Friday, June 25, 2010

A Few Choice Words on Advice

   I find myself in an interesting position these days. My blog - which I really write for myself to chronicle my thoughts - is very much like what I used to write in my diary, but now I find myself sharing it with the skating, parenting and blogging communities. In many ways I have unlocked the book and turned over the key to the blogisphere. And while I don't monitize my blog, I have collected a "following," of sorts. I am aware that you are watching, reading and listening - and responding. What I also realize is that this all comes with an incredible responsibility.
   Observing and editorializing is what I do here. I don't try to be Dear Abby or Ann Landers (they were sisters, you know). I don't do advice to the lovelorn - unless they are in the immediate family; I merely chronicle life as I see it. The problem with doing my kind of editorializing is that people now consider me an expert. Increasingly, I am asked advice on what to do, where to go; how to navigate the frozen and muddy waters of competitive skating. The challenge comes in the fact that 1) I am still finding my own way, and 2) what may be my experiences may not be the same as someone else. No two snowflakes are alike (though I suspect that no one can prove that positively); no two parenting or skating experiences are alike. That's the real truth.
   After my last blog where I said I would not be going to our local competition, I found that life got in the way and a change in work and personal schedules made it possible for me to drop in to see a young man I have been mentoring over the past months. He has just moved from Novice to Junior, and in the past two weeks has also changed coaches. Today was a struggle for him, and we talked awhile after his skate, trying to put everything into perspective. He is very talented. Like our skater, he has been quick to develop artistically but it has taken him longer to develop technically. He will be fine. Actually, he will be more than fine once he understands his gift and starts believing that it is okay to take your own developmental path, no matter what anyone says - even me. After all, no two snowflakes are alike.
   This was also the first time in more than a year I had entered the "hallowed halls" of the facility that was such an integral part of our lives for more than 10 years. Since I am sharing my "diary" with you, I will admit that this was not an easy thing for me to do. I did not waltz into the building with any sense of entitlement because I had paid a visit to Mount Olympus. I actually had to force myself to get out of the car and walk through the doors, carrying my baggage with me. While it is true that you can't go home again, sometimes you have to make a short visit, as much for your peace of mind as to exorcise your mental ghosts. What I discovered was not what I expected.
   I am an observer. I am a former English teacher, a trained PR professional, an editorial writer and occasionally a humorist. What I am not is a reporter. I call it as I see it and hope that I strike a chord or two along the way to make people think. However, I seem to have stuck enough chords to score a short skating sonata, because after I passed through the gates, checked my baggage at the door (no additional charge for the carry-on, by the way) and entered those hallowed halls, I found myself inadvertently "holding court" for some skaters and parents. I felt like a cross between Oprah and Tony Robbins instead of my usual egocentric literary feeling of being a cross between my journalistic idol, columnist and humorist Erma Bombeck, the irreverent author and chef Anthony Bourdain, and 60's comic writer Alan Sherman of "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" fame. Because of this blog - because of this personal diary and chronicle of my life on the edge - I was now the guru on the mountain; the purveyor of wisdom; the key to the Holy Grail of skating life as we (think) we know it. In other words, I was the perceived key to the "Truth." 
   No two snowflakes are alike. My experiences on our journey will never be exactly like yours. My observations are merely that. Fortunately or unfortunately - depending on your point of view - what  I have is a gift of words. It came genetically from my father and mother, as well as from my very talented, theatrical and more-than-occasionally dramatic grandparents. What I have been blessed with is the power of understanding and communicating experiences in a way that seems to touch people. I hope that everyone understands that when they ask my advice. I hope that they take what I say with an ocean full of salt, even when it comes from a well-seasoned skating mom. I hope they seek my advice as just that, and not as gospel truth. Because like the individuality of snowflakes, my truth is mine. Theirs may be quite a bit different, even though we all end up with a lot of stuff to shovel.  
   So, thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your support. Thank you for taking me into your homes and into your hearts. Just understand that I am a flake - and I'm proud of that. What I am not is a well of knowledge; I'm merely a wealth of experience that I try to distribute carefully and wisely. 


  1. Great post, Allison! How true - "no two parenting or skating experiences are alike," just as "no two snowflakes are alike."

  2. Allison, you have an honest voice and a way of looking at the figure skating world that is both funny and eloquent. That's why I'm a fan.

    Ice Mom

  3. Experience is so valuable, even though no two journeys are alike, it helps to know what even one person saw on the other side. It beats going blindly into the unknown! Thank you for your insight and generosity in sharing your musings.

    Also, it helps me to know that your son and this other young man you mentioned developed technical skill a little after artistic, because my skater is like this and it's difficult for him to see the value in the artistic since so much of the instant gratification points come from technical elements.
    Thank you for this gem.

  4. Thank you, Deb and Ice Mom. I totally respect you both for what you continue to do to educate parents in this sport.

    Skatermom.P - I'm not sure what level your son is skating, but all you have to do is look at the system, as well as the new changes just set in place, to know that the judges are looking for "the whole package." It is easy - particularly for boys - to think that jump, jump, jump is all that is getting rewarded. In some instances, depending on the level and the competition, that's not entirely incorrect. But a skating program is an integrated blend of athleticism and artistry. Occasionally, one will outweigh the other on any given day. But when the music stops, you had better be sitting in the chair of both art and sport or you're going to be left standing literally in the cold and you'll be out. We can't afford to lose boys from this sport so I personally hope he "gets it" and starts treating his programs as a whole presentation.

    Epilogue: My wonderful Junior Man had a much stronger showing in the long program today. While it wasn't perfect, he didn't let go of anything he did and while knowing that he has a long way to go with his skating, he was satisfied that he fought today. I smiled :)

  5. Oops, I guess I didn't state in my previous comment clearly enough. Don’t worry, we won’t lose him, he loves skating and is on the right track. DS is really good at the artistic side, but the technical is slow since relatively speaking he has not been skating as long as many boys his level. He's intermediate level BTW. At his level, having a double jump or higher level on your element that your competitor doesn’t have makes a difference in the points. The field hasn’t evened out technically yet, so if you have better technical skill, you have more points (like you pointed out).

    He captivates when he skates and many people will complement him on his expression and how he really shows people that he loves skating. However, like you say, it's the jump, jump, jump, that is so very important in his mind. ;) Though he is very aware that great skating takes artistic expression as well as technical skill, I observe that he isn’t as appreciative of his own artistic side as much as he realizes how far behind he is in the technical side. So I really appreciated the anecdote that you shared about your son and your Jr. skater. It’s just nice to know.

    I always tell him that IMHO, the artistic side is of skating is very difficult to learn, more so than the technical in many ways because it comes from inside. I try to help him to see his gifts in that area.

    Thanks for sharing these program gems (your new post)! For a while now we have been searching youtube and watching (coaches advice), Gary Beacom, Kurt Browning, Scott Hamilton, Robin Cousins and the like, but we keep watching the same programs over and over again because we can’t find any others. I look forward to viewing some of the new programs you suggested.

    Thanks so much for the reply!

  6. There are many good wise moms out there who do not need advice. They don't give advice either. They just do their own thing.

    I think you end up with questions because you are one of the few who enjoy editorializing and who actually welcomes questions and answers them. I suspect those who gets answers also go back to do their own thing their own way, but hey, people like seeking information.

    I'm glad you have a following. I suspect the "followers" are likely the ones who already agree with you. Those who don't agree just keep quiet and ignore. We all like to think that we are open minded (yeah, right) but the reality is that no one likes hearing dissenting views. So people do end up hearing from those who agree.