Skating with My Daughter

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.

skate at your own risk

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.

roller skating girl

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Spring of Life

flowering tree

Spring is here. The season I’ve been anticipating, the season closest to my heart, but one I’ve also been quietly dreading. Spring is like a mandatory party. Nobody gets out of spring.

Once the sun shines and flowers burst into bloom, it begins. Everyone emerges from their homes and holes, some of us sidling out more slowly than others. The time for hiding is over. Spring is about exposure, bare legs sticking out of shorts like pale stalks. Spring is for letting kids trash their sneakers in the mud when they can’t find their boots. Spring is for cracking open the chrysalis, sliding out of the cocoon, and letting the sun warm your skin.

I’ve always loved spring for its promise, its electricity. How everything is rife with possibilities. How young the world looks when leaves are pale green flowers sprouting from branches, and the grass is vibrant and wet.

buddy

But this year, I feel an unease that I don’t usually associate with spring, one that has been coming on the last few years.

I’m no longer in the spring of my life. Forty is barreling down fast and I’m trying to keep my footing in a place I believe is called… middle age.

Whoa.

How did this happen? Is this actually happening? Yes, I know these questions are cliche, and all the rage right now, it seems. I can’t get away from articles about turning forty and mid-life, like this one that made me nod my head like an out of control marionette doll. A few months ago, under the heavy cloak of winter, these articles weren’t there…or maybe they were and I just wasn’t paying attention.

But despite this twinge, spring is unfurling and I can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it, the beauty and exuberance. My nearly seven-year-old daughter is thrilled to wear shorts and t-shirts, even while I’m still wrapped up in a sweater.

Do you need a fleece, I ask as she teeters on the edge of the sliding glass door. She looks at me like I’m crazy and dashes away.

Her young strong legs are pale as the clouds and spotted with blue bruises. She dangles upside down from the bar on our jungle gym while my husband and I cringe with worry. But she is confident. This is a new skill and she is eager to practice.

My three year old son’s light up Thomas sneakers almost graze the dirt beneath his baby swing. He is itching for a “big kid” swing like his sister’s. It’s time. He’s no longer a baby.

My children are in the spring of their lives. The cusp, the beginning.

kids

But maybe, in a way, I am too. Maybe life isn’t doled out in precise segments. Maybe it’s more malleable than that.

Yes, I’m about to be forty, and there is PLENTY of baggage that goes along with it, from feeling “old” and out of touch when it comes to pretty much everything pop culture, to being horrified at finding a gray eyebrow (!) hair and knowing it won’t be the last.

But there is also a springtime brewing in my soul, in my mind. My kids are no longer babies, and I’m no longer so young, but, because of this bitter and sweet knowledge, I’m holding fast to what I have, and running toward what I want.

I’m not done, far from it. I have so much I want to accomplish, so much I want to write and do and say and shout. In one day I’ll be on stage reading aloud an essay about the labor of death and life at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. I’m not a performer, I’m a writer, and yet I’m stretching my wings, still sticky from the chrysalis.

I’m not done bursting into bloom. I’m not ready to fade.

My mother hit her artistic stride at the age of forty and then it was ripped out of her hands, literally. When we kids were at school she bloomed in her mid to late thirties, spending hours at the local pottery studio, sculpting beautiful and haunting creations.

masks

mask and stones

Then, at her peak, she was cut down by a disease. Multiple sclerosis numbed her hands and her legs in rapid succession, though it never got her heart, not until the very end.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that in the midst of all this burgeoning hope and excitement, there is a darkness encroaching. A cautious hand pressed upon my shoulder. It says, be careful, it could happen to you, too.

It could, of course. Maybe not that illness specifically, but something else. Some other horrible stroke of misfortune or tragedy. But I can’t live that way, under a shadow.

I have to live as if there is only the wide expanse of blue sky above me, the warmth of the spring sun, as I chase my children, and my dreams.