Sunday, July 31, 2011

"It's not how long you're here..."

"'s how many times you're here in a day."  Such was what I overheard a parent say in the stands once.

With Stitch gone, I cleaned up a bit and walked to the rink. I was meeting Costume Lady #3 to "help." I wasn't too sure what we'd be doing, but just cleaning up seemed like a good task.

I arrived with twenty minutes left in the Pre-Style classes left. I ran into Lady Cluck on my way in, said hey and went to go check on her kids. Her kids were fine, her older daughter trying a two foot spin. And I saw Shuffles. I realized I hadn't seen Shuffles in months. He was in an Alpha class, miserably going round and round, both feet still planted firmly on the ice. Oh, Shuffles, I sympathize. That first lift is hard.

I went back out and, just out of some sick desire for punishment, went to say hello to Nutso. She seemed happy enough to see me, and asked where Stitch was. I told her he's gone and would be back in the fall.
"What level is he in now? We don't see him."
"Oh, uh, he'll be going into Freestyle 2 when he gets back." I suddenly felt a little dirty, even though I knew and had proof that Stitch's levels were all legit.
Nutso was smiling. "That's nice! Well, Precious has said that she doesn't want to be a Toy Soldier for Ice Show, which means she has to be in Delta. I would be surprised if she doesn't pass Gamma, so it should be okay."
"Should be. Mohawks are tricky, though. Stitch had a weak side. Still does, actually." And, I was learning that I did, too. "I'm not sure if I should enroll him in the Saturday package. I need to ask Coach." Nutso didn't need to know the reasons for my ambivalence.
"Are you still doing Privates?" she asked.
"Uh, yes. Coach does really well with Stitch, I'm really happy. I just don't know about that Saturday thing."
"Oh!" she threw up her hands. "That is my goal! That is the best deal! Once I can get the kids into that Saturday Package, I will consider my life complete!"
"It's all the skating they need, all in one day! One morning! It's perfect! What is it, three hours?"
"I can't remember. I know it's a good deal, but they need to be on the ice more than once a week."
"Oh, sure, if they're competitive," she leaned across the table at me. "But not for my kids. Once a week is plenty for them."

As I was processing this, Lady Cluck walked behind us, making the sign of the cross as she went into the rink. Nutso laughed, thinking it was a joke.
"So, if Stitch is gone, why are you here?" Nutso asked.
"Oh, gonna help with costumes today."
"What, for Winter Show? Now?"
"Yes." And really, things should be farther along than they are.
"Well," Nutso saw an opportunity to whine. "Why don't they do that out here? So the parents can see? We should have some input!"
"These are for the soloists and specialty groups. The Basic Skills groups will just get the PreFab costumes, that seems to be the norm."
Nutso blinked, and I think I broke her brain.
"Well," I stood up. "Imma gonna head in. Still hot from the walk here."
"Tell me how Shuffles is doing!" she called after me.
Lady, he's miserable. He has been for a long time.

After taking skates off kids and talking more with Lady Cluck, I went to go "do costumes."

The costume room was a pit of spangles, velvet and a lost box of fabric without which  no work could be done. Costume Lady #3 sighed and lamented at the lost box, whereupon Costume Lady #2 showed up and said, "But you took it home. Remember?"
They bickered back and forth while I picked through a box leftover from the costume sale, trying to organize it. It was a matter of minutes before I had a headband of silver sequins and was wearing purple lame gloves like Madonna. "I can put things away," I offered.

So they set me to rehanging things. Costume Lady #3 apologized and went home. I rehung things for a little over an hour, marveling at just how many leftover PreFab costume packages there were. In fact, most of the room is storage. I did enjoy the debate of "we don't have nearly enough sequins," when I looked over and saw a cabinet full of more sequins than I could possibly dream of.

I was up and down on a ladder once too often before I realized I'd forgotten to eat breakfast. I told Costume Lady #2 to call me whenever, I was free all week in the evenings, and went home to grab lunch. I'd be back later that evening, to conquer my new nemesis; The Hockey Circle. He and I had some unfinished business concerning my outside edges.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Old and New Friday Nights

Stitch leaves again today. They're packing up now, heading back out, back up North. I'm sending Stitch back fully cleaned and laundered, knowing he'll come back sandy and bugbitten again. But the next time he comes back, it will be for good.

We went to the Rink again, one last time. Everyone was there. I got hijacked into the Adult Freestyle group, where I got schooled on exactly what I was doing wrong in my crossover attempts. It was pretty simple; I wasn't moving. So, just like the kids, I got my own little circle drawn out for me and I moved. I moved for an hour, stopping when my lower body just said "enough." Coach (not Stitch's) tried to get me to hold my feet together in the crossover, but I need more time. I think I did okay for a first night, and there's lots of ice today.

I went back into the small rink and found Stitch. He hadn't even realized I was gone. I hugged him and said, "Stitch, those things are hard. I promise I won't fuss at you again."
"Mom, what are you talking about?" he looked at me like I was insane and went back out to play with his friends.
I went out and showed Rink Pal my wobbly attempts, and Other Kid comes zipping up to investigate. "Oh, but you need to do Advanced Crossovers," he shows me the move that Coach was trying to get me to do. The one I can almost get.
I got down on one knee and took Other Kid by both shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Kid, I'm thirty four. It's my first real attempt. This is as good as it gets for now."
He blinked. "Oh, well, then you're doing really good!"

Stitch was playing with the girls, skating around with Other Kid, I was in and out of the lobby with Lady Cluck, making new plans for a Two Man version of Winter Show featuring The Nut and The Cracker which would only run ten minutes and we'd have an open bar in the lobby.  Whenever I'd linger too long in the Lobby, Rink Pal would come out and fuss at me. I think he enjoyed that.

Stitch had to be dragged off the ice. I had to help Rink Pal pull him off the door. He didn't want to leave, and I didn't either. Fall isn't far off, right? I left a note for Coach, with pictures from July and requests for thoughts on sewing patterns. I forgot to ask about whether or not I should register Stitch for the "Saturday Package" deal. It's a screaming bargain, but it means putting him in someone else's hands, someone I worry about. I think I'm going to have to be a pain and call.

When I got home I got a ping from the Facebook Group from the Summer Camp. Someone was posting pictures from one of my favorite sites. I remembered the Tip Test, and abject terror.

It's actually hard to capsize a canoe on calm water. You have to literally rock the boat as hard as you can on a count of three, holding onto the gunwales and then pull the damn thing over your head. My partner and I failed on our first attempt. We managed to tip the boat, but I hit my head which was scary as all hell as I descended into dark water, and CS got a jellyfish down the front of her swimsuit. So as I was fighting to come out from under the boat and not panic with a blow to the head, CS was screaming in pain and trying to wrangle a pile of goo out her top. We abandoned the boat and swam for shore, rubbing sand on the jellyfish sting and I got an ice pack.

But we had to try again. Four false starts. One, *rock* Two *rock*, Three, *no*. Finally the counselor yelled at us to stop wasting time and do it. CS and I looked at each other, I closed my eyes and said, "Okay."
"Okay," CS said back.

Eyes closed, One *rock,* Two *rock,* Three *down.* I got my head away from the gunwale quick enough to not get hit. I came out from under the boat and CS was already moving us to the other "rescue" boat nearby. The Tip Test is followed by Canoe-over-Canoe rescue, a move in which the capsized canoe, still upside down, gets hefted over a second canoe to empty it, turned over, and slid back into the water. The swimmers then have to get back into their boat from the water. Yes, CS and I had to pick up a boat while treading water. Water full of jellyfish that like to come up and enjoy the sun.

We got it done, though. Boat up, over, flip and back in. I let CS get in first, holding onto the opposite side while she dragged herself in. And then she leaned way over so I could get in. The Rescue Canoe gave us back our paddles and that was it. Test passed, and we had big strawberry bruises to go with our patches.

Please don't ask why we didn't just go to shore and empty the capsized canoe. We asked that same question, along with, "Why tie a sheepshank to shorten a rope? Why not just cut it? Or tie down the excess?" That's not the point. The point is to do the task at hand.

So, I'll practice some more tonight. Stitch will get back in late August, and maybe by then I'll have that side by side foot thing going on. I told him this, and he promptly asked, "Sure, but can you jump?"
"No. But I may be just stupid enough to try."

My head was hurting.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Theatre on Ice

Reading "Life on the Edge's" post about music made me laugh. I've been there, just not in a skating sense (yet.) I had a Director hand me a Heavy Metal CD to play as opening music for her rendition of "The Visit," one of those shows that is notoriously hard to do well, and I asked about rights. She blinked at me and I dropped the subject. "Play it loud," she all she said.

It was one of those Stage Managing Gigs where the SM did everything, Lights and Sound, so I popped in the CD and cranked it. Since the music really wasn't being played for the benefit of the audience, but more for the Shadow Actors who were hammering away in time to the music backstage, the Audience got blasted while the actors whined that they couldn't hear it well enough. I asked about backstage monitors but was told it wasn't in the budget. Oh well.

With Stitch gone, I'm at a loss for material, here. We talk on the phone every night, and I told him that one of the compressors was down at the rink this past weekend. He was upset to hear about all the water on the rink, but laughed when I called it "the world's coldest slip and slide."

"You should have seen this kid fall, he was dripping when he got up," I said.
"I hope it's that way this weekend!" says Stitch.

He's back for a few days, but then gone again. The Rink Staff asks me all the time how he is when I come skating on Saturday nights. I say he's fine; bugbitten and eating marshmallows. While he'll never admit to it, he misses school. I can tell. I told him we would search for a mosquito net for him while he's here, to take back with him, and go skating to assure his friends he's fine.

I wonder what the fall has in store for us. Another round of classes and little competitions. I'm already investigating new costume ideas, getting a sheet together for Coach so she can circle which design she prefers. While I'm busy cleaning and doing research on our old Theatre project and being hot, I miss the Rink. I miss it the way I miss doing shows. Yes, I whine a lot and complain endlessly, but really, the more I complain, the more fun I'm having.

Life on the Edge, and the concept of one facet of a performance being completely incongruous with the rest of the act, made me remember The Bunny Show.

The Bunny Show. Where do I begin?

I had done some work with this Theatre Company in the past. I was PM for a big show they did which was The Gravel Show, and some other little One Act Festival they did in a store window which was fun, but this was to be their big experiment in a "real theatre." I told them that I was doing a full time gig in the suburbs and couldn't devote a lot of time to them, but the Director said she liked me and wanted me around "as a consultant." So, we agreed on a small stipend for my time, and I wasn't SM, or PM or anything specific, I was just around to give general advice.

I arrived late in the rehearsal process. I got to the theatre on the first night of Tech, actually. Tech Rehearsal is when everything in a show gets together; Lights, Sound, Costumes, Actors, Scenery and so on, and it's traditionally the most painful process of any show, because for some reason Actors and Directors lose their minds when the pretty lights come on. (If you're rinkside and hear me say, "Wet Run" or "Dry Run" to Stitch, those are Theatre terms from Tech.) To be fair, I knew about the Bunnies. I had heard the idea of Bunnies tossed around in production meetings, but I always thought that common sense would hold out and there would be no live animals on stage.

How wrong I was. I got to the stage door and opened it, heading up into a darkened stage area which was in the thick of tech. I lowered my voice and asked the nearest warm body where we were in the script.
"Act one," she said. "And watch your step. The bunnies are loose."
"The bunnies are loose," she repeated herself in a hoarse whisper.
"I think I'll see a white rabbit," I replied.
"No, they're all black. It's all the animal company had."
"So," I stopped whispering. "There are BLACK rabbits, on a BLACK stage against BLACK drapes running loose on a DARK stage? What the hell?!"
"SHHHHH!!" she whispered.
I went out into the house and found the PM (Production Manager.) "Black rabbits? How many?"
"Fifteen," she said. "Director wants them running loose."
"They're going to die."
"No, they'll be fine. What's back there that can hurt them?"
"Everything. You are going to have casualties." This was this company's first run in a true proscenium house with a fly rail, many stairs to nowhere, lots of dark corners and a dock door that opened a full twelve feet off the ground. "Does the animal company know about this?"
"Losses are built into the rental fee," she admitted.
Well, okay, but I hoped they didn't expect me to attend any bunny funerary rites. I talked to the Director. "Why loose?"
"Because the magician has lost control of himself," she said, wide eyed in some artistic fit. I knew there was no talking her out of this one.
"Does it have to be all fifteen?" I asked.
"That's all we could afford," she sighed. "I wanted more."

Yes, black bunnies everywhere can thank the company's limited budget to save them from certain bunnicide. I was relieved. "You have to inform the crew to count them out and in, before and after each show," I warned the SM (stage manager.)
"Oh, it'll be fine. We'll know if we lose some," the SM shrugged.
I sighed, and went to inspect some loose connection on the houses' ancient dimming system and a protocol converter box.

The tech went on. Two days into it, the lead actress came center and complained. "The bunnies are pooping and peeing everywhere. I keep stepping in it," she said.
"Wear shoes," said the PM, tired of worrying about her and her annoying habit of walking everywhere barefoot.
"But I don't like to wear shoes," said the thin little actress, the darling of the Director's eye.
"Do something!" the director glared at the SM and myself.
The SM, trying to be helpful, tells me she's heard of bunnies being litterbox trained. Perhaps we can try that. I go and do research, learning that rabbits can be litter trained, but only through years of work that begins at kittenhood. (Did you know baby bunnies are called kittens?) This was not an option for a three week run, so the actress had to choose between shoes or poo.

She chose shoes.

On the fourth night, the night before first preview when the press arrives, the Director poked me. "Do something!" she hissed.
"What? Do what?"
"Stop them from doing that!" she pointed.
Two bunnies were doing what bunnies do best, right downstage center as the lead was giving a crucial monologue. I couldn't help myself, and laughed. "What should I do? Set a stagehand in the front row with a water gun?"
"I don't care, just do something!"

Honestly, to this day I don't remember what the show was about anymore. To me, it was a show about Rabbit Control with a magician in it somewhere. And poo.

I remember that the show was widely panned in the papers and drew weak houses. It closed early. But the Director, ever the delusional optimist, said this actually fit in with her "artistic vision" because the characters in the show would have played to thin crowds anyway. "It's perfect!" she said, as the PM paled at the Box Office receipts.

At load out, two dessicated bunny bodies were found. One wedged under the fly rail, another in the dock door. No one ever knew they were missing, but the company congratulated itself on getting a contract which planned for bunny loss. They wouldn't be able to afford a proscenium house again for a long time. I firmly believe the Bunnies killed that show. The Actors on the Bunny Show both claimed they had great rehearsals until they got into the space, until The Bunnies showed up and stole the spotlight. I never doubted them. An element as unpredictable as live animals had no business in a straight play, and all their hard work was lost. Possibly their reputations tarnished for being on such a bad show. That made me feel bad more than anything.

A performance has to fit itself. Everything has to work together or none of it works. If the costume or music seems wrong, it all seems wrong. A lopsided performance makes an audience wonder what's wrong, and they get so wrapped up in determining the "wrongness" that they forget to watch the show. I hate hearing badly cut and plain bad music during skating practice and shows, because that's work lost on an otherwise good skater. Bad Choreography makes me cringe, and bad costumes can make me leave the rink completely.

I'm not saying it has to be perfect. It's a rare performance that is "perfect." What I'm saying is; step back. Look at it. Look at it objectively, and see if it makes sense. That blip in the music will jar the audience. That fray in the skirt detracts the eye. The stopping to hop on toepicks stops the flow. Honestly ask yourself, "does it make sense?"

If the answer is "no," better look again.

Remember the Bunnies.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How Can Coaches Promote Themselves?

Reader Kristen brought up an interesting point in the "Who's That Skater?" post, regarding Coaches who skate in shows. It was mentioned that the shows might be a way for Coaches to promote themselves, but Kristen noted quite wisely that if ALL the coaches did that, there would be no room for the kids.

Again, I already assume a coach can skate fairly competently. But this is going to be a shocker; I'm not really paying for skating ability. I'm paying for a Coach's ability to teach my child. And my child is different from other children, so I have to make sure I have a good teaching method match compared to other Coaches teaching methods. Not only that, but I have to make sure that these two get along.

There's a Coach who I watch do some pretty great skating moves, but I wouldn't want this Coach for Stitch. This Coach doesn't teach in a way that kids learn well from, in my opinion. There's another Coach who I consider to be too stand-offish, another I think secretly hates children, one is too soft for a hard case like Stitch, another is hard to understand and Stitch has trouble with accents sometimes. And there's a lot of Coaches I'd love to toss Stitch to just to see what happens, but for that I have to rely on Luck of the Draw in Group Classes. (Another reason I value Group Classes.)

But how can Coaches promote themselves? I've never seen a Coach's business card, was never approached by a Coach back in the early days, and even now I think some Coaches talk to me only because I've established myself as relatively harmless. We've been with Coach Y for a year, and I've never seen her have a card, or even any semblance of paperwork with her name or contact information on it. My invoices are scraps of paper and my memory. It seems less of a business and more of a Mob operation. Mister Miyagi from Karate Kid was more organized. (Did that kid's mom ever get a bill?)

If this is these people's livelihood, how are they advertising themselves? How are they getting more kids to their stable?

Back when I "hired" Coach Y, I asked her on the phone, "Which one are you?"
"I'm the one in the yellow coat. You've seen me."
I had to think back. Stitch was in Pre-Alpha, and yes, I'd seen a woman in a yellow coat with the PA2 kids, and I liked the way she kept them off the wall and used cones. Cones are cool. Okay, this seems fine. (Again, no one had talked to me beyond, "Fill out the form and wait for a call." I had no clue how this process worked.)

The way I understand it, Coaches get visibility in the Group Classes. They can see the kids and parents, so when the kids want a private coach, the parent has some idea of who to talk to. (Provided the parents know that, yes, you can talk to Coaches you have a fondness for.) This relies on Coaches actually being in Group Classes, being on their best behavior in Group Classes, and maybe stopping to chat with Parents in a friendly way before rushing off. This is a fine way to get yourself seen.

But I don't see this happening that often. That scenario is really rare. I've had some Group Class coaches I've wanted to hit with a blow dart from the stands, and some Coaches I hardly ever see in Group Classes at the PreStyle level. When they do deign to show up, they act kinda nonchalant or distant. Again, give me my blow dart because I know swizzles are boring but they are important! Some of these PreStyle Group Classes wound up as glorified public skate sessions, because none of the Coaches took the warmups seriously. (Blow darts for all the parents in the stands that day, 50% of whom were bitching about the wasted time and lesson.)

And then there are the Secret Coaches, the ones you only learn about from hanging around the Rink long enough and asking enough questions. The Coach who only works with adults but is really cool, the Coach who is renown for his choreography, the Dance Coach, and the Jump Coach who may as well be on a gilded litter, pushed around the ice by a pack of Pre-Alpha Servant Kids. How do they promote themselves?

Working in Sales, I know Word of Mouth Advertising is great. But how do these people get the mouths going? If anyone asks me about Coaching, and how I feel about Coach Y, I say she's tough but she gets the job done in a caring way. If they feel their kid can handle it, go for it. So yes, I will freely promote Coach Y. But I also promote other coaches, too. "This Coach is great, that one works well with the littler ones, this one might be a good fit for your kid, that junior Coach is fantastic, avoid that one because she seems to be a changeling of some kind, stay away from that bunch," and so on. But I can't imagine running a business based on Other Parents talking about me. I know how I can talk about people sometimes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

So, just what happened last week?

Yesterday I spent most of the day in a hot and dirty little room, examining and marveling over old theatre parts, debating why the proscenium arch is starting to drop (it's 100 year old building), and how I can go about repairing and freshening drapes and drops next week. Hope Johnny Weir (the sewing machine) likes muslin, Red Velvet and commando cloth. The 100 Year Gala is in October, and I'm not sure what management's plans are for this event, since management is still in flux. (We're still burying valuable goods in trash before we leave, to hide them from Old Management. He's already sold one of the theatre's original spotlights, so we hid the second in a secret location. The other old spot is probably too big for him to take, she's the Original Big Bertha.)

I came home, took a shower, and went to settle some business at the rink and go skating. It's cool, quiet, and I need to ask what happened to Other Kid. Rink Informant was there, and I waited a good hour before asking the big question. "So, did they get sick or something?"

"No," said Rink Informant. "He said they just canceled it for him."

Let's review that statement. They: "They" must mean his coaches. Why would they do this? For whatever others were saying, they and Other Kid were practicing that program with all the gusto of a normal skating kid. When Other Kid flew into the boards backwards, they treated it like it was normal. When he fell, Coach said, "He bounces," and never seemed to note that he fell a lot more than the other skaters. Did they suddenly see what I, and others, were seeing?

Just Canceled. This is huge. "Just Canceled?" You don't "just cancel" a show! And not at the last minute! That Saturday night, we all left and said, "See you tomorrow!" and they said "See you tomorrow!" So when did they get the call saying not to compete? Sunday morning? How heartbreaking for Other Kid, who (for all his difficulties) really was trying his best. He'd just been crippled by being skipped up so fast. This part makes me sad, which leads me into the next part.

For Him: Dad and I have talked about Other Kid. We don't like the way he talked down to Stitch about being at a higher level. It made Stitch angry and confused, because Stitch is a miles better skater. And please don't accuse me of not liking kids who can't skate, I can't tell you how many little nonskating kids I help out and encourage at the Public Sessions. Beyond my ability to avoid my toepicks like the Sudden Death they are, I can't skate either. But I don't go around mocking those who do trip on their toepicks. I don't give a whit about skating ability, I don't like kids who mistreat other kids on baseless accusations. And others tell me that Other Kid is actually really nice and sweet and funny when he's not talking about skating. I'm sure he is, but when I get him, he's quizzing me about what Stitch is learning, and how he can "already do that, that's for kids" and how he's "learning a Salchow, does Stitch even know what that is yet? I'm learning faster than he is!"

I honestly want to shake him by the shoulders and scream, "It's not a race! For pity's sake, if you'd just slow down, you'd be so much better!"

But I don't. I smile and nod and try and change the subject, and Stitch has started to avoid him. Which is sad, because the Boys really do need to stick together.

So, Other Kid's coaches at some point decided that Other Kid shouldn't compete. If I were Other Kid's mom, I'd be in their face demanding WHY, and why they would allow or encourage my kid to learn a program and sign up for a comp, only to have them say, "yeah, no" at the last second. In fact, I'd be furious, because at that point I would have paid my non-refundable entry fee, hours and hours of ice time and the extra lessons. Not to mention the time I'd spent at the rink. I'd tell them they can deduct that entry fee from their coaching fees for the next however long it takes to pay that off, and absolutely no more rehashes of this event if I stayed with them at all. Just thinking about it makes my hair stand up. Glad it's not me, but it's someone.

At any rate, last night I just stroked around, enjoying the cool and the camaraderie. I counted spins for Awesome Guy, who's getting to ten or eleven revolutions with much more comfort and ease now. I told him he's looking much better on his spins, maybe he should try crossing his feet someday, and I encouraged him to reach both his toes on his stretching. I guess I have to be Skate Mom for someone while Stitch is gone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who is that skater?

During Spring Show I really enjoyed one of the numbers in the first act. It was a trio of three very high level and talented skaters. I knew who the two boys were, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out who the third one was, the girl. I watched every night, picking my brain, trying to remember where I might have seen a skating student of that size and approximate age doing the moves that this girl did.

Turns out my premise was wrong, which was why I couldn't figure it out. It wasn't a student. It was a Coach.

I only found out when I was cleaning out the detritus from the show and I got a program, and I looked up the name. Yup. Coach.

I have no problem with Coaches doing numbers in ice shows, so long as their numbers are short, silly, shared and are made to feel like an add-on to any existing line-up of acts. It should have the same feel as when the summer camp counselors sang that silly song at the final Summer Campfire. "And now, your coaches!" is what the announcer should read. This is fine by me. But on the whole, I don't expect to see a Coach skate like that, because I already assume that a Coach can skate pretty competently.

But more importantly, Grandma didn't come here to watch Coach skate. She came here to watch Muffy skate. Grandma doesn't care about Coach. Coach? Who's that? Where's Muffy? Right, she got stuck in the dressing room, because Coach decided she wanted to skate in the show.

For a Coach to effectively take a leading role away from a student skater in a show created for the student skaters is pretty arrogant and plenty childish. And the excuse of, "Well, there wasn't a female of equal skill to round out the number for the guys" is bullshit. One, if there's no female of equal skill, that speaks to the Coaching in general, so that makes Coach(es?) look bad. Two, if a Coach can't create a decent show number for two high level guys, that makes Coach look unimaginative. And also bad.

Why was this allowed to happen? Who approved this? Why did no one say, "You know, as a Coach, you effectively abrogate your place as a star. Your stars are your students, they shine for you. If they don't shine, then neither do you." For a Coach to not possess the maturity to step back and allow her Students to take the spotlight is highly questionable. If I were one of her parents, this would make me rethink things.

There's a Christmas Carol that comes on the radio that I absolutely cannot stand. It's Lennon's "Happy Christmas." I hate it because at the end, the children's choir is singing and then some woman's voice rises up over theirs, overpowering them. For years I thought that was their director or something, I thought it incredibly rude for this choir director to overpower her student's singing with her own, especially in a song that was being played nationally.

I learned later in life that wasn't the choir director, that's Yoko Ono. We all know what she did. (And she sounds terrible.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Blues

Stitch leaves tomorrow. He's gone for two weeks, back for three days, then gone again for three weeks. The bags are all packed and summer seems suddenly really long.

I've made plans, of course. My goals are to clean out the apartment, top to bottom. Clean out closets, donating or selling what we can, getting to tough things like behind the oven and fridge, and the Pit that is Stitch's room. I'm going to help my friend at his theatre, cleaning out there and doing what work can be done. And I'm going to learn forward crossovers. I'm halfway there, I just lack the confidence to hold that outside edge for more than two seconds. Give me time, I'll get there. And not cooking, don't forget the Not Cooking part.

Stitch has orders to read for a half hour a day, do multiplication and other math, and do off-ice exercises. Grandma says she will take him to the ice rink when she can, and he has his skates and skating book which has his warmup routine.

But really, I'm facing many long weeks of what life was like before I had a kid. I don't know what I did. I'm thinking of heading to some of the Ethnic areas of town, which I've taken Stitch to before but always had to leave early as he was tired or something. I'm going to try new foods, do some sewing, maybe attempt some spandex patterns from that new sewing pattern website. I'm thinking two pairs of skating pants for practice, two practice shirts and we can do costumes as we go next year. Just stuff that's hard to do when Stitch is around....


Is it too obvious I'm going to miss him?

Coach left me a message with the final bill for the year and saying she couldn't wait to have him back. Me, neither, Coach. I've never been more anxious for the start of school, and I'm thinking that maybe buying the supplies now might make the time go by faster. The fact that the notebooks and glue sticks are already out gives me hope. I'll be trolling the Rink for word on when I can get him registered for FS2 classes, and I'm thinking of the whole Saturday Shebang Package. He needs dance. I've put it off too long already. And I can't forget how much he misses School.

It's going to be okay. Pretty soon I'll be in the thick of September, whining again that I have to get up early or stay up late or drive to that crazy rink or deal with Nutso.

Netflix did just put all the Star Trek series on streaming...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Two Firsts and a Mystery!

This round was as smooth as could be expected, what with it being Home Rink and all. Stitch forgot his blade guards at Public Skate the night prior, but they were right where he left them when I looked this morning. No harm done. We arrived very early, since we were all a bit Antsy. Dad stayed home to sleep in a bit later, but all the grandparents and Lady Cluck arrived well on time.

Coach was late enough for me to call her, but she was only a minute away when I found her. She told me to get him on the small ice to practice a bit. I threw skates on him and told him to practice his compulsory routine since that was the one he had the least practice with. I was anxious to ditch him and go snooping. All the previous evening I'd been watching Other Kid, wondering what he'd be treating us to today. But I couldn't find his mom or him anywhere. His warmup time was the same as Stitch's.

She came, took over, I left the blade guards by her purse and took off to find these people. Nowhere. I went up into the stands to sit with the family and cheer on my boy.

Okay, so the original schedule had FS2 ages 9-10. This was Other Kid. An event was to be made for Stitch since he passed his test. This means a FS1, ages 7-8 and a FS2, ages 9-10. But the program only listed Stitch in the FS1 event, 9-10 age group. No other kids. Where was Other Kid? No boy from FS2 skated in that group at all.

The kids took the ice for Warmup, and NO OTHER KID. For weeks, Other Kid had been sure to tell Stitch that he was competing at FS2, and that he was better than Stitch, and now what's happening? Where is he? I was dying.

Stitch took the ice, and true to his form, he skated beautifully. He took a fall, which scared me only because he was rubbing his hand after and because the next element was a spiral. I know I get shaky legs after a fall, and if he did too, it might hurt him. He was fine. Nice spiral, good spin, high bunny hops and good edges. I was so proud, most of all because that fall didn't seem to bother him right off. Coach delivered him back to me with orders to get a snack and take a rest, come back to the small ice in a little while to practice again for Compulsory. I changed his shirt and brought him up to sit with his grandparents, who of course were praising him to the heavens.

I ran back down to go look once more for Other Kid, but nothing. What had happened here? It seemed an awful letdown after weeks of anticipating Other Kid falling on his rear, skating in a level he didn't belong in. Worst of all, I never did figure out what his music or costume was. Whenever I asked him, or his mom, neither of them knew. "Coach picked everything," they said. I went back down to quiz Rink Informant, but Coach caught me and said results were up, so I had to go get Stitch again. I let him read it. First place. Not bad, considering the fall. He gleefully ran to collect his medal, and his first comment was, "It doesn't have my name on it."
"For pity's sake, I will have it engraved later. Go inside and show the Grandmas."

I asked Rink Informant about Other Kid, and he didn't know either. In fact, he was also mystified. I went back up to collect Stitch and bring him back down to the small ice. Coach was waiting for us, I dumped him and went for some coffee for me and my mom. We needed more than the one cup we'd had at 7am.

We watched the groups go, with me and dad explaining things as they went. Eventually we broke down and got a program, just to determine levels between the girls. A few girls were awesome standouts, and I noted that there was a decidedly different feel between the Freestyle events and the Pre-Free events. The Pre-Free events felt, not silly, not useless, just different. Mom kept commenting how tiny Stitch seemed in comparison to the others. In fact, she was questioning me when I tossed him onto practice ice with the other kids, as he was the smallest one out there. I assured her he could hold his own, and he did. He did here, too.

One of Stitch's friends from school arrived with her parents to watch. This mom and Lady Cluck talked about the skating school, and This Mom said that her daughter was done with skating. "I mean, I've spent all this money and she's not Freestyle yet? Pfft, we're done."
Lady Cluck and I were taken aback. Lady Cluck insisted that her daughters would learn back crossovers no matter what it took, and her youngest daughter was fated to skate pairs with Stitch so she had to catch up. (Which was said only partially in jest.)

Compulsory came and Other Kid was still nowhere. Stitch did a better job at compulsory than he did at Solo, actually. He seemed more relaxed, and even hammed his way off the ice, much to the delight of the remaining crowd. I collected him again, and he sat with his girlfriend to wait for results. I came and went, finding shoes, talking to other moms, congratulating kids, having fun. Eventually Dad, Grandpa and Stitch went to go wait for results downstairs.

Another first. Stitch now had the honor of clinking medals, which he used to applaud the other skaters with. We stayed to watch Gordon, and got treated to some Pre-Alpha and Alpha kids. Here is where I saw the difference in the PreFree versus Freestyle. Two girls had the same music, back to back. That didn't happen in Freestyle. Maturity, maybe. Or just dumb luck of the day.

Gordon went on and looked miles better than he's ever had. Real improvement. This makes me happy. And believe it or not, I'm actually glad that Stitch will take a brief hiatus, and it's because Gordon can catch up a bit. I need them to stay at around the same level, and I need Ms V to remain suggestible. Ms V thanked us for sticking around, returned the safety pins she borrowed (for heaven's sake, keep them!) and said she'd see us in the fall.

Coach caught me and asked if he'd see any ice for the next six weeks. Maybe. I don't know. Dad and Grandpa were heading back home to hash out dates. I made me ill to think about so I didn't. It turned the day a bit bittersweet. I told her I'd been taking notes on the off-ice things and I'd ask the grandparents to work with him. It was the best I could do. She gave him a hug, wished him a good summer and said she'd see him again the last week of August.

When we got home, Dad says there was a dad making a fuss at Mysteria in the lobby. His daughter had placed second in compulsory, against the book. She wasn't the only one to do so. So, it is possible to lose against the book, and the kids do know. Everyone wins a prize, but heaven help you if it's not the prize they want.

I have to find out what happened to Other Kid. I'll die if I don't. So, while Stitch may be leaving on Wednesday, back for a few days in two weeks and then gone again, I'll be shadowing the rink until I get some answers. In the meantime, two medals are now with the trophies. Stitch is pleased, but unhappy about the fall. I told him to forget it. "No one cares about how often you fall, just how often you get back up. I thought you did great."

"Meh," says Stitch. Then he asked to go play slip-n-slide with his friend in the front yard.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oh Dear

I'm attempting to explain the ins and outs of figure skating to the grandparents. Responses are ranging from confused stares to looks of horror.

This may not have been the best idea in the world...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The FS1 Patch Story (as relayed by Dad)

Bear in mind throughout this story that Dad worked an all-nighter at a concert venue prior to doing this. Dad deserves a medal.

Sleepless Dad took Stitch to the rink at 10am as scheduled for the test. Mysteria was nowhere to be found, so Coach took Stitch in with her student for some pointers to wait. "Some pointers" turned into "Free lesson" as Mysteria never arrived.

By this time, I had called Dad, asking for results. Dad said he didn't know, that no one knew where Mysteria was.
"Did you ask the desk?"
"No, I don't know who to ask."
"Any of them! Just ask if Mysteria is there!"
"I don't want to do that."

So I hung up and called the stupid rink, at which point I was informed that Mysteria doesn't usually arrive until Noon on Wednesday. Then I got mad, because it's not fair to pump Stitch up for The Big Test and then keep him waiting interminably.

I called Dad again, and Dad was at this point talking things over with Coach. Coach seemed to think he'd be fine, but she had to leave to attend another comp elsewhere. Okay, we understand this.

But that meant Stitch was on his own. Dad agreed to hang out at the rink until noon, waiting for Mysteria.

Mysteria finally arrives a little after noon, and expresses surprise that they are still there and untested. She says that she ascribed Coach Someone (Dad forgets who) to administer the test. Dad says that at this point he was exhausted to the point of shaking, "so she probably thinks I was having some kind of seizure, but maybe that added to the pity factor."

Mysteria, Dad and Stitch head into the Big Rink, where it's maintenance hour. There's a lift on the ice replacing a lightbulb. Mysteria asks everyone if they're okay doing the test with the lift on the ice. Stitch thinks this is awesome, and I think in any other state of mind Dad would have said no for safety's sake.

Dad tells me that Stitch skated the program the best he's ever seen. "It was amazing," says Dad. "Given his mood the previous day, I was sure he wouldn't pass."

Mysteria awards the title and the patch, and Stitch is suddenly on Cloud 9. Dad tells me he was bouncing all over, and I really only cared that he said "Thank you." He did.

That night we picked up Grandma from the airport and the first thing Stitch showed her was his two foot, one and a half rotation hop. I had to stop him from doing his skating moves in the baggage claim, for fear of him hurting himself on the granite floor. Coach called me later on that night, expressing her pleasure that he finally passed and cancelling the Camp session the following day. This was fine by all of us, as Grandma H (my mom) wanted to go see a movie. Stitch ate cherries out of the jar and drank syrupy Shirley Temples.

So, what did I say to him? Tuesday night, out on the front lawn, I asked him if the test was important to him.
"It is important to me, mom," he sounded a bit bereft.
"If it's important to you, then you need to own it. We can't do it for you. Everyone knows you can do it, you just need to throw yourself into it the way we all know you can."
"I don't know how."
"Try this; when you take your place on the ice, close your eyes and imagine it's competition day. Imagine the audience, with me and your grandparents and Dad and the Photographer. Imagine you're in costume, and the announcer calls your name. When you open your eyes, you're there, and skate just the way you would for the judges. Will you try that?"

Either he did what I told him to do, or he finally understood that this was his problem. Or he was genuinely concerned about me getting nailed with a shovel by Gordon's dad. Whatever.

All this makes plain to me the value of these little competitions for Stitch. I don't think he would have done what he did were it not for the push of a competition behind him. He stood to really lose if he didn't own up to his potential, and when he did, he was absolutely elated.

Tomorrow I have the day off, so I can attend Lessons for the first time in a month. I'll have costumes so we can do Dress Rehearsal. I'm excited, and the countdown is nearing the hours mark.

In Acting Terms, it is Bad Luck to wish an Actor Good Luck. I told Stitch this and he looked at me like I was crazy.
"So, instead of saying 'good luck' we say 'break a leg'."
"Uh huh."
"We don't really want them to break a leg, but..."
"Uh huh."
"Since you're a figure skater, we really really don't want you to break a leg, but you do fall a lot. So we decided the best way to wish a skater good luck was to say, 'bust your butt'."
Stitch laughed.
"So, bust your butt tomorrow at the test, okay?"

Let's hope he busts his butt just as hard on Sunday!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Today's Horoscope: F*CK YEAH!

Not that there wasn't drama surrounding the event, but he got it, and it's done, and I can relax.

At least until Sunday.

Stitch, you're an awesome kid and I'm so proud of you!

Monday, July 4, 2011

All or Nothing

When you walk into our rink, there are two posters that flank the front door. One's of a mom screaming at her sad hockey son, and the other is a dad screaming at his sad hockey son. Both have the caption, "Relax. It's just a game." I want to make some posters of a mom screaming at her daughter in a sparkly dress, with the caption, "Have a valium. It's just figure skating."

I know we skating parents like to claim all the sports crazy in the world for us, but we by no means have a monopoly. The crazy extends to all areas; tennis, golf, swimming, baseball, football, lacrosse, hockey, dance and voice. Anywhere there is a remote chance of a kid becoming a star, parents are throwing themselves into the work of pushing that kid into being that superstar on the Wheaties box.

The simple truth is this: The odds of your kid making it to the NBA, MLB, NHL and whatever the national leagues are for swimming and hockey are dismally small. Same for skating. It's more reasonable and sane to operate with the mindset of, "This is a recreational activity for my child, which encourages self esteem, provides valuable exercise and acts as a deterrent from substance abuse later in life" than it is to have the mantra, "OMG OLYPICKS!" Which isn't to say that I don't get stars in my eyes sometimes. I do, especially when I hear that Coaches like my kid and I get wind that others think him talented. I don't think I'd be a good parent if I didn't. But I do try to bring myself back down to earth and focus on the task at hand. Right now that's jumping on dry land.

Yesterday evening Stitch shocked himself by getting around more than 180. "Mom! I started out facing the tree and I landed facing the flowers! Do you think I can do it on one foot?!"
"Well, let's try it on the stairs first so you can get the height to do it."
Usually the ponderous task of jumping stairs on one foot is enough to remind me of reality. (He's getting better.) And I have this blog, which gives me some space for reflection and catching me in my own bad behavior.

Anonymom brought up some comments yesterday that mirror a conversation Dad and I had that same day about kids, skating, talent and fun. Dad and I were discussing coaches (Stitch was outside), and I was relaying my theories as to how these people operate: They troll the beginner classes for kids who seem to have some knack for it, they skim them off into their higher level classes with the assumption that the kids will "pick up" the basics provided they skate enough. That leaves the Coaches free to focus on "real" skating like jumps and spins in an incredibly demanding and cliquish environ, which girls typically respond to. This is actually Bela Karolyi's method; "Little girls are like scorpions. You put all the scorpions in a bottle and one will come out alive." (Little Girls in Pretty Boxes,) It's actually exploiting Girl Psych. The kids that don't make it through this process of theirs, they don't want anyway, and they can weed the group down to the one or two who actually have a shot. This is just my theory, but Dad agreed and we both found it reprehensible. It literally trashes dozens, if not hundreds, of kids in figure skating simply because it burns them out or makes them feel incompetent enough to quit.

My little Niece was at the receiving end of a similar process. She's really little, and her mom and dad signed her up for a Gymnastics class. The coaches all thought she was the most talented little girl of the bunch, so they bumped her up a few levels. Suddenly surrounded by older girls she didn't know, doing things that seemed too hard, Little M sat down. She quit gymnastics, because the Coaches wouldn't let her take things at her own pace. 

Youth Sports is drifting towards a terrible "All or Nothing, Champ or Chump" mentality. Anonymom's comment that skating talent isn't determined until they have all six jumps and are doing "real" spins, I believe is a damaging way of thinking. And it's not just skating. Every week I listen to my coworker trash his own kid because the team lost at another baseball game. Anonymom, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be no value at all placed on The Swizzle or the Foul Ball, the lessons from absolute basics and loss.

It's cultural, too. Look at kid's clothing for sports. All little boy's tees say, "FIRST PLACE," or "TEAM CAPTAIN," or "CHAMP, STAR" or some other variation of THE BEST. There's no mention of the work it takes to become a champion, just the finished product. Worse, there's no value ascribed to doing something for fun or just recreationally, because either you're a champion or you're wasting everyone's time. Everyone wrings their hands and wonders why kids quit sports, opting for the safer route of vidya games and other mindless pursuits. I can give you my opinion why; it's because the focus went from Recreational Activity to BE A CHAMPION. Or perhaps the focus never was Recreational Activity to begin with. Parents or Coaches didn't care about the process, only the end result.

We've all seen the moms in the stands who berate their kids after lessons. "You're in Pre-Alpha now, so you need to stop walking like a Tot!" Mom, it's a process. It takes time. Your kid is adorable, and fabulous just the way she is. Her wonky one foot glide will get better. Focus on the Process, not the Product. It will make you and your kid much more sane and your journey much more enjoyable.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New! Weekly Featurette!

Join Xanboni and me on Sunday nights for Skate Mom Chat! Starting next week, July 10th 8pm CDT, come and join your fellow soldiers in the trenches on Twitter.

We can talk about skates, coaches, practice, parenting, costumes, testing, how to sew on those patches, whatever. But if you want to talk about someone in particular, please meet me at the local bar afterward. I'm buying if you're talking. 

Join us!

The times, they are a' changin'

Stitch did not pass the FS1 Program test. To my commenters who were confused about the lack of the Program component of the test, you were right. There was one, and Stitch, true to his "it's just practice so whatever" form, didn't pass it.

Well, I was disappointed to say the least. And I was disappointed in the same way I was when Stitch half-assed his way through a book, math assignment or project in school. I was disappointed because of his chronic habit of shortchanging himself and his abilities. And I was mad. Mad because now I'd have to watch Other Kid taunt him for being at a lower level for another god knows how long, when Other Kid can't make it over his own skates without looking like he's terrified for his life. This kid's knees are torn out of his skate pants, he falls so often.

But last night I got the other side of the story, and now I'm not so mad. In fact, I'm giggling a bit.

Rink Informant and I were watching Stitch jump and skate and dance, and I asked what happened.
"Well, Mysteria says he can do it better."
"I know that, but..."
"No, he can do it better than what he's letting himself do. She wants him to do better. She's pushing him, too."
I thought about that for a minute. "What does Coach say?"
"Coach Y told me, and she had this funny little half grin on her face, like she was happy about what Mysteria said. All the coaching staff is watching him. He's our next Big Skater."
"But what about Other Kid?"
"That's what everyone else is asking. But Coach N has been barred from giving ISI tests, and she's the one who passed Other Kid into Freestyle 3. Now all the tests have to go through Mysteria."
"I thought that was how you did it anyway..."
"Mysteria's going to flip when she sees Other Kid."
Of course she is. Because to have some kid skating like that at Freestyle 2 as representative of your rink is embarrassing.

I changed the subject to cats. That's a lot to digest.

Stitch did his program a few times, with me explaining that what Mysteria was looking for was the exact same performance he would give if he were competing. The same energy, the same life, not the Blah "It's just Practice" snoozer. And he delivered for me. But every time he came off the ice, he railed about how "it wasn't perfect! I can't get it perfect!"

"So do it until it feels perfect," I said.
"I can't get it perfect! That's the problem!"
Well, you're doing miles better than Other Kid, who's bunny hops look like a split two foot jump. I just have to get into your head that it's okay to not be perfect, and lack of perfection doesn't precede you from continuing to try.

We came home and watched some bad Kung Fu movie, and I put Stitch to bed. We had gone to the library and gotten a bunch of books on electricity projects, and his task for tomorrow is to build a "welcome mat" for his door that will ring a buzzer inside his room. He thinks this will be hilarious.
I left the skating alone for awhile, but I did lay things out for Stitch on Friday.
"Here's what's at stake if you don't pass this last chance on Wednesday. You will have to completely re-do your program to compete at Delta level, and you'll have just two days to do it. That will be loads more work than if you just performed for Mysteria as you would for a judge. Also, you will be competing against Gordon instead of against the Book. Is that what you want?"
"Okay. It doesn't matter to me what level you compete at. I would prefer you compete at Freestyle 1 since that's what you're capable of." And I don't want Gordon's Dad coming after me with a shovel. "So, please take this final chance seriously. Will you?"

Stitch insists he's doing his best. I know that this isn't true. I've seen his best.


What does all this upheaval mean for you, fellow Skate Moms of my rink who I know read this blog? Well, it means that if you are fine with your kid going through class levels without formal testing and zipping on up without care for quantifiable results, you can continue to do that. However, if you want to compete in ISI while affiliated with our rink, you need to go through Mysteria. Full stop. Am I happy about this? You bet your sweet bippy I am!

Which isn't to say there aren't ways around it. There are, and I'm sorry to say we've participated in that. I'm going to try to avoid that in the future.

Skating has entered my arsenal of weaponry to challenge Stitch to own himself, to live up to his capabilities, not quash them down because it's "hard work." In the end, it's harder work being dumb. "Next Big Skater" or no, this has become part of a Whole Child/Person Philosophy I'm working on, here. He can do better.