We’re flying. That’s what it feels like, though neither of us is going all that fast. She’s cautious, like me, but we’re both taking chances as the hours go by. I’m lifting my feet, one at a time, feeling the balance of my body coming and going, savoring the smooth glide. I watch her arms flap, her feet moving in little chops as she picks up speed. Her polka dot helmet shines under the disco ball lights.
It’s our date. My husband and son are at a birthday party and we’re in Frenchtown, NJ at a roller skating rink on top of a hill in the middle of an enormous field. Inside it’s like traveling back in time to my childhood. Pure 80s. Retro pink and green zigzag designs on the walls.
A worn and faded Skate at Your Own Risk sign hangs above the rink, read and ignored by multitudes, though my daughter does ask what “risk” means. Taking chances, I say as we lace up.
The skating floor looks new in some ways, polished and sleek, but if you look closely the pale wood is marred with nicks beneath layers of filler and varnish.
My rental skates remind me of the ones I used as a kid and probably just as old. Khaki tan in color with scuffed orange wheels and thin dark laces. They are worn and soft, good for my ankles with my unfortunate extra bone. I lace them up tightly. Got to protect my middle-age ankles. The fact that I’m forty years old still makes me pause. It surprises, pools my stomach with dread, and yet sometimes, delights.
The shampoo girl at the hair salon, literally half my age, gaped at me in surprise when I revealed my digits. Flattery? Perhaps. While my skin has lost some elasticity – gone is my dewy youth – and laugh lines are visible around my eyes, I’m not yet deeply marred. I balance on the cusp of my life, hopeful for more wrinkles, more time.
We skate in circles to pop songs. Boy bands, fierce girls, and grown ups close to my age belt and croon and rap around us.
When a favorite comes on, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, my daughter turns around and her face lights up. We skate faster.
I feel light on the bulky skates, and every now and then I am conscious of being seen, something that has evaporated since having children. Being looked at. Watched. Ogled. Not a bad thing. I hated the catcalls and running commentary when I lived in the city, but there is a kind of loss in feeling invisible.
We glide past other children, other dads and moms. I watch my daughter with a smile on my face. Despite this mask of contentment, I am vigilant. Ready. My arms are by my side, keeping me aloft, but they are poised to catch, to scoop, to rescue. That’s who I am. Call me whatever name you want. I’m a helicopter if that means feeling a ferocious desire to take care of my young.
My girl is seven, barreling toward eight. The vise of time tightens around her, threatening to squeeze us apart. I wonder, how many more years will she hold my hand, how much longer do we have to skate together, just the two of us?
There is a mother and son ahead of us. I watch and recognize their wobbly pattern. He is new at skating and his mom encourages him. I see her hand reaching out, darting away, reaching out, pulling back. He does not reach for her and remains aloft, just barely. I recognize myself in her. When we pass them, the mother and I share a smile.
At some point, my daughter falls. It’s inevitable. No longer new on skates, she’s playing at speed, taking more chances. It’s a good thing for my girl, prone to anxiety, so often fearful. Her face scrunches up in tears and I help her up.
Falling is failing to her, so I must redefine the term, the act, for us both.
It’s okay, I tell her, assuming a confidence I don’t always feel. Everyone falls. You just get up and keep going. She nods and we push off the wall.
We continue making circles and the tears dry, her face curves into a smile.
My job is a balancing act. Compassion and propulsion. I watch her, my beautiful fragile child, my strong growing girl, as she skates ahead. She wobbles, rights herself. I watch, holding my breath, and let her go.