So, I'm one of those insufferable sports parents who shows off her kids doing sporty things. For instance, here is my Skater Grrrl competing this summer near Washington, DC.
Sometimes - under duress - my skater takes a ballet class.
|Not your average Ice Princess|
My daughter gets asked a lot if she's planning to go to the Olympics.
She usually smiles politely and says, "Well...we'll see."
I understand why people ask. Before I started getting involved in the sport as a Skate Mom, the only time I really paid attention to figure skating was once every four years during the Olympics, and maybe during the media coverage of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerigan Cage Match. If someone would have asked me to describe how a skater was chosen to participate, I'd have guessed, well...something like Lana Turner at the soda fountain counter, just waiting around until someone made her a star. Except a star on super-sharp 9-inch blades.
Okay, maybe not mad.
But seriously. Think of yourself at 13 years old. 16 years old. Even your early twenties. Was schoolwork getting more difficult and were adults beginning to ask you OMG! what you wanted TO DO with THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? Were you starting to think of the opposite sex without also thinking smelly or weird? Remember wanting to stay up late and then sleep all weekend? How about rebelling from grown-ups who wanted to tell you what to do, where to go, getting in your business, asking you Are you okay? What's gotten in to you? Did you hear a word I said?
Was your body starting to change? Getting taller? Suddenly stumbling over your feet and bumping into walls? Were you getting rounder or curvy or lanky or knob-kneed?
Okay. Now put all that together, dress it in a body-hugging, shape-revealing practice outfit, trundle it out onto the ice at 6:00 AM before school every day. Tell friends you can't go to a sleep-over or football game on Friday night because you have a lesson early the next morning. Spend hours - sometimes months - jumping into the air and falling until you finally nail the next difficult jump. Then, spend weeks practicing and perfecting two competitive programs, compete the programs over the course of six to nine months, know that everyone who does well at your level is at least as talented as you are and works just as hard, skate the two-and-a-half-minute program of your life against up to 24 other skaters in your qualifying group, know that judging has a lot of gray areas when to comes to art versus technical skills, not get a medal, cry, cry some more, stop crying, wake up the next day, shake it off, and start all over again.
Now, do this for seven to fifteen years. Or more.
In the beginning, kids say, Yup! Sure! I'm gonna go to the Olympics.
As kids move up the ranks - not in just skating, but in any sport - the dream gets a little more...quiet. Winning swim meets becomes a matter of shaving seconds off your time over kids who are gunning hard and doing the same. Growth spurts in gymnastics can mean relearning skills every time two or three inches of height give you an entirely new body to figure out. You start the season and some kid who was a no name last year is suddenly posting scores that make everyone look his way, not yours. Losing weeks or months or an entire season of training to an injury is something you start to see happening to your competitors, and you accept it's just a matter of when - not if - it's going to happen to you.
Shhhhhh...no jinxes. Top athletes call it "the Grecian Competition." (Or not. I just made that up.)
Sometimes, the closer you get, the fact of just how far away it all is becomes crystal clear.
I think this dream of a dream within a dream is lovely.
Knowing that most of their friends or family won't truly understand what they are doing...or why...if The Big Time isn't in the cards, but they are still training like Big Time athletes.
You listen. And you talk. And you talk some more. And you say "now is the time to keep on, if you're going to keep on". And you say "you've put so much into this, are you sure?" And you get sad. And you get philosophical. And you try tactics. And you say "maybe just try something else for a while." And maybe you even get angry because what you wouldn't have given when you were her age to have had this opportunity...this ability?
But after all the drama, you say what you knew you were going to say to your teenage daughter all along.
You say "Okay. This is your sport, not mine. It's your decision. I love you."
"If you are not a skater, you probably can't imagine what I mean. I could try to tell you by saying it's a feeling of ice miles running under your blades, the wind splitting open to let you through, the earth whirling around you....It's a sense of power, of command over distance and gravity, and an illusion of no longer having to move because movement is carrying you." - Sonja Henie.
And the child looks at you as if you'd just been hit on the head.
"Why what?" she says with genuine bewilderment. "I love to skate. What did you think?"
Finally, she let go one hand. Then the other. She marched. She fell. She got back up again.
By the end of the lesson, the little girl began skating, tentatively, across the rink. Her mom called after her, it was time to go home. But the newest skater had discovered the wonderful possibility of being a different person than she had been a few moments ago. And of controlling that possibility.
The 13-year-old would say the same thing.
For all you need to know regarding maintaining your sanity as a skate parent, check out the blog of skate coach extraordinaire Xanboni.
To find out first hand what it feels like to parent an Olympian figure skater - before, during, and after - check out Allison Scott's blog Life On The Edge.
If you want to see where else I write, it's here.