Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Let's go Ice Skating!"

(It's two for one day here at St. Lidwina's, since my Scheduled Post didn't happen!)

I love having new people at the rink during the holidays, and really hope most of them stick around for the rest of the year. When I'm in the lobby at public skate sessions, and people see Stitch, they'll sometimes ask me about classes and things. I'll happily answer, tie skates, and loan gloves.


But Public Skate sessions around the holidays can get a little crazy, simply because everyone and their dog shows up. Literally. I spotted a cocker spaniel puppy in the lobby not too long ago. The sheer mass of people who don't skate can make things a little dangerous.

So, let's say you're a family on holiday break, wanting to visit the rink up the road for some funtime ice skating. How do you make sure it's actually fun and not a trip to the ER?



Did you just get some new skates as a gift? Great! Make sure they're sharpened before you hit the ice. Some poor little boy showed up in new hockey skates and collapsed for ten minutes before his mom asked me to check things. They still had the weird "Factory Edge" on them, not a proper edge.

Are you renting skates? Make sure you get the right size, and make sure you tie them properly. And when I say, "tie them properly," I don't mean that you do some awesome macrame job on the excess lace while leaving the lace hooks sad and empty.

Tie them properly means: Loosen the laces all the way down the foot. Stick your socked foot in there, and tighten the laces, one by one, so you're comfortable. Don't cut off your circulation in the name of support. Lots of lace? I bring the laces OVER the lace hooks and around, all the way up the ankle (again, tight enough to support but don't make a tourniquet) and bring them down and around the lace hook set to eat up that extra lacing. Or tuck the excess into your long sock. But don't wrap it around the ankle of the boot, because that interferes with movement, and don't let it drag. You will trip over it. It's one of those Murphy's Laws of skating; what can be tripped over, will be tripped over.


Dress in layers, so you can peel off accordingly. Our rink gets Polar in winter, but most days it's comfortable in a light jacket. Pants, please, and gloves for when you fall.

While that cute little skating dress is very cute, she's shivering. This is one of those parental moments where you make them wear a jacket, no matter how much they protest. 'Kay? Oh, and if you put her in that cute skating dress, know that the Big Skaters wear thick skating tights to cover their legs. Not a one of them goes out bare legged, so please don't let your little girl do it! (Seen it!)

And while you may want to get your budding Wayne Gretzky "used to the helmet and pads," it seems counterproductive to send your three year old out in full hockey gear to learn to skate. One thing at a time, maybe?


This seems to be the single biggest challenge for our Holiday Public Skating sessions.

So you can't skate. This is fine. Go slow, hold onto the wall, and take it easy. You'll start getting it eventually.

Please don't march on the ice, flail wildly and start imitating Plushenko as you enjoy some self deprecating humor. While it is comic, it's very dangerous to yourself and others.

Please don't scream at your little skaters to get off the wall/do something cool/"gliiiiiiiide!!" or whatever. They'll let do it when they're ready.

Please keep a sense of Situational Awareness. Stay alert to slower or faster skaters around you, and don't think others are automatically watching out for you. They likely aren't!

Please don't assume Rink Staff are just a bunch of meanie heads out to spoil your fun. Obey rink rules. You wouldn't challenge a Lifeguard, so don't challenge the Rink Guard.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not pick up and carry your little skaters. One of my greatest horror stories is of a mom who picked up her tot, lost her balance, and fell on her tot's head. Other parents have fallen while carrying kids, but this one was the best. To this day I get the serious heebie jeebies when I see a nonskating mom pick up a reluctant tot and carry her while skating.

On the sidelines? This is okay, but please don't walk on the ice with your camera. Yes, I know, you've likely been introduced to that other Murphy's Law of Skating; If they do anything cool, someone or something blocks the view. It's just something you have to deal with.

Remember Budding Wayne Gretzky? Please don't yell at him. Or push him down. Or snowplow him. Or fling him across the ice. This is just sad, really. Unless you're looking to make Figure Skating Moms look like Angels, please don't engage in abusive behavior towards your Little Hockey Boy.

I've seen some great things at Public Skates, and I've seen some pretty awful things at Public Skates. Bottom line, it's what you do that makes it fun or not.

Oh, and Please buy something from the Concession Stand during resurface! Support the Rink you're at, and nothing makes a skating memory more fun than popcorn and hot chocolate to warm chilled fingers!

"No one can Progress!"

Last Saturday I was watching the kids, saying hello to some people and joining in the wondering chorus of "Why bother" for the one lesson that the kids get before a two week holiday break.

I'm sure it's a scheduling thing, and was about to say how glad I was for the private lessons in the interim, when some Plastic Mom appears by the door and begins a tirade.

"Look at this! Look at these coaches! They stand in the corner and talk while the kids goof off during warm ups!"

Other Mom agrees. "Oh, I know. It's terrible!"

"They need to have a coach at each corner to direct the kids! But they just stand there and talk!" Plastic Mom hurries off, and a moment later, a coach gets paged to the office.

Plastic Mom and Coach come out the door, with Plastic Mom railing and Coach saying she'd talk to people. But Plastic Mom is not satisfied. "Look at this. This is ridiculous. They aren't learning anything!"

Now, I have problems with the warmup, too. But I'm pretty confident that 90% of the warmup problems are Stitch not taking it seriously, so I'm talking with him about that.

But Other Mom and Plastic Mom were on a roll. "It's awful," says Plastic Mom. "How are they supposed to progress on an hour a week? And then They'll tell you that you have to buy private lessons and special ice to progress, and it's just not fair! They should progress in the regular classes we pay for!"

Okay. Let's review.

Plastic Mom is sporting a Prada Bag, a BMW key fob, a fur trimmed jacket and some pricey looking boots. Her daughter is sporting a full Chloe Noel getup complete with the Crystal accents. I'm pretty sure she can afford a private lesson and some practice ice.

Regardless of any of that, it's silly to say that "no one can progress" on weekly skating lessons. There's a boy in Stitch's FS3 class who's never seen a private coach or practice ice, skates about once a week, and he does fine. (He also has a big brother who is a killer ice dancer as powerful motivation.) But he's progressed. He spent two rounds in Pre-Free, two rounds in FS1, and a half round in FS2. He also got lucky in a lot of his classes, as he ended up being alone a lot. Score!

I've never heard of any kid languishing in any level for longer than two or three rounds, and it's usually one niggly thing that's hanging them up. (Except Shuffles, who is still in Alpha 1 after a year. But he's the lone exception.) Since the coaches will teach higher skills to break the monotony, by the time they do pass, they're halfway through the subsequent level anyway.

But your kid will progress. Will they progress as fast as you want them to? Who's to say? Why the rush? What are you after?

If you're just wanting your kid to skate recreationally, have some fun skills to show off to friends, or "to skate on dates" (the reason boys skate, according to the parents I talk to), I think a once weekly lesson and some practice time on public sessions is fine. But like any challenging skill, they won't get it unless they work at it. A Coach can't give your child a gift wrapped Waltz Jump.

I really wanted to ask Plastic why it mattered. But since I was someone who was getting Privates and "special ice," I decided to keep out of it. I noted that the FS3 coach was spending an inordinate amount of time talking himself, and I mentioned it to Coach Y later. She said she'd help.

But what if I didn't have a Coach to help me? What would my options be?

Talk to Problem Coach? I've seen this have mixed results. As a parent, you have to handle this with a lot of diplomacy. You don't want to come across as telling someone how to do their job, but you do want to bring up an issue. I'd use the "compliment sandwich" method. "Hey, those scratch spins look great! Everyone's doing so well! But my kid's having a problem with dance step, can you help him with that? And his toe loop is getting so much better these days! Thank you!" The trick to a compliment sandwich is that you have to be sincere. Don't BS it, and don't be combative yourself.

Some coaches will get all prickly and weird anyway, though, so good luck!

Switch classes? If Coach Talksalot teaches the Saturday Group, and Coach GitRDone teaches Tuesday nights, I'd try to make Tuesdays work and discretely switch classes.

Go ahead and supplement with Privates? I see nothing wrong with this. A Booster Lesson on a low key Public Session is no admission of defeat. I'd just make it clear to the Coach that "we're just trying to get those three turns down." I also think a Junior Coach at a lower rate is perfect choice for this problem.

Switch Rinks? If the problem is ongoing, and I'm chronically getting stuck with a talker, I could move to another rink. Other Mom does this. She supplements with lessons at CityRink down the road. For me, my other option is farther away and more expensive. Right now, this is not a good option.

But what about you? What would you do? Or what have you done when Coach Talksalot is talking, talking, talking...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Off Topic: The Advent Calendar

With Ice Show behind us, I can finally concentrate my domestic efforts on a Family Holiday. We typically don't travel, as Dad's show schedule keeps us home, so we just settle in and enjoy the day. I've been slowly moving away from a Consumer Oriented holiday, focusing less and less on gifts, and more on creating new Traditions and Family. We're not exactly Christian, either, so I'm going to try my hand at some other Holiday things like Latkes and Dreidels.

We also switched up the Christmas Tree in favor of a Christmas Ladder, painted green and decorated. Stitch and the Cats love it. With less stress on Gift Giving and Budget Straining, a break in the Gotta Do Tradition monotony, more focus on tasty treats, friends and family, I'm more in the holiday spirit than I've been in years.

My well-meaning Aunt had sent me a Playmobil Advent Calendar last year, and last night I got it into my head that this would be a great new tradition to start. Yes, an Advent Calendar. Never mind that we're halfway through the month, let's do this.

Stitch was in bed, I had a hot toddy in hand, holiday music was softly playing, and I bust out this Advent Calendar.

Ours is not the cutesy animal one, but you get the idea.

The premise is simple: For every day there is a small box with some pieces of the final "scene" to be assembled. A hat, the snowman, a park bench, a person, you get the idea. The set comes with 24 tiny numbered boxes that you have to assemble, and fill with the proscribed toys as per the instructions which are in German. There are also two unnumbered boxes and three boxes printed to look like wrapped gifts.

There are four large bags of toy pieces in various states of assembly. Medium size pieces like people and furniture are ready to go, small and large bits like hats and sleighs you have to put together.

There is one big cardboard display board, to which you will presumably affix the loaded toy boxes to. There is no sequence to the numbers, they are scattered haphazardly across the board. The final toy "scene" is a town square with three kids playing hockey in the middle. Hockey, go Figure right? (Get it, go Figure? Hahahahaha!) Santa is presumably involved.

I sit by the light of my Christmas Ladder, and spread out the cardboard scene, little boxes, small toys and instructions. I set to identifying which tiny bits go in which tiny box.

The first few days are pretty simple. Week one, we were supposed to get the big things like the Snowman, the Park Bench, and the Hockey Net. We also got a little girl, but I couldn't find her right off so some other kid went in her box. Whatever.

Week two, things got a little more complicated. We got two more kids early in week, some fences, a patch of ice and a warning sign. Then one kid got his hockey stick, little tiny hockey guard things, and some tiny hockey pucks. I know full well I will be scooping tiny hockey pucks out of the catbox come New Year. The second kid doesn't get his hockey stick or guards or pucks until three days later, so he better steer clear of that other kid in the meantime. Our little girl doesn't get her tiny scarf or hat until two weeks after her arrival onto the scene, so let's hope that snowman she's building is actually made of polarfleece.

Week three, things got bizarre. In one box went a Star of David on a stick. For a few moments I was concerned that this yellow Star of David was supposed to go on someone's sleeve, but then I found the corresponding stick. This is a lantern of some kind. The sleigh arrives in week three, which must be assembled with stickers, runners and harness. But it doesn't fit in the box with the harness on, so I had to take it apart right after I figured how to get it together.

At this point I decide to start putting the little loaded boxes on the cardboard display, but after having them fall off pretty consistently, I decide to forego the display board. I instead just stack the little boxes on the Cardboard Scene display, be done with it, and make another Hot Toddy.

Week four, our little hockey players finally get their skates. I note with some stupor that they are double runner skates. Why would hockey players be in double runners? The sober corner of my mind says, "So the toys stand up," but then I wonder why the skates were not molded to the feet in the first place. What were these kids doing, playing hockey without skates for two weeks?

Then it hits me; Broomball!

I'm instructed to put some tiny ski poles and skis into a box, and I'm wondering who the hell is skiing. I don't remember a skiier. Maybe it's Snowman Builder Girl, she needed something else to do after freezing her butt off for a week. Then the instructions tell me to put tiny wheels on a tiny car frame, followed by a tiny car body, and put the resulting toy of a toy into one of the preprinted gift boxes and put that into one of the numbered boxes. The thought "TOYCEPTION," comes to me, my mind is momentarily blown and I make another Hot Toddy.

The toy car is apparently remote controlled, but by the time I found the remote, I was boxing up the toy bear so I just threw it in there. The toy bear is now remote controlled.

The Reindeer arrives on the 23rd, but he doesn't fit in his box unless you bow his head down way low so he's nibbling his hocks. He's also stunningly realistic in comparison to our stylized people, and boxy looking Santa, who also does not fit in his box unless you take the hat off.

At this point I see the purpose of the two unnumbered boxes, as I have a smattering of hats, a part of a harness, a tiny baby bottle, and a hockey puck leftover. I put these things into Grab BagBox and clean up my mess.

Dad comes home and notes the stack of tiny cardboard boxes. "It's supposed to be an Advent Calendar," I explain. "But I messed it up. It will still work."

"We're halfway through the month," he seems confused.

"Better late than never."

As I head to bed, the thought occurs to me that the tiny Playmobil hockey skates will likely fit on our Playmobil Pirates. Pirate Hockey must become a new Holiday Tradition. Why else would there be so much rum?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Old Spotlight is Old

The show seems determined to have only three spotlights. Friday matinee, they had only three operators. Friday night, a lamp blew. The lighting dude, (who is a freelance video guy by actual profession and needs money so he took this gig) was fussing for the op to pull out the blue gel, when in reality that was a 1000 watt lamp in her death throes. They removed the unit, moved my trouperette, and I pulled double duty for Act 2. No worries.

Saturday matinee, the lamp was replaced, but went out again at the top of Act 2. The Lighting Dude and the Op were fussing with it, turning it on and off again, and so I stepped over. The lamp was good, the fan was on, so my head said "bad socket." Sockets do die after a time, and this light is easily forty years old. She's likely overdue for a new socket. I took off my jacket to handle the lamp, reseated it firmly, and it worked.

But it kept dying throughout Act 2. It would die, then work again, die, work again, and then die. I watched the operator. When it died, he'd nose it up in frustration, and then it would start to work again so he'd aim it down, and then it would die. That lamp is slipping out.

When the show was done, I stepped over with a flashlight and a paper clip. I pulled out the lamp, still fine, and pulled out the spring latch inside the socket, which should better hold the lamp. I turned it on and flung it up and down a few times, trying to unseat the lamp and I couldn't do it. Win.

At the evening show I told the Lighting Dude what I had done, and how to avoid the issue. Whenever the spot is not on someone, she needs to be nosed up, using gravity to help keep the lamp in place. I'd also be around to pull the latch again, but she should hold. When Spot 2 didn't die at all Saturday night, the other Ops said I threatened it into working.

Today I get to watch Stitch for real. I'm not working supposedly, but I do have a dress to re-iron and drop off this morning.

He's been having a grand time, bouncing around, humming the music, playing in the dressing room. The boys actually got their own dressing room this time, not a corner of the gym, and it's beautiful. I love it. They're making Zuca trains, which is great for them but bad for the wire hangers they're using as couplers.

He's been imitating the bigger skaters, trying their off-ice jumps. He says he'd like a solo next year. I said he'd have to work hard, but I think he could do it! Coach wants him to have one, too. She's stated before that one of her goals is a solo for him next year. There's a lot of freestyle boys around, their number is pretty big in comparison to last year, so the competition for it might be pretty stiff. Of course, if they gave back more solo parts that actually belong to males and not gender bend to accomodate the girls, things might be different. We'll see.

I was thinking last night, remembering why I put Stitch in the shows. He always says that he doesn't want to do them, yet when he's actually performing he's having a ball. He's good as gold, too. When I put his skates on him, I reminded him to take his watch off before he went on. Last night when I went to go collect him, he looked at me in horror and said, "Mom, I forgot to take my watch off, so I hid it undr my sleeve! Do you think anyone noticed?"

I said probably not.

The coaches seem to be getting some fun Stitch moments as well. Someone told me about a moment where Stitch asked the group at large, "Raise your hand if you fell!"

Through it all, I'm glad we did it. Perhaps next time my railings about badly dressing the boys will have had an impact. They deserve more and better than what they currently get. And yes, I do spot the Tot Boys as long as I can.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ice Show Bingo

In an effort to lighten the mood, I've decided to offer up Ice Show Bingo! Rules are like classic Bingo, except when a Skater runs into scenery, the first one to shout "Bingo!" wins regardless of the card. In this respect, it's more like Sudden Death Bingo.

I appreciate all the support I've been getting on this issue. Hopefully my freakout will not be in vain!

Plain Red Turtlenecks

The costumes arrived Wednesday in a flurry of tulle and glitter. When I stopped by to drop off some sewing, I asked what the Boy's outfits were, and I got handed a metallic red button down. Plain, but okay. I could live with it.

Imagine my horror when the real outfit was not a metallic red button down. It was a plain red cotton turtleneck, bought at Target. How do we know? The tags were still on them. Worse, they were all too big. Stitch's hit him at his knees, and he wasn't the only one with that problem.

Soak this in for a minute. We parents of boys paid our money for a costume, not an outfit we could have picked up for school wear. Here were all these girls in glitter and frills, and here come the boys in ill-fitting plain turtlenecks. Dumpy, frumpy, and stupid looking, and all the boys knew it. Even thenTot boys were in plain white turtlenecks, sorely out of place with their glittery, fairy winged girls standing right next to them.

So, with a heavy heart, I went to join the ranks of the complainers. I knew the people I was complaining to were not the right people, so I kept it to a short rant and a "We need to do something."

When the boys were done with their number, we hijacked their shirts. We trimmed them, no time to hem, glittered and painted them. I stayed until roughly midnight, and I had to leave so Stitch could get to bed. He had school in the morning. They look better, more like an actual costume and not a Target purchase, but I still hate them. I hate them because they are everything that isn't fair about that show. Not a soloist? Go away. In a Group Number? No one really cares about those. Have a suggestion? Screw off. Want to help? Don't call us, we'll call you.

I glued appliques and stones on the Tot Boys turtlenecks, too. Someone has got to advocate for these little boys.

Notes were left on the costumes, stating "unavoidable delays" and "everyone will look great." Nonsense, don't buy it. A City Manager with his head up his ass is not an "unavoidable delay," and nothing says "fresh out of the package with no time to fall" like a girl with a tutu up around her chest.

But I'm just a Lunatic, Neurotic Mom, so I'm fairly sure that my complaints won't go far. I don't know how many more shows Stitch can do. I don't know how much more I can take of watching him do short choreography in a crap outfit, knowing I'm paying out the ass for the privilege. And there's only so many times I can be accused of being a lunatic before I become one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why We Won't Light the Ice Show

It may have come as a bit of a surprise to some that my company won't bid the lighting for my rink. There's a reason, and the reason is that the company needs to earn an income.

I've stated before that our area is saturated with Ice Rinks, and most Rinks will do two shows a year. On the surface, this could mean a lot of money.

Trouble is, our area is also saturated with Lighting Companies, and the Ice Rinks know this. The Rinks, run by municipal Park Districts mostly, will all run out and get competing bids for the lighting and labor, with the lowest lighting company winning regardless of the quality of lighting package being delivered. (This is why you get trashy silver parcans and Big Bertha the Spotlight.)

To make matters worse, Ice Rinks have all the Teapot Tempests of Betsy Ballet, but in a space that is tremendously difficult to work in. For a Freelance Lighting Technician to get called "work an Ice Show" in our area is one of those nightmarish rites of passage, reserved for the newbies right out of college, or folks we only call if we have to. Everyone else turned it down. The call always takes longer than stated, since the Ice Rink People always lowball the time they need, the pay is slow since the Ice Rink People aren't fast on cash, (Dad did an Ice Show in the late 90's and still hasn't been paid) and the call is awful since, well, you're in the rafters of a cold ice rink all day.

Our company used to do a lot of ice shows, but it's been company policy to slowly remove ourselves from them. That became policy for a lot of lighting companies, actually, and now only a small handful of lighting companies tackle them. Simple truth, they were unprofitable and a total pain. The Ice Rinks were demanding more, but unwilling to pay more than they had in previous years. Labor costs were going up, but there was no increase in what we were able to charge.

When the owner of my company sent a letter to the Rinks, detailing a sudden increase in what the rinks were going to pay for their shows and why, the Rinks screamed foul and most of them left.

It wasn't a big loss. In talking to the guys who have done the lighting for the Ice Show, I'm glad I'm not involved. They've both described Rink Management as uncommunicative, difficult, and blase until something goes wrong. Typical, really. I've seen this kind of behavior before, and it's hard to do a show under people like that. And to know that sometimes their checks arrive six months after the final curtain, I'm happy to stay a part time volunteer.

Again, if I were asked, I'd be happy to provide advice on cheap methods of good design. But whatevs. So, no, it's not my company doing the lighting. We just don't want to work for cheap anymore, but for some reason I do work for free.

I can't explain that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

T-Minus Five, Four...

Thursday is Dress Rehearsal, and with any luck we'll have costumes for the little kids. If not, Dad had the great idea to switch the plot of the show to a mysterious uncle who, instead of giving out toys to his niece, gives her clothes. This is just crazy enough to work.

I spent a lot of time in the costume shop behind the rickety old sewing machine, coaxing a few more stitches out of it, listening to the chaos around me and keeping my head down. Parents were told again and again; no colored underwear, no flesh colored leotards, bring your own tights, yes you were told, you just forgot, no your outfit is not here, and fussing on your way out the door makes us not like you. You want us to like you.

I altered four dresses, embellished four dresses, reseamed a pair of pants, hemmed a bunch of stuff and repaired a lot of trim. And the group costumes aren't here, so if they don't fit, those kids might be SOL. That sucks, because they paid their monies to be involved as much as any soloist, so it's not fair that they get shafted like this. If Stitch's costume doesn't fit, it can come home with me for a fast tuck and hem. But not every parent can sew. I'm temoted to bring in Johnny Weir and set up shop in the gym, just to get what I can done.

But wait, there's more! Early last Tuesday we got a Fax from the rink. It was the lighting rental list. We won't bid it since we don't do many ice shows anymore, but I dropped an email to the people who usually provide the rink's show lighting. He said they had not gotten a confirmation of anything yet. Suddenly I felt a distinct longing for my old nemesis, Big Bertha. Not one of the sequins we'd sewed would matter without her.

My stomach began to revolt late Friday, and when I wasn't sewing I was queasing around, looking for something to do. Or worse, something to eat.  I got locked in a vicious cycle of cookies to nausea to cookies to nausea and back to cookies again. And those Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. Stitch was enjoying my sudden junk food spree, not questioning it. He practiced and skated and rehearsed and had a grand time without me.

"How was rehearsal?" I'd ask him.
"Fun!" He'd say, and tell me all about how the other kids fell or messed up or made the coaches crazy.
I'd cringe at the pile of repairs on the sewing table, wondering if we'd have to bust out old costumes from the Sale to make do, to say nothing of doing it under stadium lights.
"Can I have a dollar?" He'd ask.
"For what?"
"A snack."
"Sure, here's a ten. Get me a bag of chips, a diet coke and a snickers bar."

Finally on Sunday I'd had enough of the Junk Cycle. I had to break it and soothe my tummy. Everything is going to be all right. Stitch and I bought two pounds of fresh ginger root, a bag of sugar, and went home to candy it.

Ginger, as you may know, is good for settling one's stomach. It's also spicy enough to keep you from mowing through it too fast. Using equal parts sugar and water, we boiled the sliced ginger for about a half hour and dried it for five hours after that. (We did errands and public skate while it dried.) We tossed the sticky slices in dry sugar, and we had the perfect show snack. The leftover syrup we kept in jars, and we're mixing that with seltzer water.

It's going to be all right. Next year we'll have a new set of disasters, and we'll laugh about those, too.

Oh, and my in-laws are coming in Sunday to see the show. They're staying overnight, too.