I didn't always skate.
Once, twice, when I was younger, on Whippoorwill Dam. Maybe another two or three times on ice rinks, someplace, somewhere.
The few times I did skate, I adored my time on the ice - the unique feeling of gliding instead of walking or running or even ballet jete-ing or gymnastically springing. However, I didn't live where there was readily available ice. So a few times on blades was all I'd ever had.
But now, I'm 44 years old.
And I'm learning to figure skate.
44 years old. Think about that for a second. Now think about what other sports middle-aged folks are taking up for the first time at this point in their lives.
Paddling pool water aerobics.
Jogging on treadmills at a leisurely pace reminiscent of window shopping past pastry shops.
Easy-listening yoga class.
Or maybe they are rediscovering the sports they'd left in high school or college, but athletics for which they had previously attained some reliable skill level and now still retain some residual muscle memory, if not actual stamina and strength.
Maybe some Over-40 Flag Soccer. Or Basketball For The Brittle at the Y. Or Frisbee.
But to start figure skating at an age when your body is turning from muscle and hard bone to a mass of flabby strings and china tea cups...that's just crazy talk.
Or so I've been told.
My daughter started skating six years ago at a local rink. Compared to other kiddie enrichment and burn-off-energy activities - ballet, gymnastics, music lessons - skating was a bargain. $56 every six weeks for an hour and a half on the ice, including a lesson. Skating promised to be low cost, high energy, all weather, and perfect for my kiddo who couldn't sit still.
At her first lesson, dressed in four layers of snow pants and hats and gloves and extra jackets for extra padding, my then-in-Kindergarten daughter said, "I want to learn how to skate fast and I want to learn how to jump and I want to learn how to spin."
And I, the perennial spoil sport, cautioned her "Maybe just try getting from point A to point B without cracking your skull."
By the end of that first lesson, my daughter - completely ignoring my worry-wartedness - whooshed around the rink, spun twice, and then jumped in the air with both feet off the ice. And we were off and running.
And gliding. And stroking. Crossovers and mohawks. Bunny hops and waltz jumps.
Practicing once a week turned to twice a week turned to three times a week and suddenly there I was, sitting in cold rinks every morning before school at 6 AM and every afternoon after school for two hours, Saturday mornings with no reprieve.
This happens with a lot of parents, I think.
We spend a lot of time on the sidelines. We become the cheerleaders and the chauffeurs, the bankrolls and the administrative assistants keeping track of the calendars and the check books, watching more than doing. Spare time is non-existent, and taking Me Time - while promoted, prescribed, and applauded in theory - doesn't always block out so easily on the calendar.
As long as chores are done and bills can be paid and work isn't calling you in for overtime and no one is ill and no one is flunking out of school and everyone is sleeping through the night and an appliance doesn't decide to explode and flood the basement or burn down the kitchen and a car doesn't die in the driveway - as long as the world is in perfect order, then parents can claim without guilt their hard earned and psychologically-emotionally-physically necessary Me Time.
Of course, this perfect week almost never happens.
Unless your kids are in boarding school.
At the same time, turning 40 years old - while not personally devastating - still gave me pause beyond just worrying about appliance chaos and financial anxieties.
First, there was the realization that even if I were to live until 80 years old and remain relatively healthy, the next 40 years were still sure to present with at least a few challenges in the way of moving from one place to the next without audibly groaning or needing three naps. And I had already been diagnosed with arthritis in my neck from repetitively crashing onto it during my youthful gymnastics days, and so was feeling mildly whiplashed even on my best mornings.
Then was the bright idea of having a another child at 39 years old and facing the fact that instead of just completely giving in, riding a motorized wheel chair, and eating all my meals from the carb-and-gravy bins at Old Country Buffet, I would actually have to attempt to stay fit enough in my fifties to keep up with a ten year old and then teenage boy.
And sure, there were those nagging dreams and aspirations I'd had, sending me taunting cards during the weeks before and after my Midlife Birthday: "Remember how you thought you'd win a second Oscar by now" and "Wonder who's living in the Parisian pied-a-terre you thought you'd be living in" and "How's 'I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight' working for you, Shlumpy?" and "Don't worry, everyone says they want to learn to play the violin and speak another language."
So, one Saturday morning after my skater daughter had finished her freestyle practice session - freestyle being the ice time put aside specifically for people who can jump and spin and do so with nerve racking amplitude and altitude - I rented a pair of worn-in brown skates, laced them up, said a prayer (a decade of the rosary, actually), and stepped onto the ice.
It was immediately terrifying.
And then, it was exhilarating.
Side to side with tentative marching steps, then small swizzles and then larger swizzles, a toe-pick stroke, and then a proper stroke, and in a while - amazingly! - you're picking up speed and rounding a corner. And you feel a touch of breeze in your hair and you've found a rhythm with the ice swooshing in breaths beneath your blades, gliding fast and gliding faster until it feels like flying and you can't remember ever moving this fast this effortlessly when far in your peripheral vision you spy a two-foot high preschooler in full hockey gear screaming down the rink on a beeline for your kneecaps until he stops dead in front of you and only then do you remember that you have no idea how to slow down let alone stop and up you go! then down you go! ass over tea kettle, blades in the air, hips and knees and elbows and every other bony hinge cracking without pause onto the hard drink...
And all you can think after you finally stop landing but before you assess the skin-tenderizing damage is -
I want to do it again.
I want to learn how to skate fast.
I want to learn how to jump.
And I want to learn how to spin.
I want to learn all those intricate foot moves that look like dance and flight and carving ice paintings across the length of the rink in straight and circular and serpentine patterns.
I want my body to bend and move and lean far past expectations of gravity and physics as I slice through the cold, white air balancing fast along a knife's edge.
I want to lunge and spiral and press down hard and then do it all again backwards, which is the most terrifying, the most thrilling of all.
One year into Learn To Skate lessons - sometimes being the only adult in a class of preschool and elementary school kids - I'm getting better.
Yes, I've fallen. And yes, I've been hurt.
Once while doing bunny hops - a sort of forward skip-jump across the rink - I skipped before I jumped and my toe-pick caught the ice, which more or less had the effect of preventing my caught skate from being there to stop the jumping from becoming the falling, and down I went. A sort of semi-graceful, mostly hilarious, all-out Superman through the air which seemed to last, oh, five, ten minutes, until the inevitable happened and I stretched both hands forward and downward in a well-reasoned trade-off of broken face for broken wrists.
I didn't break my wrists. Miraculously. Even though I was planning out as I was falling exactly how I'd use the bathroom and put in my contact lenses with two arms in casts. But I did get up with two enormous purple bruises the size of tennis balls on each palm. And learned that lesson well.
Because most adult beginner skaters quickly attempt to break their wrists thusly, I'm not too proud to now wear wrist guards, and I am humble enough to wear huge booty-enhancing gel pads under my skating pants to protect my bony hinges from the bone smashing ice.
And the going has been slow.
One week, I can't skate because I need to work during lesson times. Another week, children are ill or there's a school orchestra concert to attend or it's All Parenting Hands On Deck to get another child through a social studies shoebox diorama crisis.
And skating is sport that takes a high level of stamina, as well as a good sense of balance.
It takes strong legs and a solid core.
Most days, my arms hurt as much as my knees, but that's nothing compared to the complete mental exhaustion of maintaining the focus and concentration of a brain surgeon as inside edge switches to outside edge at the precise moment one hip raises and a shoulder pulls back while not turning a free ankle a millimeter more to the left or right because one misalignment can all make the difference between sublime beauty of motion...and something more resembling a marionette on marbles.
Most day, skating is like full-body Algebra.
Don't let those little girls in glittery dresses fool you.
But I've done it enough now - am doing it enough -
I am practiced enough to be able to say:
I'm 44 years old.
And I skate.
And it's amazing.