Last weekend I went to drop off my oldest daughter at her first roller skating birthday party. While she had been ice skating before, she had never been roller skating. I’m embarrassed to say that in my twelve years in Chagrin and despite living right around the corner from the famous local roller rink, neither had I. At least not there. The last time I had gone roller skating was probably in middle school when I held hands with the boy I was “going with” during couples’ skate. Little did I know, that would change pretty quickly over the course of the next three hours as a roller coaster of emotions ended with me riding round and round the rink.
Now that Elizabeth is seven, there is rarely a birthday party I stay at these days. So I had planned to take her in, get her set up in some rental skates, help her find her friends, make sure she was getting around ok and then slip out of there. I had a number of items on my to yard chore to-do list on that last weekend before the forecast snow was to arrive. So there I was in my yard work/workout clothes, i.e. black sweat pants, a warm-up top, hair in a pony tail, no shower, no make up (my standard look these days), hoping I could sneak in and out without bumping into too many people I knew.
I guess I had an inkling of knowledge in the back of my head that there was a chance it wouldn’t be that easy. My big girl is so grown up in many ways, but in others, still needs a lot of hand-holding. My husband even said to me on my way out the door, “You’d better be prepared to go roller skating.” I chuckled and went on my way. Don’t get me wrong, I do remember really enjoying roller skating at one point in my life, but on this day I was looking forward to a few hours of time with only two children to manage while I cranked out a couple of chores.
Elizabeth was excited to get to the party and get her skates, but once we began lacing them up, I could tell I was in for the long haul. The skates were “too tight” and after swapping them out for a larger size, I could feel the coaster reaching it’s first ascent. “I don’t even know how to skate! I don’t even want to be here,” she crabbed. Then she became embarrassed when the other kids saw her and she began crying even more. That’s when her sweet little girlfriend spotted her from across the room and approached saying, “Elizabeth I don’t know how to do it either!” Elizabeth’s tears began to subside and I encouraged the two girls to go out together and give it a try. Down the first hill the coaster glided.
They skated, or rolled more like, along the side holding onto the railings. I was glad to see her making an attempt. And then about 10 feet down the way, Elizabeth was like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel and fell straight on her bottom. Immediately, tears and drama. The metaphoric roller coaster did a loop the loop and Elizabeth was in the front car screaming. I ran over to her, picked her up and wheeled her over to the closest bench. She was fine physically, just embarrassed and adamant that she was finished skating for the day and that she was going to leave and never return. Of course it became my fault. Everything is my fault. “You told me it was easier than ice skating!” she shouted at me. “Roller skating isn’t even fun. You made me come. I didn’t even want to come here.”
Annoyed that I had taken the time on a busy Saturday to go pick up a birthday present at the last minute, struggle with Elizabeth to get on her skates then manage a tantrum in the middle of the roller skating rink while in my sweat suit, I was ready to lose it. I was about to launch into a tirade. The following rant nearly escaped my lips complete with my Mean Mommy voice and facial expressions.
“LET’S JUST GO. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. YOU ARE WASTING MY SATURDAY. THIS IS ABOUT THE LAST PLACE ON THE PLANET I WANT TO BE RIGHT NOW. AND YOU ARE BEING BRATTY AND UNGRACIOUS!”
But somehow, for one of the very first times in my life as a parent, I was able to keep my cool. “Let’s just sit here and watch for a little while,” I said calmly. As I sat there I could hardly believe the words that had just come out of my mouth. Elizabeth sat and watched the skaters go by still crying and complaining that she wanted to leave. I was still a little tempted to just take off our skates and take advantage of the remainder of the afternoon. But as we sat and watched, every couple of minutes another little boy or girl would wipe out right in front of us. Left and right these poor kids were just biting it. “See that little boy fell too. And he’s just got back up and kept going.” I’d say. We must have sat and watched for nearly a half an hour. Every now and then I’d ask if she was ready to try again. Elizabeth still maintained that she was done skating and was NEVER going to try it again. Eventually it became clear what I needed to do. I offered to put on skates and go with her. I knew that if we left at that point in the ordeal she would never want to try roller skating again. Of course, roller skating was not on the top of my to do list that day, but I was willing to set aside my vanity and my own desires and take one for the team. “No. I’m done,” she said. I was secretly a little relieved.
Just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel and tell her her time was up. She said, “I think I’m ready to try again. If you’ll come with me.” I hopped up and got some stinky old skates from the rental desk and soon we were holding hands on the rink, Elizabeth clinging to the wall with her other hand. When she’d reach a break in the railing where there was nothing to hold on to, she’d grip my hand even tighter. “Don’t let her fall!” was all I could think about. Every so often, I’d catch a little smile on her face. “See, aren’t you glad you didnt give up?,” I said. We made our way around the rink. We were lapped several times per song by all of the other skaters. After awhile we decided to take a little snack break. I had no cash so I had to buy a minimum of five dollars worth of food in order to use my debit card. We ended up with two chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Not exactly part of my “eat clean” diet plan, but I was willing to break the rules to celebrate her getting over her fear and embarrassment.
Before long I was in the center of the rink doing the Hokey Pokey and then skating in circles with Elizabeth and her two best friends flapping our wings and singing the Chicken Dance. It was one of those happy parenting moments that I knew I would always remember. I was one of maybe three parents on the rink. Definitely the only one in sweat pants. Then the lights dimmed and the air filled with smoke. “When there’s something strange, in the neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” We skated around under the flashing lights and I was genuinely having fun. Maybe a little too much fun. After a couple more laps I encouraged Elizabeth to go without me. To my surprise, she did and I graduated to the bench with the other parents. I watched her with delight as she giggled with her friends as they rolled alongside the wall.
After the kids ate pizza, sang “Happy Birthday” and skated a little longer, miss Elizabeth was happier than I’d seen her all day and so was I. The roller coaster of emotions made it’s final ascent and from way up there at the top I was enjoying the view. While it might seem like a small success, the patience I witnessed myself exhibit that day was very unusual for me. Something usually happens to me when my kids start complaining, crying and making a scene in public. I tend to lose control of the words that come out of my mouth and say a bunch of really mean things that I regret later. Essentially, I turn into that person I see in the store yelling at her kids and all I can do is feel bad for those poor little children.
A recent example of a time when I acted this way was when I took my other daughter to dance class. She put up a fight about putting on her dance clothes because she was cold, tired and crabby. I started to wrestle her into them because I was determined that if I spent the money for the class and made the effort to get there with her sister and baby brother in tow, she would GO to that class. I became upset. Caroline began crying, then hyperventilating. When she cries like this somehow she begins to cough really hard and sometimes she ends up vomiting. As I became more angry, Caroline cried harder. “FINE, WE ARE LEAVING!” I said. “This is a waste of time.” As I packed up her things and tried to leave without making eye contact with the other moms, guess what happened, she vomited all over the brand new carpet in the changing room of the beautiful ballet studio. I didn’t realize at the time that my escalating emotions were making the situation worse. She needed me to be the calm voice of reason. And I failed her. We struggled with getting back to dance class for weeks after that. In fact, sometimes, we still do.
I remember watching another mom have a similar struggle with her daughter at dance class soon after that. She didn’t like the way her tights felt on her toes (something with which my kids have always complained about too). I happened to stay to watch class that day so I saw what happened next. I sat completely in awe of this mother’s patience. She is was so calm and collected. “Let’s sit and watch,” she said. I could feel the tension this mother was experiencing within herself. But they sat and watched from the doorway for awhile. About halfway through the class, the girl eventually went in and sat on the dance floor. She didn’t get up and dance. She just watched. The girl would inch her way back toward her mom every now and then and her mom would encourage her to get up and dance. Eventually she did. That women’s behavior that day made such an impression on me. I wished I could be like that. That was how a mother should act. She was helping to TEACH her child how to get over her discomfort, not PUNISH her child and embarrass her even further, the way I had done.
Somehow that day at the roller rink I was able to be like that woman. It was not conscious. It just happened. I was able to act like the mother I want to be. Teaching my child how to persevere, instead of teaching her impatience. I am proud of my rare ability to stay calm that day and help Elizabeth conquer her fear and encourage her not to give up. I only hope I can manage to do so the next time I am faced with a similar parenting challenge. Elizabeth and I both learned a lesson on that roller coaster ride of emotions. Best of all, we created a lasting memory of the first time we did the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance together at the roller rink.