I’ve had quite a couple of weeks in the stands lately. Our saga at Nationals is well chronicled, thanks to the AP wire. It is an experience I don’t ever want to repeat.
Being in the stands at Four Continents without a “horse in the race,” as my mom would say, was another different - yet strangely familiar - experience. I was able to watch without tension, something I don’t think I’ve done much in our 22+ eventful years. It was enlightening and educational.
But with everything that happened, with all the tension and drama, I found the most difficult part of the last few weeks was something that affected me in ways I never knew possible.
Our skater came home last week. While not competing, he was here for testing at the Olympic Training Center after withdrawing from Four Continents with back spasms. Yes, it was wonderful to have him home. It seemed like old times to see his bedroom door closed and the “Do Not Disturb” sign dangling from the door nob. Somehow, time reversed itself for two marvelous days. I made breakfast. I left notes. It was as if nothing had changed in the past three years, though everything had changed.
It wasn’t until I went all “Skate Mom” that I realized how much had truly changed; how much more mature our skater had become, and to a great degree how old I’d become in the process of his growing up – and going on.
I decided to attend a practice session over my lunch hour. I knew our skater was going to be getting back on skates for the first time since Nationals at a small, local city-run rink not far from my work. I knew that this session was not about jumping; it was about evaluation. It didn’t matter. I hadn’t attended a non-competition related practice session of any kind since 2009. It seemed appropriate to be there. For me, it seemed essential.
As I walked into the rink, I found myself feeling strangely disenfranchised. The facility hasn’t changed since our skater did one of his very first competitions there in 1990 or 1991. The smells were the same. The carpeted bleachers were the same. The insufficient lighting was still the same. The young parents huddled in cliques had different faces but the overheard conversations were uncomfortably familiar. Even some of the coaches were the same – all working hard to find the next American skating idols amongst the gaggle of enthusiastic, young Basic Skills skaters taking the ice for their 45 minute lessons. I didn’t know if I had flashed back to the future, or if I had become the ghost of skating past.
I watched as our coach asked where she could stand as our skater started working on edges that resembled the old days of doing patch. I watched as he carefully and respectfully stroked around the edges of the boards trying not to disturb lessons or program practices while still finding spaces to carve out areas in which to work on his basic skills.
After awhile, I left. It wasn’t because my son wasn’t jumping or moving on the ice with the great power and skill he has acquired over the past 22 years. I left because I realized I couldn’t go back. My memories of that rink, and the hundred or so times I’ve been there for either practice or competition, made me realize just how old I am. I’m removed from that part of my life and I’d rather keep my own memories of what it was like when my son was the age of those fresh, young faces just starting out in our sport. I felt like a specter, not a spectator. I was someone traveling in a time and place I knew well, but where no one could see or even speak to me. It was one of the loneliest feelings I’ve experienced in skating.
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” I never believed it. I do now.
To those young parents of skaters just beginning I say this: Don’t get so caught up in the off-ice gossip while you're sitting in the stands. Appreciate what your skater is accomplishing on the ice. This is a time of tremendous physical and personal growth – for them, and for you. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Don’t forget it. You won’t ever experience anything like it again.
And, you can never go back, no matter how hard you try. There is only the future, so embrace and enjoy the now.