Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Long Days' Journeys...

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.

As I sat by myself in the darkness of the stands, I watched as our skater took the ice. Yes, it was a Basic Skills session. Here I was, the mother of an Olympic competitor; the mother of a three-time US National champion, nervously anticipating my son’s return to the pond in an all-too-familiar public rink – and on the ice with Basic Skills – after his remarkable skates in San Jose. Old coaches were congratulatory; young skaters were awe-struck; young parents were nonchalant, trying not to stare but whispering to one another in either knowing, or unknowing, tones.
"Look who's here!"
“Who is that?”
“Why is there a big skater on the ice? Is he a new coach?”
“Who said it was okay for an adult skater to be on this session with our kids? That’s just not right.”

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.


  1. You have a gift with words. What an amazing post about growing up and things changing.

    We had a national level skater come back to our mall rink for club ice last night. He has moved on to the "big city"- out of state, to train, though nothing to the level of success your son has had. Those basic skills kids were lucky to share the ice with your son- it really is inspirational to see that level of skating (especially practicing basics!), which is what I felt last night seeing someone who was a skating friend return. I did pitiful waltz jumps in one corner, he did triple axels in the other. The only moment that tells you "this guy is someone different" was when he walked through a program, in the very last minutes of ice time. He did the footwork full out, and by the end of the program, every single skater and coach (including those in lesson) were pressed against the side of the boards to watch (and then applaud). We knew we were getting to see something special, he didn't ask for special treatment, or empty ice, but his dedication to the sport meant he deserved it, if only for 45 seconds or so.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jessim. I'm glad that your skaters got to share an experience like that. Our hope as parents who have been in this for seemingly too many years is that just one young one will be inspired. It makes the rest of us who are tired regroup and gather strength in knowing our kids can make a difference.

  3. Thank you for this timely post. I agree, you have a wonderful way with words.

    Earlier this week I started to do some extra work during DS's skating time. Yesterday I realized that this was not such a bright idea. I'm not going to do the extra work during his skating time because I wouldn't get to watch him skate. I love to watch his progress every day and feel blessed that I can be there to witness it. Thank you for the validation!

    We are also thrilled when a high level skater comes over to our rink. It's so good for our kids and fun to watch. Wish it would happen more often :)

  4. Not sure if Jeremy was there more than one day, but we were there one day while he was there-I think you must have left by the time we got there-but I want to say that it was inspirationsl to watch even if he was just working on edges-he has a wonderful countenance and he was more than gracious with the hoards of young skaters wanting autographs and pictures after he was done. I felt like they were intruding on his time with his coach, but appreciate his willingness to smile and be kind in the face of their constant intrusions. They will remember the opportunity to skate on the same ice as a National Champion and be inspired by his skating and kindness. My daughter was in awe. The only thing that makes me sad in your lovely piece is thinking about you listening to gossip-something I don't like in the stands, but guess sadly it is true in much of life not just at the rink. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight, and I will try and remember your words the next time I'm wishing we were in a different time/space with figure skating, and instead embrace this moment in my daughter's skating. Thank you for your words and for raising such a wonderful skating role model for the young skaters.

  5. While I can't relate to any of the particulars of this post, it made me cry just the same. It's beautifully written, but more than that it is such a good reminder to appreciate things as they're happening because that moment will never happen again. Although you're writing specifically about life as a skating parent, it's a good reminder for anyone. I have a bad habit of getting distracted and looking back on things with disappointment, wishing I could hit rewind and pay closer attention to what I was experiencing instead of whatever silly detail had my attention at the time. The next time I catch myself doing that I'll try to remember this post.

  6. I often use the "ghost at the banquet" analogy when I visit at the Ice Rink of the Damned, although my journey wasn't nearly what yours was. But my skater has recently started inviting me to teach with her. It's a whole new relationship, where she is often the leader. I think I probably learned from this very blog that no door ever closes without another one opening up.