I don’t think kids today are into rollerskating. Are they? I can’t really blame them; I’m the first to admit that I’d choose Facebook and sexting over physical activity but when I was growing up, rollerskating was it.
Birthday parties were at the roller rink, school functions were at the roller rink, and if I couldn’t make it to the roller rink, I just strapped on my skates and made figure eights in my basement for a few hours. Sometimes my older sister joined me, but she was always more interested in ice skating, and after our failed flood-the-basement-then-leave-all-the-windows-open experiment one fateful January evening, she moved on to other pursuits.
The best part about rollerskating is that I was good at it. My lack of traditional athleticism made no difference in the dimly lit rink, where I could zip around corners and shoot the duck with the best of them. I even had my own skates—white leather, red wheels, rainbow laces—it was as close as I ever got to looking cool and sexy. But once I passed into Adolescence Proper and hanging out at the mall took precedence over hanging out at the roller rink, rollerskating faded into the past.
But then I had a child. And I remembered the point of having a child: to blindly thrust your happy childhood memories upon them at all costs.
My daughter, who is very much like me, inherited my unique brand of physical capability that allows me to be very good at things like horseback riding and very bad at things like softball. Like me, she gravitated towards the very-physical-but-not-really-a-sport ballet, and after a few summers of classes, I figured she was probably coordinated enough to introduce her to the joys of rollerskating. Granted, she was only four years old, but isn’t everyone always saying that kids grow up faster these days? Get off my back.
After learning about the existence of a roller rink near our house that I had never noticed before, I approached my daughter one Sunday afternoon to see if she wanted to give it a try. “GET YOUR COAT ON, WE’RE GOING SKATING,” is how I believe I phrased it.
So, there was a reason I had never noticed the roller rink before. It was located off the side of a small highway. Behind a grocery store. On an occasionally-paved road. It had a parking lot that seemed to be comprised mainly of Laffy Taffy wrappers and puddles. By the time I dragged my daughter to the door of the rink, I was about 70% sure we were going skating and 30% sure we were going to have our organs harvested. Whatever.
As soon as I swung the door open, I knew we were in the right place. I was greeted with that familiar roller rink smell (feet, damp carpet, old pizza, top notes of barf) that sent a little charge of excitement through my heart. I couldn’t wait to get back in the rink. More than that, I couldn’t wait for my daughter to discover the joys of rollerskating for herself. We rented some skates at the counter and sat down on a bench to lace up.
I only got to enjoy how ridiculously adorable my daughter looked with clunky skates at the end of her gangly chicken legs for maybeeeee…thirty seconds? Before she stood up and felt the uneasiness of the wheels beneath her feet and broke into tears. Yeah. That seems about right.
“I don’t like it!” she said, sitting immediately back down with reddened eyes.
“Baby, it’ll be fine,” I reassured her, lacing up my skates. “Mama’s really good at rollerskating and I can pull you around. It’ll be fun!”
Then I stood up. On skates. I stood up on roller skates. For the first time in nearly twenty years. It was terrifying. I managed to plop back down on the bench before my daughter could register the abject fear on my face.
“If you make it around the rink with me once I’ll buy you a stuffed animal,” I hissed.
“OK,” said my daughter. “But you have to promise you won’t let me fall.”
“I promise,” I said, lying in that completely comfortable fashion of all parents everywhere. I took a deep breath and stood up. My right leg shot forward and I compensated so violently to keep my balance I pulled a muscle in my neck.
“See? Fun!” I said.
My daughter was still crying.
About twenty minutes later (I WISH I WAS EXAGGERATING), we shuffled the fifty feet from our bench to the rink entrance, where a blur of skaters zipped past, a few spilling out onto the carpet where they clunked noisily past us to the snack counter. My eyes quickly scanned the rink to make sure I would be able to have contact with the wall at all times. With the exception of an emergency exit door at the far end of the rink, it looked promising.
“Here we go…” I said, as I dropped a heavy foot onto the slick wooden floor.
Here’s the thing about skating: I really think I would have slipped (heh) right back into it if weren’t for two things: 1) I’m now an adult and therefore my default setting is WORST CASE SCENARIO, aka I no longer think it’s cool to have an injury that requires crutches; and 2) it’s damn near impossible to keep your balance when you have 40 pounds of panicking preschooler yanking on your hands, especially when you’re trying to keep your skates far enough away from hers so the wheels don’t lock, resulting in certain death.
Bottom line: we looked like two hobbled old women fighting ferociously to stay upright to the soundtrack of a bouncy Bruno Mars song.
After what seemed like an eternity, we made it around the rink. My shirt was drenched in sweat and the tension I held in my muscles would keep me sore for two days afterward, but dammit, I didn’t let her fall. Twelve dollars and a rainbow-hued stuffed dog later, we rode home in contented silence: my daughter, happily snuggling her reward, and me, basking in the balmy flames of another crashed-and-burned attempt to share a cherished childhood memory.
All photos by Brian Cohen.