next one—so I stepped off onto the carpet and followed the wall on the outside of the rink all the way back to the table.
“How did you do?” my husband asked, as I fell dropped onto the bench in an undignified sprawl.
“Not good,” I said. “But I wanted to try and I did, so there’s that.”
“Are you going out there again?”
The arrival of pizza and kids and chaos made the question moot for a while, but by the time the call came for all the birthday kids to spin the Party Prize Wheel in the center of the rink, I’d decided to turn in my skates and try my luck at the arcade with Sunny—my wicked Ski-Ball skillz have never let me or my prize-hungry children down.
But first, I waited to see Janie—who has only just learned to let go of the rail herself, sometimes for seconds at a time—move up for her turn to spin the wheel.
Halfway there, she lost her balance, skidded in place for a second, and landed flat on her back. In front of everyone in the rink.
I wrenched off my skates in preparation to help rescue a terminally-embarrassed pre-teen and her father was already moving—
But then my beautiful girl got up, brushed herself off, and spun that wheel to great applause.
And won a pair of bright pink skates.
Jane came back to the table as I finished putting on my street shoes. Her face shone. “I won! I really won!”
“You really did!” I’d tell her later that I didn’t mean the skates.
“Oh, no!” she said, as Sunny tried to yank me toward the arcade. “Did you already skate? Did I miss it?”
“Today, you did,” I said. “But we have a bunch of free passes, and I want to try inline skates next time. Will you help me?”
Her arms strangled me and she rolled over my foot, but the hug was totally worth it. “Thanks, Mom,” she said.
“Thank you, honey.”