Learning to fall

By Juli

This week I took my children skating. Because, you see, they will both be having skating lessons through their school soon, and I wanted to take my youngest (who has never been skating) before her lessons start in a few weeks time, just as I did three years ago with her brother before her. My plan was simple — I didn’t take them so they could learn how to skate, I took them so they could learn how to fall.

I have full confidence in the skating teachers’ abilities to teach my kids how to skate. They will teach them how to weave around the little cones, and how to hold their arms out for balance, and even how to get up from the ice. But I know my kids pretty well by now, and they’re kind of like me, which I guess makes some genetic sense. Without support, without encouragement, without someone big telling them it’s okay, they are quite likely to give up. And stay given up. I remember the day I tried to learn snowboarding. It was a Grade 11 trip, and all of my friends already knew how to snowboard, so I didn’t have anyone to be with me, support me, encourage me, learn with me. After my first hard fall I gave up, and I sat in the lodge by myself for the rest of the day. There is a stubborn streak that runs deep through my veins that my children have also inherited (a fact I have learned the hard way). If they set their minds to or against something, it is like trying to move a mountain to change those little minds. And as a general rule, when you get hurt it is even easier to give up. Even on something that, if you give it a chance, can be really fun. A hurt bum, mixed with the shame of having fallen on the ice in front of other people, mixed with the misery of being cold and wet, would probably be enough to make my kids say “I’m done with skating” before they’ve even truly started.

And so we arrived at the rink, we laced up our skates, and I took my daughter into the middle of the rink. She was shaky and slow moving, and very aware of all the other people whizzing around her, but eventually we made it into the centre of the ice. And then I told her that we were going to fall onto the ice together. So we did. Gently at first, and then more enthusiastically. With our mittened hands sliding on the surface and our rosy cheeks glowing, we looked at each other, our eyes crinkled, and we smiled. We did it! A shared experience. Not so bad.

We continued. We tried a bit of actual skating. We continued to “practice” falling. We cheered for each other as we fell, lauding it as a part of the experience of trying and not giving up. We laughed and rubbed our hurt bums. Sometimes her bum really hurt, and in those moments she sought comfort and encouragement from me and her brother. There were tears. There was stubbornness too, but now it was turned toward “I’m going to stand up from the ice if it’s the last thing I do!” I saw my girl’s fury fanned into a fiery blaze as she set her teeth and channelled all of her five-year-old angst into standing up on the ice without any help. And she fell, and fell and fell and fell and fell. And fell. And fell. And I told her how proud I was that she didn’t give up, even though she was hurting. And then, in the next ordinary moment of trying, she did it. She got up from the ice, all by herself. And her eyes grew wide and her whole face flushed with pride. And then she told me that she was going to head over to some other little kids down the ice and teach them how to do it. And that was a glorious moment.

And another glorious thing was watching my almost-eight-year-old son, who all this time was skating and falling and looking over at me and laughing, and then standing up and skating and falling and looking over at me and laughing again. And then he started doing a few pratfalls on the ice, just to be hilarious, and we laughed even harder. And I recalled how three years ago I was here with him, and how he was the same; shaky and small and nervous and busy learning how to fall. And with pride I can say, he’s done it. He’s great at falling.

I guess you can’t learn to skate until you learn to fall, because if falling is always a scary, looming, horrible thing, then you will never learn to have the comfort and confidence you will need to just have fun while skating. And I think that’s life too, isn’t it? We fall, we get hurt, we are tempted to give up too soon, and we miss out on some of the lovely things that life has to offer. Love. Friendship. Family. Snowboarding. Skating.

And as we drove to get hot chocolate after our skating adventure I could hear my children all abuzz in the backseat. “I love skating!” said one child. “I love skating, too!” said the other.

No need for hot chocolate for this mom, anymore. Heart: warmed.

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