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.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blast Off...

It’s that time again. The season has begun. With it comes a cacophony of voices similar to the screeching sounds reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Skating boards are aflutter. Social media hangs on every tweet or post. The flock has returned to the nest and they are looking for the next new leader to take them, in wedge formation, headlong into infinity and beyond, or at least into this second half of the quadrennial leading to 2018.

Now that I’m on the outside looking in (or is it the other way around), I find myself concerned for the fledglings in the flock. Up until now, they have flown somewhat under the radar, protected by Regional competition and the occasional foray into the wild blue yonder – meaning across one border or another to sample what it is like to fly in the Jetstream; to test their wings.

However, once they’ve come of age, once they’ve landed at Nationals and earned their position in the wedge, the air becomes decidedly more rarified. The scrutiny becomes more intense. There are many people offering advice, observing, criticizing and pontificating based on every scrap of video posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The cacophony rises and falls with every practice, every run-through and every warm up competition at a local rink. New leaders are chosen and discarded by the minute, by the jump; by the spin; by the music or by the belief that a coach will somehow bestow magical flying powers to boots and blades and mystically infuse the chosen with interpretive talents yet to be observed.

Let’s come down from the clouds for a moment. The fledglings are just that. For the most part, they are young. They may have athletic prowess that seems beyond their tender years, but they don’t have the flight time, or the experience with the tremendous amount of pressure born of unreasonable expectation. Sure, some will shine – for a while. Some will soar. Some will be grounded for mechanical failure. Some will, unfortunately, crash and burn. Learning to fly takes practice; it takes time to hone your skills as the pilot of your internal and physical ship.

My hope for this season is that those who place sometimes inappropriate pressure born of unrealistic expectations find within themselves some level of tolerance for those learning to navigate the sometimes not-so-friendly skies. After all, you’re not the pilot. You’re not the co-pilot. You're the flight attendant. So, like those of us who have lived this for so long, fasten your seatbelt, observe the no smoking (from your ears) signs, and if the oxygen mask drops from the ceiling, take a DEEP BREATH.

It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride to PyeongChang.

Make sure you know what the flock is going on before you blast off.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dear Universe....

"Dear Universe,
Thank you for letting me live out my dreams since I was five years old. I know you're thinking there were other unfollowed follies in these 30 years of mine, but figure skating has always been my first and foremost love. So, I thank you.
My son recently posted this on his Instagram and Twitter accounts for all the world to see. It not only made me very proud, it was corroboration that all those frozen moments of the past 26 years were worth every second. Not that I didn't already know, but to see it in print - to see the image and emotion of pure joy behind the words - actually took my breath away.
It also made me stop and think about what this sport can really mean to  skating parents like me as we transition into our new "Normal."   
Many of my son's contemporaries have now left competitive skating. They have moved on, but many have not moved out. I follow on Facebook and Twitter; I marvel at what they are still accomplishing - some without national and international titles; most without realizing the Olympic dreams they harbored since childhood. They have taken their passion for skating in new directions that will do nothing but improve the sport for the new generation coming to the ice. We have many who are touring the world doing shows, either with companies or on cruise ships. Their travel photos and posts of the places they've been and the things they've seen are better than I could have imagined.
Some have moved on to working as professional skaters and choreographers for companies who are exploring alternative movement on ice. It's exciting to see their creativity as they defy convention and push the boundaries of what we thought could be done.
Several skaters have moved directly into coaching and are bringing along exciting new singles and teams. A few have chosen the path of commentating, replacing the "old guard" with a freshness born from understanding the system as it is now because they've been there, done that and they can communicate it in a way that makes sense.
And certainly, there is immense pride in those who took the discipline of practice and competition they learned in skating and applied it to becoming scientists, researchers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, nutritionists, trainers and teachers with the same passion and dedication they exhibited in their years on the ice. 
As parents, what more could we ask of the Universe than to see our children follow their passions and make it their lives? I guess the only other thing we could hope is that they see it, acknowledge it and say thank you. It makes us realize that, in some small way, we did something right.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

An Open Letter to My Son on the Occasion of His 30th Birthday..

There are many things you know, many you remember, and some you may not. But on the occasion of your 30th birthday, it seemed like an appropriate time to share with you 30 very special memories:

1.       I had eight miscarriages between you and your sister.

2.       I had a tubal pregnancy and emergency surgery.

3.       You were supposed to be “twins.” (Looking back now, I can’t imagine having two of you – identical or fraternal.) I lost one six weeks into the pregnancy. You were tenacious and hung in there. Thank you.

4.       I was confined to bed for three months after you decided to shift. I begged the doctor to allow me to work through World Cup on Aspen Mountain. When the event ended, so did that stint of working for Aspen Skiing Company. The upside was that I learned how to crochet; it’s a skill I’d like to relearn when I have the time, and inclination.

5.       You were going to be named Gregory. Your sister chose your name.
6.       After having one Cesarean, because Gwen was quite comfortable hanging out, I was going to try to have you in the “normal” way. Like everything in our lives, “normal” is how you define it. Apparently, for me, that meant another C-section.

7.       In the delivery room, I lost a lot of blood and they nearly lost me. I remember hearing general chatter go to hushed whispers. I remember seeing a white light. I also remember thinking this was not how this story was going to end.

8.       When they put you down beside me, the only clear memory I have was looking at your hands and saying to the doctor that you had remarkably long and slender fingers. At that point, I thought you might play piano. I was correct about the musicality, just not the instrument with which you would create it.

9.       During a short hospital procedure , to the amazement of the doctor and two nurses, instead of crying you fell asleep on the table. That was the start of your being able to sleep almost anywhere and at any time, a trait that has served you well.

10.   You (mostly) slept through the night right from the start. When you didn’t, I’d sit in a rocking chair and sing a song I made up for you.

11.   You never had colic. I learned from having Gwen six years before that Mexican spices and breast milk are a lethal combination.

12.   Both you and your sister had chicken pox – TWICE. As you get older, remember that because you’ll need a shingles shot when you are my age.

13.   You hated (and still hate) peas and tomatoes, which always made me wonder if you were switched with another baby in the hospital. Same could be said for your sister and her taste. Apparently I failed you when it comes to pedestrian veggies, though you recently taught me to like Brussel Sprouts.

14.   You were blonde. Sometimes, you still are.

 15.   For years, you worked on a “condo” made from a large box that was stored in the garage of our friend Laura in Denver. It was quite intricate, with wall paper, furniture and – oh yes – curtains. I would never criticize your curtains as a guest in your home. That would be impolite.

16.   Your favorite books were “Good Night Moon,” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” but you also loved Dr. Seuss, and anything that had sounds, like “Smelly Jelly, Smelly Fish.”

17.   Your sister used to be merciless in her teasing. I told her that when you were big enough to whip her tail, you would be best friends. Moms are smart like that.
18.   I still have the ONLY Halloween costume I ever made by hand since my favorite response to you and your sister, when you’d say, “So?” was, “No I don’t.” Actually, I don’t. I do wish I still had your red felt crab claws from the costume I made you when you were Sebastian in “Under the Sea.”

19.   Costume boxes that started out for Halloween but turned into so much more for you, Aaron and Gwen. It became a constant source of amusement.
20.   I still have your derby hat from “Big Spender,” and the leather one from your John Denver version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” in the Aspen club shows.
21.   I still have your “Happy Feet” bejeweled neck tie from the Silver Circle opening.

22.   I still have most of your collection of masks, like the one you personally “negotiated” the price during a visit to Chicago when we visited an international fair on Navy Pier. You were so proud of yourself for haggling the price.

23.   I still never hang clothing on the rear hook in the car behind the driver’s seat after I smashed the car on the way to Pueblo Invitational. That was your second-ever competition. You got an ear infection and were sick as a dog but you wanted to skate. I had been up with you all night and we even stopped outside of Monument at a rest stop where you tossed your cookies and I considered turning around. We stopped in Colorado Springs looking for the old World Arena and I saw the International Center. Thinking it was the arena, I parked and we went in to find out it was a convention facility. As we were pulling out, we were hit by another car. It was Valentine’s Day. When we got to Pueblo, I had to call Allen and tell him about the accident, something that was not easy since he had roses delivered to our hotel room. Funny that, all these years later, I now work next to that building at The Broadmoor. I think about it every time I walk outside.
 24.   Having you take me through my basic dance tests was a highlight. I remember judge Virginia Mount watching stoically as we skated by. You came just above my waist and it was everything she could do from laughing – not at your ability, but at my lack thereof.

25.   Pueblo Invitational Solo Dance when you were seven or eight. Aspen Skating Club competitors Gary and Ozzie were standing in corners signaling “One Two Three – Four Five Six” as your dance coach Lisa Warner and I sat on the floor laughing so hard we were crying because you appeared to be dancing to music playing in another rink.

26.   Ice Dance and Pairs. Ice Dance and Pairs. I’m happy you are still friends with at least one of those partners. I don’t know how teams do it. I bow down to Meryl and Charlie, who we saw for the very first time at Junior Olympics when they both were no bigger than a minute.

27.   Drives every weekend from Aspen to Colorado Springs, then flights when Allen started working for the airlines so we could get the benefits.

28.   Planes, trains and automobiles. Fighting over map directions (pre GPS and Siri) and redefining “Terminal Entrance” when we couldn’t get out of the airport in Philly on the way to Wissahickon.

29.   HSBC bag from Junior Nationals in Buffalo that was redefined by Jack Courtney as “Holy S#!T Buffalo’s Cold” when we went from warm to a foot of snow overnight. That was also the start of the now famous “Go Alexander!”

30.  People don't realize that you have an oh-so-not serious side that you graciously share with us. As you continue in your journey, do more of this.

 We have been around the world and back; been to two Olympics and countless national and international competitions. It all happened because when you were four you saw Robin Cousins skate at a show in Aspen. That was the beginning of this amazing journey that is far from over. Thank you for that.
Happy Birthday, Jeremy. You are the SON-SHINE of my life.
Love, Mom

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Don't be Stumped: A Cautionary Tale for Mothers Day

In 1964, Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree" was published. As a mom, you've read it. You've related to it on some level. You've cried at the end. I did. Every mom who has loved her family has been "the tree" at some point.

And ever since the book was published, there has been controversy over its interpretation. Over the years, I've grown to dislike the message of the book on a number of levels.

Don't get me wrong; I love Shel Silverstein's works. He was brilliant and his stories resonate. Perhaps that's why this one bothers me to the core.

As parents, we give life to our kids. Hopefully, we give them nourishment, a roof over their heads; we encourage their hearts; we encourage their minds; we support them through victories and defeats, and we give them the tools to become adults.
From all of that, we also should teach them to appreciate what they have, to give back to others and to simply say thank you. These are the roots of a strong family tree.

Apples don't fall far from the family tree. If we have provided all the things necessary for it to grow, our family tree should provide protection and sustenance. We shouldn't be stumped if we give our kids strength. Only we can provide the seeds to make that happen. 

After all, it is our job to teach them to grow some.  
(dedicated to my daughter Gwen who is  a tower of strength and most certainly her own orchard)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Common Ground

While reading the Sunday morning "funnies," (also known as my Facebook newsfeed) and sipping my coffee, I happened on a post by a new friend who was telling her friends about her daughter's first USFS competition and how she felt about what she, as a mom, had just experienced. While reading it, I realized I could have written it myself (except for the "hair" thing) many years ago, in another rink and in a time long ago and now far away. (Posted with permission with names edited out.)

So looking back over the weekend, I learned a few things…
1. This sport is hard core. And can make or break you. It is also an amazing parallel to what life is like. It is mandatory to have a phenomenal circle around you both at the rink and at home to hold you up.
2. Skating moms don't just see their kid. They see and cheer and hug and help and fret over EVERY kid. Even when they aren't at your rink. (We FEEL those falls AND those landings kids.)
3. This is a subjective sport. So even if you fall OR skate your best program ever, not every judge scores the same way.
4. There is a reason they put tissues in every greeting bag.
5. Jumps and spins mean NOTHING if you don't look like you are having fun out there and enjoy yourself.
6. Early and late practices are really important, and really a pain in the ass.
7. Vendors know their audience.
8. I am a target audience.
9. Rink coffee sucks.
10. I could fund her skating and her college and my retirement by getting a coffee food truck that serves every skating event at 5am until 11pm.
11. Coaches do not get paid enough. They are highly qualified coaches, sure, but they are parents, counselors, drill sergeants and morale boosters as well as organizers, guard dogs and cheerleaders. 
12. My kid is MUCH more competitive with herself than anyone else.
13. Hotels aren't home.
14. People who do hair are no joke. That s#!t is HARD.
15. We are a little too excited for the next one. I did NOT expect that going into this.
And most of all, we are so proud. She was terrified of competing in her first USFS competition and she got medals in both her events.
I'm going back to bed now. To do NOTHING.
 That was me about 20+ years ago at our first USFS competition, before we had Facebook where we could share these feelings with like-minded people, old and new friends and family. We didn't have a sounding board. There wasn't a way to express what we were feeling and experiencing. When it all begins, we are enveloped in the euphoria of every skater and every parent. That doesn't last long at the lower levels. (See Darth Vader Dads and Dragon Lady Moms)

But as skaters have to learn new skills in order to advance and be successful, so do wise parents. This is a path that is constantly under construction and one riddled with toe picks, bad advice, and more ups and downs than a Learn to Skate session.

So, for parents like my new friend who used to skate herself, my advice is Yoda-like:
  • Learn from the "Elders"
  • Enjoy every victory and learn from every experience
  • There are no defeats unless you let them be so. There are only opportunities to grow
  • Not everyone has your best interest at heart
  • Remember that your skater is your most important asset - your child. Nothing else -not even a sport - supersedes that
  • Ask questions; don't "coach" (unless you are a coach then that's a whole different story and subject of a totally different blog)
  • Remember that you employ a coach. Be a responsible employer
  • Be respectful
  • Make sure you have a life outside of the rink
  • Stay excited and caffeinated. Find the nearest Starbucks - Immediately. You won't survive long at competition without it
And no matter what, enjoy the ride for as long as your skater wants to skate and keeps turning in "E Tickets" (sometimes that's easier said than done, and if you don't understand the E Ticket reference, look at my some of my previous 207 blogs or Google it because you're probably too young to remember, which is not a bad thing at all; just fact).

If you do all this, somewhere along the line you'll look back and smile - whether it is two years from today or 25. And isn't that what it's all about? We only get one time around, so make sure it is always done with enthusiasm - and hopefully a little humor, just like my new friend who shared this on Facebook not knowing that I would ask her if I could use this as a way to make my point, and not knowing I do a blog. Now, she knows. We all begin this journey on common ground. That makes me smile! 

Cheers, Denise! This one's for you.