My five year old son has been on ice, in skates, a total of three times. The first attempt occurred last more than a year ago, around Christmas, in the winter garden by the Freedom Tower. He was very pleased with himself, on the gleaming ice with Bing Crosby and a very cautious first few steps while gripping tightly to a plastic seal-shaped walker for balance. Within five minutes, a woman crashed into him at full speed, and cut his leg with the blade of her figure skate. That shut down his 2016-2017 skating season.
A year later, all healed and a few inches taller, he was willing to try again. 15 minutes into this session he abandoned the walker. Soon after that he was skating away from the wall. He wouldn’t even hold hands with me. He was free. Two weekends ago we hit the rink again, and now he was busting moves from his after school hip hop class. On the ice. The pride in his face was simply priceless.
Remarkable progress? Well, consider this: his first solo circulation of the rink took this little guy no less than 20 minutes. It was probably more, because he fell so many times I lost count. Contorted flips and falls punctuated those GIF-worthy hip-hopping sequences. His real triumph was the willingness to get back up after his legs had gone right out from under him, on the ice, on skates. Not easy for someone with only about five years’ experience walking upright on solid ground.
After each fall, I’d tell him: “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down. It only matters that you get up one more time than the number of times you fall.”
We parents are supposed to provide positive messaging to our kids. You have to wonder, though, who really could use it. Kids don’t respond to our words so much as our presence and quiet, loving assurance. If we’re there, and game, they often summon the perseverance to stick with something they really want to do.
The fact is, the positive messaging might benefit other parties better. Like, say, parents. Working parents, working moms.
I recently was talking shop with a colleague who is a bit older than I am. She referred to my life stage as the ‘messy middle’, the time in life often defined by caring for children, parents or both. But there’s yet more mess to this middle: there are so many industries in upheaval, so much economic uncertainty, and a there’s new generation coming up fast, full of great ideas and ambition. So many of us are losing jobs, or changing careers, or evolving to stay relevant in the careers we have.
There are challenges to face every day, new realities to consider, all while managing life and the lives of the kids I love. But I have a lot of energy. I’m stronger than ever, not least because I’ve proven to myself, 100 times over, that I can follow at least one piece of my own advice: I can stand up one more time than I fall. Yet I don’t find that worth so much as a pat on the back, or even a nod of encouragement. I’m just supposed to do it.
As a mother, tender loving care and gentle nurturing come easily and naturally. But, when it come to me, my inner perfectionist is tough as nails and totally unforgiving. I speak to myself in ways I would never think to speak to my children or accept from anyone else. And right there is the contradiction – exposed.
When my son falls, I offer a hand, hug him and tell him I only expect him to keep trying. Yet when I fall during my most complicated routines, it’s humiliating and infuriating. What’s more, is that in my mind, I am supposed to reclaim my Gold Medal standard within three seconds of getting up.
Learning any new skill involves risk, trial and error and a lot of practice to never be perfect. The messy middle has been, for me, a test of grit and a game of perseverance.
In giving my little guy a hand up on the skates, I learned a valuable lesson in self-care. Because falling comes with the territory, especially, when you’re in the middle of messy. Maybe with my own more gentle hand, it will be me who hits a new stride on the ice rink of life.