Confronting the past, in jack-ass form

On a recent spring day, when it was a little too chilly to spend time outdoors comfortably, Joe, Lily, Neve and I headed to a nearby shopping mall to buy a few gifts. Not long into the trip – which involved going up and down escalators several times (escalators are for Lily, as they were for me as a child, a thrilling amusement park ride) – Lily spotted the play area and made a beeline for it. Neve had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided I’d follow Lily while Joe finished his errands with Neve.

I halted Lily at the play area’s entry point, reminding her that she needed to remove her shoes. She asked for my help, so I squatted to pull them off; but in that same moment, I also got that feeling you get when you’re low to the ground and someone moves into your line of vision. I looked up. And when I did, I locked eyes with a man I’d known since he was a not-so-nice young boy in elementary school. He hadn’t lost any of his hair (curses!), but had shaved it down to little more than a shadow; his eyes still had that same condescending, humorless, looking-past-you-to-someone-who-might-matter expression; and in terms of his body, this former football player (of course) looked like he was still in rock solid shape.

The two of us stared at each other a beat or two longer than would complete strangers. I was making absolutely sure he was who I thought he was, and vice versa, while in the same moment, we both made a kind of unspoken pact not to acknowledge each other verbally. Why? We weren’t friends; we weren’t going to be friends; and pretending otherwise achieved nothing. So I finished getting Lily’s shoes off and sent her toward the equipment to play, while I settled into a seat on a nearby bench.

While watching Lily trying to walk along the edge of the play area’s rowboat, as if it were a balance beam, I stole glances at this man and his young son, who kept running to his father to eat a spoonful or two of ice cream from a cup. The man was dressed in dark jeans and a dark shirt that flattered his body, and his boy wore a clean, polished-looking play clothes. I started to spin a tale in my head, wherein this was the man’s only time each week with his son, thanks to a bitter divorce. (Cue it: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…”) But who knows? This storytelling impulse is just something we tend to do when a person who was unkind to us during our childhood has the nerve to age beautifully. Continue reading

Ice, ice baby

Lily had her first ice skating lesson on Sunday, and I had no idea how it was going to go.

We signed her up after Joe took her to an open skate session one time this past winter. At that point, Lily was experiencing some serious cabin fever, and it was ugly outside – so we were scrambling to find a way for her to burn off some coke-addict-like energy.

She and Joe went in the early evening, as I was preparing to put Neve to bed, and when they returned, Joe said she’d had a ball, and that once they’d rented a walker-like device for her, she was speeding around the rink like water-bug.

So after her art class concluded, we looked into an ice skating class and signed her up.

On Sunday, I drove her to the nearby arena, where herds of young hockey players swarmed around two rinks. We got her rental skates, put them on, and waited to figure out what happened next.

Near us, a girl Lily’s age wore a fancy, searingly white pair of hockey skates – and I began to worry that we were in over our heads (this despite the fact that the class was called “snowplow” for preschoolers). So I tried to have a heart-to-heart with Lily. “Now, sweetie, if you fall, don’t get discouraged. You just have to get back up again, OK? Because falling is part of learning – a really important part.”

Lily nodded distractedly, while my sense of apprehension spiked.

The teacher soon arrived, looking blond and lithe, and on the carpeted area surrounding the ice, she checked each little skater’s skates to see if they fit tightly enough. This was also the moment when I realized we should have brought a helmet (they let us borrow one) and gloves (ditto). Rookie mom mistake on my part.

Anyway, two teachers start leading the kids onto the ice, and at the start, they’re all sitting down together. When all the kids get to the same general area, the teacher tells them that if they’re going to fall, they should try and fall on their butt; and then she has them get on all fours and shows them how to stand up. She splays her hands on the ice and pushes herself to standing. I hold my breath, realizing I’m surely more nervous than Lily is about how she’ll do.

And while I’m biting my lip, Lily slowly, carefully stands up. And stays up.

The teacher shows them how to hold out their arms and flap them like a bird, and march their feet to move forward. And while little ones everywhere are flopping onto the ice like Bambi – and Lily certainly has a couple of butt-falls, too – she makes her way all the way across her end of the rink. (At this point, I struggle to squelch the nearly reflexive “proud mommy” thought, “She’s the best one in the class!” Why, hello there, hyper-competitive mommy. Where did you come from?)

Besides a boy who’s pulling himself along the wall much of the way, Lily is the only member of the class that does so, and the teacher instructs her to turn around and go back the other way. She follows instructions, and I’m so awed and moved by the bravery with which Lily stands in the middle of the ice, on metal blades, with no support whatsoever.

I realize then that Lily doesn’t fear failure at this age, because she doesn’t quite grasp what it is. To her, every picture she paints is a masterpiece, every step she dances is ovation-worthy, and everything she wears looks beautiful on her.

This is unsustainable, of course. Inevitably, she’ll come to realize that she has weaknesses along with strengths; and she’ll grow self-conscious, like the rest of us, and worry about looking foolish or failing.

But right now, she’s a fearless adventurer, up for anything. And I’m so happy to tag along.