Saturday, July 30, 2011

Back to my teenage years at Skate King

My daughter's friend C. had a birthday at Skate King this morning and on I figured since I was there I may as well skate too.  Back at my daughter's old school in Seattle she had the Best.PE.Teacher.Ever who had all sorts of fun things in class including a roller skating unit.  So, after she got used to them again she did really well and kept up with the other kids just fine.  In fact, she was the only kid in our group who had the courage to stay in the rink to play Red Light/Green Light.  She fell down a lot but only had one fall that hurt enough to make her cry.  But after some hugs and some encouragement to get back out there and get her confidence back she was just fine.

I may have had more fun than my daughter.  A few of the dads skated and two of my mom friends skated too although my friend Kit. didn't despite all my coaxing.  I did take Kit.'s four year old daughter out for a lap around the rink and she did really well, especially when they decided to do a game and her daughter had to let go of the wall and skate across the middle of the arena just holding my hand instead of the wall.  I was holding the wall and going really slow at first, but after about ten or fifteen minutes it all started to come back to me and I was able to maneuver really well. In fact, at one point I had to make a sharp turn and rush over to my daughter when she fell down and started crying and I realized the stuff I was doing with my feet to skate quickly in a curve were kind of complex and that I would not have been able to tell someone "use your feet like this to skate quickly in a sharp curve" - it was completely by body memory.

That fascinates - how one's body can remember how to do something even if I can't consciously remember how to do it.  That happens sometimes when I play piano, I can't remember what the notes are consciously, but if I can remember the first few stanzas, if I play it over and over a few times, my hands will automatically start playing more parts of the song without me being able to consciously say what's next. 

Unfortunately, now that my daughter is seven years old, I have gone from being "fun mom" to "embarrassing mom".  So, when they were playing some really fun songs like Mama Mia by ABBA and I was dancing around while skating that was just too much for her and she demanded I stop.  So, I had to skate off and hang out with my mom friends because they appreciate adults having fun.  Ok, I guess I was never "fun mom" with my daughter.  I remember at the very first KEXP Father's Day dance at a club in downtown Seattle called Chop Suey, I was dancing to some hip hop music with other parents and their kids and my daughter wasn't even quite three and she stomped her little pink high-top Converse foot, stuck her hand straight out at me and exclaimed, "Top Danthing! You embarrathing me!"  Sigh.

One bummer of the morning was that one of the kids there, Tommy, is friends with all the kids who were at the party came and tried skating even though he had never done it before and he was obviously very anxious.  I tried to give him a pep talk about empowering it would be to practice and be able to do and gave him some simple tips like "bend your knees" and "lean forward for balance".  I know him from volunteering once a week at my daughter's school and he seems like a nice kid and I can relate to him because I was such a super-anxious child. Then I lost track of him until a half hour later I saw him actually out in the middle with two of the other boys in the group and he was skating all by himself and doing really well!  Then a bit later I saw him lying on the his back crying really hard and I skated over and kneeled down next to him and by then a bunch of adults had circled around him.  He appeared to not be physically injured but he was hysterical and hyperventilating because it had scared him so much to fall down.  And it is scary - I fell down once (on purpose as a practice fall) and it felt pretty far down! And it did hurt my butt for a few minutes more than I remembered it did.  So, I'm sure it was an unpleasant shock to him.

But he was so terrified I knew he needed what I needed as a kid when I was in a panic like that - a steady, stable adult to emotionally latch onto and let them emotionally pull him back up out of his panic and help him learn how to calm himself down.   The same thing a spooky horse needs basically.  So, I put my arm on his shoulder and said, "I know that was so scary, Tommy, but you're ok.  It will stop hurting soon.  Breathe with me.  Just breathe."  The teenager working as DJ and overseeing the rink had skated over and I said, "He's ok, it just really scared him.  He just needs to have space to calm down."  Other parents were asking him where it hurt and he had choked out his butt so everyone was appeased that he was just scared.  So, it seemed like all he needed was to calm down and then have a lot of gentle reassurance to calm down and get his confidence back. Or at least just take his skates off and calm down then enjoy cake and other party stuff with his friends.

But next thing I know his mom has run out on the rink and is shooing us away and was literally ripping his skates off and throwing them away from him, and picking him up to run off the rink.  Then I missed what happened because another mother asked if I was the mom with my daughter because she'd fallen down pretty badly, so I went to the other side of the arena to check on her.  She was fine, she'd just taken a big tumble.  So, once I'd helped her up and skated with her back to the other side of the rink where the exit was, Tommy and his mom were long gone.  I guess she just grabbed him up and left in a hurry.  I was really frustrated by that and wanted to say something to someone and talk about it because it really upset me.  But I didn't want to be offensive or sound like I was bad-mouthing his mom.  But it was the totally wrong thing to do for a child who had been so scared. I just remember all too well what it felt like to be a hyper-sensitive, anxious kid and how it felt like a bottomless pit of fear when there was no adult to guide me through calming down.  My daughter is the same way, she is very fearful of challenging physical activities and very cautious to try anything new, so I work very hard at teaching her self-soothing techniques and constantly bolstering her confidence.  So, now she's out there roller-skating and keeping up with her friends, and she rock climbs and swings around on the belay rope, and rides little bratty ponies like Tiny and gets back on when she gets bucked off.  I don't like to publicly pat myself on the back much but I've worked hard to help her manage her natural inclination toward anxiety that she inherited from me, and I think I've done a really good job so far!

I was trying not to stew about all this when Kit.'s husband came over and asked where Tommy had gone and Kit. said they had rushed out after he fell down and Kit.'s husband got all frustrated and said that was a horrible thing to do, now Tommy will be really scared to ever try to roller skate again and the mom should have just helped him calm down and then encouraged him to try again.  Otherwise every time something goes wrong it will just build up his fear.  Then he talked about how when he was a boy he was kicked in the stomach by a horse and his uncle made him stand in back of the horse until he wasn't scared anymore.  Kit. and I looked at each other and both said at the same time, "Ok, that's just taking it way too far! That's just crazy!" then added, "But we see what you mean," to her husband.

I couldn't help but wonder about Tommy the rest of the party.  If it had been me I would've not only been horrified by how scared I'd been and sure that it was traumatic because my mom was freaking out too, but I would feel left out because I couldn't stay for the rest of the party and I would feel isolated and different from my friends on some level because why did they not hurt themselves roller skating and why when they fell down did they not have a panic attack and why were they able to hold it together to get to stay for the whole party?  I wanted to just sit with him and tell him, 'Because they have parents that have taught them how to calm and comfort themselves and when they can't do that their parents are there to grab their hand and emotionally guide them through how to calm down until they remember themselves.  And you can do it too - you're no different than them. You can do that too.  You are just as strong and brave as all your friends."

Or maybe I want to go back in time and tell that to *myself* as child.  Sigh.

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