I took my four-year-old son out skating for the first time on a rainy, mild Sunday in January. We went to a lovely outdoor rink overlooking the waterfront.
I pumped him up for two days, as he insisted he didn't want to go. Then I had to let him sit on the bench as I did several laps of the rink solo (concentrating on getting my skate-legs back after a fifteen year hiatus). Then finally he let me put his skates on him as I promised to pull him around the rink.
So away we went. Cole stood stiff as a gingerbread man, arms out to his sides, and I tucked my mittens under his armpits, hunched over with my legs straddling his, and I skated as he glided along in front of me.
Cole loved it. Of course he loved it! He didn't have to do anything and he couldn't have fallen if he'd wanted to. My back, on the other hand, has seen better days. I had to stop four times in one lap of the rink to straighten up and stretch.
This morning, I was having a chat with a group of my friends. Some of them are experienced moms with lots of wisdom that I very much value. So I described our skating follies and my aching back and wondered out loud if there was an easier way to teach a kid to skate.
One friend, a mother of four wonderfully talented and capable grown children, piped up. (We'll call her Betsy). Betsy described the first time she'd taken her oldest child, a son that we'll call Curtis, to the rink. They'd signed Curtis up for hockey lessons. Not skating lessons - hockey lessons. A bunch of four and five year olds with varying levels of experience on the ice and Curtis had never even put on skates. This was also Betsy's first experience with competitive sports. They were nervous new parents. And some of the other kids just hopped on the ice and skated gracefully away.
Curtis did a stiff, old-man shuffle several inches then fell. He got up, shuffled a few more inches then fell. He continued this cycle over and over as his parents watched anxiously from their seats. They felt mortified as he fell over and over and over again. Then, after about twenty tumbles, little Curtis stood up, looked in their direction, grinned and gave them a big thumbs up.
It is one thing to know what you're supposed to do, as a parent, to help your child become resilient, strong, independent. It is entirely another to have the wherewithal to truly follow through. Curtis fell, but he had to fall to learn to skate. And more importantly, his successes (as infrequently as they came at first), were truly his.
I guess I have to let go of Cole's arm pits.