Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Did you Skate?"

I was into skating years ago, back during the Tonya/Nancy thing. I watched Lillehammer like everyone else, holding my breath when Tonya was late with a broken lace, wondering what kind of skater doesn't have an extra pair of laces on hand for a situation like this. It seemed like a pretty obvious thing to have; an extra pair of laces in a sport that relies on tightly laced boots. I hated her costume, her music, her hair, everything, but I watched and loved it. I was pea-green with envy at little Oksana Baiul and I fervently prayed for Tara Lipinski to get hit by a bus. Nancy Kerrigan was such a goody two shoes, at least until that mic caught her whining at Oksana's late entry. ("She's just going to cry again.") High drama, and it was beautiful.

When I was fifteen, figure skating was something I wanted to try. But there were no ice rinks around that I knew of, my mom wasn't interested in getting me to do anything other than Masonic Youth, and my general ambivalence on roller skates left me with not much more than some bruised knees, goofy candid snapshots from a Roller Rink Birthday Party, and a terrific knowledge of Old Testament heroines.

Since then, I've had a passing interest in figure skating. It's neat to watch, but I never had cause or desire to get into the dirty details of the sport. Like most people, I really only saw it once every four years and most of the competitors were unknown to me. I didn't know there was an ice rink near me until I bumbled into it by chance while donating books to what I thought was just a Community Center. For some reason I just glazed over the "AND ICE RINK" board on the sign. I had no idea that Boots and Blades were sold separately until I saw them at the skate store, mounted to the wall like serrated steak knives. I only knew that skating was expensive, hard, elite, and involved some dour looking Eastern European coaches who appeared to eat kittens for breakfast.

But now, I know some of this stuff. I've got a base knowledge of the Leagues, the clubs, the competitions, the people. I even have opinions about curriculums. I have a good idea of what new skates are going to cost me and how long it's going to take me to get them because beginner boys can't walk into a store and walk out with skates like the beginner girls can. I can sew a skating shirt in about three hours and it will even have some minor decoration. I've even started saying that some ice is crowded when it's really not in an effort to keep "our" ice clear. While I feel some minor guilt about this, I have to take into account that the person I've said it to would and probably has said the same thing to me yesterday. I'm also pretty sure that none of the Coaches eat kittens, for breakfast or any other meal. (I only have doubts about one.) I don’t know everything and I don’t pretend to, but I’ve amassed a workable knowledge of what I’m doing here.

When I start to talk about what I know, other parents ask me, "Did you skate?" and I answer "no." They usually follow up fast with "Did you ever want to skate?" This is a trap question, because I can’t win in my answer. If I answer yes, then I get the wicked look which belies the assumption that I am living out dead dreams through my kid. If I answer no, yet I just happen to know or I've taken the time to learn the gory details of the sport, I'm clearly a liar or a complete maniac. I just say, "Well, sort of." I leave it open ended and ambiguous, then I excuse myself for another cup of coffee so they can't pry.

I challenge any woman to stand up and honestly say that no, she never ever ever for a few moments, days or months, want to be a Figure Skater. Of course I wanted to skate. Most girls do. I also wanted to be a veterinarian until I dissected that baby pig, crying on the bus ride home for my piglet and all the others that had been named "Wilbur" by sadistic high school kids. I wanted to be a ballerina, only realizing I wasn’t all that graceful until it was too late, onstage in front of a hundred other parents, tripping over my fellow dancers while performing “Blue Danube” like a sack of pink sequined potatoes. I wanted to be a doctor, but then I watched some girls braid the hair of the corpse in that anatomy class while we removed her spleen and severed her hand, and I decided that this was not a good career choice, careening down the hallway to the bathroom where I could safely faint. It's the same with Figure Skating. All it would have taken would be the knowledge that I'd be in tights at 5:30 in the morning and I'd have said no. I hated tights, I hated 5:30am, and the combination of wearing the Devil's Handiwork at an Ungodly Hour of the Day would have ended it quickly.

Of course I have dreams for my kid. What parent doesn’t? But many days I’m just in amazement that he can do the things he does, without any time to think about what’s possible. What may have been my short lived dream decades ago has evolved into a supporting role, dusted with the occasional compliments that come from having a kid in this sport. I've taken the time to learn all this stuff, not because it’s anything I think I’ll really need, but because I'm curious. It's interesting; the rules and regulations, how it all works. When I heard that Yu-Na Kim was gearing up to compete at Worlds (where ever and whenever that winds up being) I was dying to know how that was even possible. I still find skates in and of themselves fascinating; when the rocker goes out from under me and I land square on my tail, I'm still amazed by the accidental physics of it all. I'm really glad none of my childhood girlfriends knew about the hair weaving technique Synchro Skaters use as they can't use bobby pins, because I can only imagine in horror the hours of hair pulling I would have been subjected to, being one of two girls with really long hair that got "experimented" on regularly.

I’ve started paying attention to skating again because I like the High Drama, and while I haven’t prayed for Nathan Chen to get hit by a bus yet, I’m sure his day is coming. I learned this stuff because it's nice to know, it's good to be prepared, and even though I still haven't bought a spare set of laces to carry in the skate bag, I feel much more confident in this little venture with the knowledge that I probably should.


  1. Ok, somewhat off-topic, but what exactly is the lead time on skates for a beginner boy? My hockey boy is going to do figure skating this summer (starting in June, once Spring Hockey is over). I have thus far been unsuccessful in finding any decent used boys skates in his size. If I need to order new ones, how much time should I allow? Thanks!

  2. No worries - My skate supplier is saying 4-5 weeks for boy's figure skates. I'd go ahead and order them now, just to give yourself a lot of lax room, and if they show up early, well, that's more time to get used to them.

    Depending on how Stitch's feet do, I may end up ordering skates in midsummer so he can have them for fall.

  3. Thanks, Skate Mom. I am glad I started looking into it early. I can't wait to see how my little guy does on figure skates. He has been coming with me to watch his sister do figure skating lessons and practice (she gets dragged to hockey, too). On his own, he noticed the awesome edge control and power that the good figure skaters have. He said "I want to be able to skate like THAT" and asked if he could try figure this summer. I don't think he'll give up hockey for figure, but I think it can only make him a better skater overall. He doesn't want to do group lessons, though (he hasn't said so, but I think he doesn't want to be in a group class with mostly or all girls), so he'll be doing private lessons with the same coach my daughter works with. He has had some privates with her on hockey skates in the past to improve crossovers and quick turns, and got alot out of those. May have more questions for you once he gets going!

  4. It's hard when they're the only boy in Group Class. I think that's why Group Classes are starting to get lame for Stitch; because it's all girls. You watch him in a semi-private with Gordon and it's night and day from a Group Class loaded with Girls.

    I'll do my best to help out, and doing figure will surely help his edges and blade control. This makes me happy, I see a lot of Hockey Boys who sprawl themselves when skating on public ice, just no control whatsoever. Best of luck to him!