Take Your Own Advice

My six-year-old daughter Layla is obsessed with roller skating. Lately, she’s been dying to find “her thing.” Her cousins on both sides of the family are accomplished golfers and equestrians, and being the Type A, competitive spark plug that she is, she’s been longing to find a way to make her mark on the world.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy. What’s my thing going to be?! Everrrrrrrrrybody has a thing!” 

So, yesterday I took her roller skating: the two of us out on the rink, rounding corners, skating backwards, holding hands, and even “shooting the duck.” You roller skaters will remember that move from 1989, which was—of course—much easier to do in 1989.

The rental skates were uglier than I remembered, but the rink hadn’t changed a bit: the shiny shellacked floor, shag carpeting, and dusty, cheap prizes you can “win” if you collect enough game tickets from the overpriced arcade all seemed to be frozen in time. But we had fun. A lot of fun. It was a fascinating juxtaposition, feeling like a good mother while simultaneously escaping motherhood and acting like I was 14- years-old again.

By the end of the “open session,” my thighs were killing me, and I was so thrilled I hadn’t broken a finger, elbow, or knee cap that I was ready to take off my skates and call it a successful mother-daughter bonding event.

And then, they announced the races.

Layla burst onto the rink when they called her age group. Despite her extremely limited roller skating experience (this was only her third time), she had no fear. She enthusiastically took off, but was quickly passed by 90 percent of the pack.

She hobbled around with bent knees and a hunched back, but with the vigor of an Olympic champion. Just before reaching the finish line, she fell on all fours and the entire rink listened to the skin being scraped off her precious little knees. (Note to self: bare knees when roller skating is a bad parenting move.)

Layla didn’t finish the race, and she was devastated. I did my best to console her. This promptly reminded me that I was not 14-years-old anymore, 100 percent Layla’s mother, and 100 percent responsible for helping her pull it together so we wouldn’t be asked to leave.

Once Layla was finally doing more breathing than screaming, I was ready to go. Enough skating. Enough tears. I needed a nap.

And then they announced the “12 and up” races. And this happened: Layla looked up at me with her tear-stained, flushed face and said, “Mommy, why are you not doing the grown-up skate race?”

I looked out onto the rink and saw seven guys on the starting line, shaking their limbs in preparation for battle. Four of them looked like 16-year-old hybrids of Justin Bieber and professional hockey players. There were also three dads who were significantly less fit, but had their own skates. Which meant: they could skate.

So, I quickly shut down the conversation by acting “really busy,” trying to get our stuff together. I told her, “I’m not racing because they’re all guys and really fast.”

Laula’s response? “You’d tell me to do it, anyway.”

Oh, man. My six-year-old was using my own words against me. I immediately flashed back to three weeks prior when I talked her (read: forced her) into staying on an all-boys soccer team. I said to her, “Just because other girls didn’t join, doesn’t mean you get to quit.”

So I skated onto the rink. I joined the men, and I raced. I was humiliated, as I squeezed into the lineup, insanely conscious of what everyone must have been thinking. And in that moment, I promised I’d never make Layla do anything she didn’t want to do. Ever again.

But as soon as the DJ yelled, “On your mark. Get set. Go!” from his carpet-covered booth, I took off and was 14-years-old again. It was only one lap around the rink, but it was exhilarating. I forgot I was a mom, forgot how bad my thighs hurt, and forgot I didn’t want to race in the first place. I chased that scruffy-haired middle schooler in front of me like my life depended on it.

I never caught him. I came in last. But I didn’t care. It was so fun and freeing. And I wasn’t embarrassed. I was proud.

Katherine Wintsch