Sunday, January 1, 2017

Taking Stock at the Start of 2017

 It's now 2017, and it is time to take stock of what's important in my life. Certainly, my family is at the top of the list. I am eternally grateful for all of them. My husband continues to be my rock and my anchor. My 94 year old mother keeps life interesting, as do my adult kids, their partners, a beautiful and precocious grandchild and a grand-dog. They all are my thousand points of light that make up our anything-but-normal family.

 However, lately I've found myself on the fence about things outside of heart, hearth and home. I've relatively successfully transitioned from being a skate mom to being a skating mom. (There is a difference - a slightly lower level of crazy and a somewhat higher level of respect.) I don't  wear a hair shirt or flail about wailing at the loss of my previous life. I have other things to occupy my time. 

To a degree, however, that is my conundrum. 

For the second straight year, I am heading to Nationals as a spectator and not a skate mom. It is an important season for all skaters hoping to make it to PyeongChang in 2018. This is a dress rehearsal, of sorts. This is the competition where skaters will start to jockey for position and show that they are worthy opponents on the frozen world stage. Of course, next year in San Jose everything will be on the line. This year, though, we will see who stands out - and stands up to the pressure. 

This year, however, I'm going not only for the standout stories, but for the ones that are lesser known, among them is competitor-turned coach-turned competitor again, Dennis Phan. 

The same age as my son, I watched Dennis compete for many years. He was a US National Champion at Junior and a Junior Grand Prix Gold Medalist. His last senior competition was Spokane in 2010. A beautiful, stylist, Dennis did  shows and then turned to coaching. However, at 31 he felt he had not put a period at the end of his competitive sentence. Against odds, he began training again. He competed at Regionals and qualified. I watched him compete at Sectionals here in Colorado where he took Bronze. I watched him tear up with pride knowing that he had done something most adult skaters would not even dream of doing after not competing for six years. I will be there to watch him skate beautifully, for his family, friends, his coaches and himself. That will be a victory in a season of personal and professional growth. I, for one, will stand and applaud.

I will also cheer loudly for many others who continue to train hard, ignoring the sands of time that are inevitably sifting slowly to the bottom of the glass. These are the heroes of our sport. Some better known; some not. They exist in all disciplines and they continue to fight to do it their way against what others would consider insurmountable odds. They are the warriors, the soldiers and the cement that allows ice to take shape. They do not melt; they continue to add layers for the next generation of dreamers and doers. 

Why is this a conundrum for me? I should be there looking at the bigger picture, and I will most certainly be doing that. I will cheer for the men, ladies, pairs and dancers, most of whom I've known since they were mere babes on blades. My heart is with them as they make their statement about representing Team USA in 2018. I know what they are going through right now. It is all too familiar. It is a level of nerves that strikes me to the core. 

 So, I'm taking stock of what matters to me right now, and that is seeing the lesser publicized stories play out on the ice in Kansas City. It's important to remember that each skater who earned a spot by qualifying through Regionals and Sectionals made a personal statement. They worked hard to get there and they deserve their moment, and our respect. 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Take Note

This entry has nothing (directly) to do with the presidential debates.However, it has everything to do with how one is perceived when in the company of others -  and when one thinks they are not being watched, or heard. Today, everything is under a microscope. There isn't a move, a breath or a word that doesn't fall under the glare of some form of media, or that goes unnoticed, not only by steadfast friends but ardent critics. 

I mention this to remind you that no one is immune.

Lately, I have had texts and messages from friends who are just beginning their foray into the frozen tundra. While two are not new to skating and have been involved on the athlete side, they are now adjusting to the slightly ill-fitting and uncomfortable role of being "skate mom." Like an expensive costume, it takes a number of adjustments until it feels (somewhat) like something one can live with. The comments to me outlined not only what was happening on the ice, but in the stands. Unguarded snippets of conversation were overheard about other skaters, coaches and parents. There was discussion of body type and weight; who could do what jumps and what was "under-rotated." This was coming from parents of preliminary skaters. 

  I know that one blog isn't going to be a reason for behavior to stop, or even take a momentary pause. It is part of the fabric of who we are as people. We talk. We observe. And, yes, we gossip. It gives us something to do. For some, they use it it is used to establish their position of dominance within the "tribe." It is our nature.

But today, nothing goes unnoticed. There are virtually no secrets, no private conversations and particularly no subtle gestures, glances or physical stances that escape the eyes - or ears - from those who are merely casual and amused narrators to those whose existence seems to be defined by minutely reporting such things in great and somewhat lurid. There is no casual conversation anymore.It is all observed, scrutinized and reported in some form. 

You are not even safe in the bathroom. I have stood in many lines during an ice resurface overhearing conversations about my skater. I've sat in arenas next to strangers who have taken great pleasure in analyzing his every move, and have even made comments about our family. (Those are the most fun, particularly when I introduce myself and watch the display of 50 shades of red faces and a tumble of nonsensical words and shallow apologies.) 

All of this brings me back to the debates. The spoken word is powerful, but so is the unguarded one. The choreographed gesture is not as noticed, or reported, as the silent stance. When you step outside your private enclave, you step on stage and there is a spotlight just waiting to follow you. 

The cautionary words of a Stephen Sondheim song from "Into the Woods" drives home my point.
 How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

 Everyone is watching. Everyone is listening. As my actor grandfather was fond of saying, "There are no small parts, just small actors." Nothing goes unnoticed. Nothing.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nothing But The Truth - From My Perspective

Since 2009, when I began writing "Life on the Edge of Skating," the intent was to have it be from my perspective as a skating mother following the journey from the stands, imparting Yoda-like wisdom along the way and seasoning it with a large dose of humor. What it has always been about, however, is perspective.

There is a fine line between perspective and truth. Unfortunately, we are seeing that in every aspect of our lives these days. Except for death and taxes, there is little else that is absolute truth; the rest is how you perceive it to be - it's your truth because you're living it.

Thus it is with skating - and with moving on. The "truth" is (at least for me) the transition from being a skating mom to being whatever-it-is I am now has been much simpler than I thought.

Don't misunderstand. I still love skating with a deep and abiding passion, it's just that my perspective has changed. Instead of looking from the inside out through frosted windows where everything has a fun house mirror effect, my perspective has broadened. I don't find myself automatically turning onto the road where the rink is when I'm driving past. As a matter of fact, I rarely think about it any more.
 I rarely go to competitions, except for Nationals which is an annual (slightly dysfunctional) "family reunion" that I wouldn't miss for the world, unless other things in life get in the way.

Okay, I have to come clean. Truth:
  • I am still wearing the earrings my skater gave me when he was seven years old - the ones I said I would retire when he finished competing. 
  • I can't bear to pack away the years of costumes that still occupy too much space in a closet. 
  • I still watch YouTube videos. 
  • I still stand and cheer. 
  • I still occasionally cry. 
  • I am always and forever grateful and proud. 
  • I will always and forever be a skating mom. 
  •  Every E ticket paid out provided a thrilling ride.
  •  Every friend I've made along the way has given me far more than I could ever give them. 
  • Everything that's happened has shaped us into the people we are and the family we continue to be.

And that's the truth - at least from my perspective.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

All The World's a Stage - Final Thoughts on Boston 2016

I'm not sure I have "final thoughts" on Worlds 2016. I'll leave that to the people who were actually there. All I can say is that having it in the US and having it in Boston was the BIGGEST shot in the arm skating could have received in our country.
Everyone brought an A Game. It didn't matter where they ended up in the rankings, they earned their way there through years of hard work. My hope is that they'll take away a lot of pride, as well as things to work on for the future. In some cases, the immediate pain of not meeting their expectations will hopefully pass into the realm of Lessons Learned and they will move forward.
For all those skaters and coaches who will go back to the drawing board as we head in to year three of the quadrennial and the march to PyeongChang, remember every moment in Boston - good and bad - and use it to build on your strengths. After all, this is a sport  you do; it is not who you are. Good or bad, it only defines you as a person if you allow it to do so. How you view yourself is the only thing that matters in life - on and off the frozen ponds and white-hot glares of the outside world. That is your ultimate "A Game," and it lasts long after the ice melts.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

I haven't had a lot to say lately about skating. As a matter of fact, my last blog was in January. Friends have asked, "Aren't you going to keep writing?" 


When I started this diary of a mad skating mom back in 2009, there was a lot to say, and I thought it was going to be more of a journal than an autobiography, of sorts. What happened some 308 pages later (yes, I know because I actually put my blogs into print) was a chronicle of experiences that amazed and astounded me. It was born out of a pressing need to let people know what it was like to be on this journey. It was cathartic to sit for hours on end, albeit in short bursts, and write about our exploits, observations, highs and lows. It was therapy.

But being on the outside looking in this year, I have to say I'm having a difficult time finding my voice. No "Go Alexander" has reverberated off the walls at competition from my husband. Nary a butterfly has flitted by begging for attention. Hyperbole has been left to other practitioners while I have stood silent sentry. (Okay, so that's a bit melodramatic but it sounded good.)

Bottom line: I've been trying to find my new new skating "identity." I went to St. Paul and found it incredibly awkward to be sitting in the center of the arena in the 7th row after 20+ years in my precious Lutz corner. I watched some inspired skating. I reconnected with a number of longtime friends and met some new ones that I've only interacted with on Twitter and Facebook. I spent a lot of time hugging, kissing and being part of a wonderful, quirky and slightly dysfunctional "family reunion." It felt as if I had donned a new wardrobe that was like a slightly ill-fitting suit; you know, the one where you like the look, but the pants are too short or the jacket too tight.

I know I've talked for a long time about switching from my best Erma Bombeck style of writing to channeling my other favorite and entertainingly caustic writer,  Anthony Bourdain. No matter how I try, I'm finding it's not in my nature. Sure, I could take potshots at a LOT of things - and a number of people - in and around skating. I just can't bring myself to do that. For every time I get angry,frustrated and cynical, there are those times that I look back in utter disbelief that I've been given this gift and a chance to share it all with you.

Next week will be the end of the second Quadrennial - that's two years of the four between Winter Olympics. I know what it's like to be a parent going through this time. I was blessed (or cursed, if you count the boxes of consumed antacids) to do it twice. The anticipation is palpable. Expectations are sky-high. 2018 seems like it is as far away as another galaxy, and about as incomprehensible. It isn't. Believe me, I know. 2018 will become the number of seeming seconds before the Nationals that will determine our Olympic skating team for Pyeongchang. It's right around the corner, and while it will not mean another trip for me as a skating parent (though I hope to go as a volunteer), it is the year I will retire from my job and move into the next chapter of my life.

I suppose that is part of why I haven't had much to say. Life seems to be writing those chapters. At this point, I'm the annoying backseat driver who keeps trying to put the pedal to the metal or apply the imaginary break; in reality, I'm only along for the ride.To be brutally honest, that's what I've always been - along for the ride. 

The other night I was watching PBS and there was a show on featuring folk and rock singers from the 60's. I was about to turn it off when out walked Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. I went to Chicago Latin School with Roger (then Jim). He was a senior when I was in 7th grade and he performed many times in class assemblies. Roger looked amazing and his voice still had a wonderful resonance to it. He started playing the iconic "Turn, Turn, Turn." Of course, in the 1960's the lyrics had another purpose behind them. However, now the words from The Book of Ecclesiastes made me reflect on where I am now in my life. 

To those skaters, coaches and parents either at the start or nearing the end of your journey, I have only one thing to say: Enjoy the process and be kind to one another along the way. Skating is a difficult sport. Don't get caught up in what others may say about you on line or in print. Stay above it, if you can. Be the best athlete, coach and parent you can be because that's all you can strive for in life. Pay it back when you can; always pay it forward because that's an obligation you should have to everything in life. And when the time comes, decide how you want to be remembered by those around you. That's the only important thing.

So, please forgive me if I don't write as much any more. I won't stop, but it will be less frequent. It's a turn of events that was as inevitable as growing older - and hopefully wiser. Thank you for your understanding.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

We Are Family

I am going to St. Paul for Nationals. This decision did not come easily since our skater is not competing. On the other hand, all the stars aligned with nothing critical scheduled for that weekend at work, with excellent airfare, tickets and company offered by a good friend who won tickets in our auction benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. 


I posted on social media that I was going and it was like opening floodgates. Suddenly, everyone of my friends responded. From fans to coaches, skaters and media people the replies were the same. "That's so exciting! I can't wait to get together!" 

That got me to thinking.

I'm an only child. Growing up, I was primarily raised with adults who were in the entertainment industry. I didn't have siblings, though I did have a step brother and sister I saw infrequently and for very short periods of time. My family world revolved around my parents, their friends and their friends' children. I had my friends at elementary and secondary school, then at university. They all came and went with the wind and I understand that. Lives change; interests change. 

It may surprise some of you that I am somewhat of an introvert. Yes, that is greatly at odds with what I do for a living; it is, however, something I learned at a young age being raised in a media family. When you are home, you can be yourself. However, when you are in public, it's Show Time! You're "on," no matter what. 

I mention all of this only because it puts in perspective the amount of surprise I felt with the reaction I received to my simple statement of attending my 14th US National Championships, and only the second without a "horse in the race," so to speak - the first being St. Louis when we attended because it was an Olympic year and we were in the first alternate slot. Tickets had been purchased and we wanted to see how different the vibe was when skaters were laying it all on the line for a trip to The Mountain. This made me realize that I was now a member of a like-minded, occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) dysfunctional family of people who look forward to this frozen reunion in places that are many times difficult to reach, are always expensive but are undoubtedly exciting and certainly fun. Like all families, there's that weird member you could do without seeing, but for the most part it is a time to renew acquaintances and recharge the soul. 

A good friend of mine, whom I don't see nearly enough, posted on Facebook today:
 "I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them . . ."
No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to skating. Everyone I have met, interacted with; those I have kept close and those I have let go, have all taught me something - not only about the sport, but about myself as a person. I have grown a lot in the past 27 years of being on both the inside and outside edge. 

So, I will pack my bags, my hat, scarf, boots and heart and head to St. Paul. After all,  I cannot think of anything better than having another chance to laugh, drink wine, cheer and hug. For those of you whom I will see at the Xcel Center in a few weeks, consider yourself warned: I'm that "crazy aunt" who will happily hold you close and give you a kiss, whether you want it or not. After all, we are family.
See you in St. Paul!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Most Tangible of Intangible Assets

We are half way through the Grand Prix. Though I have no intensely personal reason to watch since I have no "horse in the race", so to speak, I've been fascinated by what is going on, as well as what isn't - at least in my view. I haven't been able to define my sense of uneasiness. It's intangible; illusive. I can't put my finger it. I just continually feel like a character in Samuel Becket's tragicomedy "Waiting for Godot."
Photo from Zimbio.Click for video.
But this week in China, when Javier Fernandez went back to his roots in a short program that blew me away, the light went on. His skate was a tour de force, not for the technical prowess, which was certainly there, but for the pure emotion he displayed and the connection he had with his homeland and its music. It was beautifully choreographed, but it was so much more than that. It was emotional. It was born out of a deep-rooted understanding of the soul of the music, and for just short of three minutes he took me on his journey.
Now I had a tangible reason for my apparent apathy. With so many of the competitors this season I was seeing little that made me want to get up to watch at all hours of the day and night. Jumps, spins, transitions and footwork, for the most part have been quite impressive. However, I found myself content to view the videos on line. But even then, watching on my computer after the fact, what I was seeing didn't move me to generally love - well - what I was seeing.
Just to be sure I wasn't being "that mom" who only cares about watching my skater and no one else, I decided to go back again to some of this year's Senior B competitions, as well as all the videos so far from Grand Prix. Whether competitors were on the podium or not, what I found myself drawn to was their eyes. After all, the eyes are the windows to the soul. The eyes make the connection. They speak volumes without a single word. Here's the wide range of what they said to me:
  • I LOVE TO SKATE! Come join me on my journey
  • You don't have to love me but you have to watch me skate because I'm awesome
  • I'm tossing my hair so I'm emoting
  • If I throw my arms around enough I'll look like I'm emoting
  • I haven't got a CLUE why I'm skating to this music
  • I'm pretending to like my partner
  • I'm bored
  • I'm scared 
  • I'm concentrating so hard I can feel smoke coming out of my ears
  • Don't look at the audience. Don't look at the audience...crud, I looked. Now what?
  • I'm going to survive this
  • PLEASE let this be over
I know the season is just getting started. After 26 years, I know how difficult this sport is and how incredibly hard all these skaters work. However, as a lifelong lover of skating, all I ask is this: If you truly have a passion for what you do, show us - not with a phony point, a choreographed ultra-white grin and uncomfortable-looking wiggle, but with a depth and a confidence that says, "I get it." I don't ask for much. Look me in the eye and give something of yourself that is more than you even knew you had. Show me your soul, not just your score. Trust me to love you for it. If you do, no matter the outcome, I promise I'll watch.