Tuesday, February 5th, was the Lunar New Year for 2019. New York City Public Schools gave the kids the day off to celebrate. Simultaneously, Mother Nature decided to celebrate with 70 degrees and sunny.
What to do with this unicorn of a day? I decided to take my daughter ice skating. I grew up ice skating, a skill I assumed was much like riding a bike, and my 6-year-old was desperate to learn. I couldn’t think of a better day to take her for her first spin around the pond.
We arrived at the Wollman Rink near the south end of Central Park and I got us both laced up. We awkwardly worked our way to the entrance of the rink and stepped onto ice that was more slippery than I remembered.
No sooner did our blades touch the frozen terrain than both my daughter and I felt ourselves hurtling toward the ground. I managed to catch my balance by clinging to the wall surrounding the rink and my daughter stayed upright by clinging to me.
I caught my breath and made a game plan: Don’t fall down.
Falling hurts. It’s hard to get back up. The ice is cold. I decided if we could just stay upright, I could count our day as a success.
So around the rink we went, me holding tightly to my daughter’s hand. Any time our balance faltered, I would thrust our hands skyward, leaving her dangling above the ice like a fish on a line. We repeated this spectacle for two rotations around the rink and then I gave up. The stress of keeping us both standing was too much. I tried to bribe my daughter off the rink with the promise of a food truck pretzel.
“Maybe we can come back another time,” I told her. At that moment, one of her friends from school pirouetted toward us, creating a small fluff of shaved ice as she stopped just shy of our toe picks.
Falling is part of the process. It’s part of any new endeavor, if you think about it.
“I’ll teach her to skate!” My daughter looked at me with pleading eyes. Desperate to take my own skates off, I agreed. Her friend took her hand and I headed back to the benches.
Seconds later, something amazing happened. My daughter fell. I gasped as she struggled to get up.
I was just about to jump the wall to get her when I realized she was struggling only because she was laughing so hard. I watched her reach for her friend’s hand, get back on her feet, and skate off only to fall three paces later.
The falling, laughing, get back up cycle lasted for several rotations around the rink. Over time, the falling became ever-so-slightly-less frequent. When they finally came back to the benches and my daughter exclaimed: “MAMA! I fell 22 times!” She and her friend burst into laughter again before the friend had to head home.
My daughter wanted to keep skating, but I explained that I had already taken my skates off and wasn’t going back on the ice. “I can skate on my own!” she insisted. I obliged.
I spent the next hour watching my daughter circle the rink; stepping at first, falling, hanging on to the wall, stepping, falling, then gliding, and falling, then stepping and gliding and gliding and gliding until she could make it all the way around without a single fall.
I’ve thought about that afternoon a lot since. Not so much about my desire to protect her, but more about my learned, intense avoidance of failure.
In my mind, as a mid-thirties woman, falling was to be avoided at all costs. But while I was so focused on not falling, my daughter was focusing on learning to skate. Falling is part of the process. It’s part of any new endeavor, if you think about it.
As I watched my daughter circle the rink that afternoon, I thought about the things I had missed out on in my life because of my fear of falling. The risks I didn’t take, the opportunities that passed me by, the business connections I didn’t make because I was too afraid I’d be rejected if I reached out. When did simply trying not to fall become my default? How hard would it be to change that?
As I watched my daughter circle the rink that afternoon, I thought about the things I had missed out on in my life because of my fear of falling.
She finally stepped off the rink, her cheeks rosy from the cold, her hair curly from the sweat, her smile wide. “Mama! I did it! I ice skated!” I untied her skates as she giddily told me about her ice skating ability, as if I hadn’t been watching every move.
“I think my bottom has a bruise from falling so much!” she giggled. “But I learned to skate.”