Sunday, January 11, 2015

On ice skating, and other Life Lessons from winter

As I have mentioned, our family project for the next few months is to tackle ice skating.  This effort requires several necessities: skates for all Johnsons, including J-Bear,  sufficient ice at the rink of our neighborhood park, the thickest possible thermal wear, and above all, extreme patience and formidable fortitude on the part of the mother.  Of great value is J-Bear's new Christmas sled, which can be used to push (and thus occupy) her around the ice, and kiddie chairs for Buddy Bear to push (and thus stay up right) around the ice.  At this point, we have now been skating four times, three times as a family and once just me and the children.  By the end of each session, I have wrestled with whether my appropriate reaction should be one of extreme pride and accomplishment or horrified, contrite embarrassment.  I suspect, as with most things, my best reflection is somewhere in between the extremes.
J-Bear with Dad at the rink.  She's not so sure about this ice business.

We are not, by a long shot, the most graceful bunch on the ice.  G-Bear, for her part, can really hold her own, and is enjoying not only skating proficiently, but occasionally adds little twirls and one-footed moves into her glides.  E-Bear can stand and walk/waddle on his own, and he is progressing rapidly, such that he can really move with the aid of a chair.  Buddy Bear is also progressing rapidly, now able to stand along (most of the time) and now able to make forward movements with the support of a chair.  J-Bear can stand (on land, but not on ice) in her skates.

She's up!
Neither are we, by a long shot, the happiest group on the ice.  I have noted that during each of our engagements at the rink, no fewer than two Johnsons have been howling and in tears at any given moment.  I find it challenging to be simultaneously supportive of one child's excitement and successes on the ice and sympathetic of the other who simply refuses, out of utter disgust and frustration, to alter their howling, horizontal position on the ice at my feet.

She's down.
I love the potential freedom of being able to hand my children their skates, help them with an occasional lace and send them off into pseudo-independence on the block-long rink of our community park.  The intoxicating endorphin rush from getting exercise outside in the Minnesota freezing cold is a nice bonus.  But in-between cajoling statements and the realities of tear-studded cheeks, I find myself wondering, 'Is this really worth it?'

I console myself with the rationalization that we are learning important lessons out on the ice.  Life lessons.  Lessons of fortitude and persistence.  Each and every one of us is learning a lesson.

Lesson #1:  You will fall.  Your must choose if you will get back up and try again.  Please forgive me for relishing the overt spiritual metaphor to this skating lesson.  I told my kids on our first day of skating that it would be hard, much harder than it looks, and their first job would be to learn how to get back up after they fell down.  They didn't believe me, but once their skates were on, they discovered the truth.  Learning to skate, like life itself, involves a lot of falls and failed attempts.  We each have to choose how to handle our failings.  Shall we wallow on the ice, crawl off and give up?  Or, shall we ask for help and try getting up again.  On the ice, we may need an encouraging word, a helping hand, or the back of a kiddie chair to right ourselves and try again.  In life, we need confession, Christ's limitless mercy, and His grace to help us carry on once more.   

MoMo is both a great spectator and a ray of sunshine at the rink.

Lesson #2: Sometimes just pushing harder isn't the solution.  Whether trying to put on your skates or make forward progress on the ice, you need to find your edge.  Just when my kids are ready to give up putting on their skates, I remind them that there is a technique--loosen the straps and wiggle, don't push, your way in.  On the ice, I have watched them struggle to move forward on the ice.  In time, each one will find their edges and suddenly start to fly.  Life is so similar.  Many times we bang our heads against a metaphorical wall, when what we really need is patience and finesse.  

Lesson #3:  There is joy to be found in the martyrdom of motherhood.  If a confession can be tolerated, I will make this one: I am a pretty selfish, impatient person.  There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when an activity like these trips to the rink would have left me crabby and unfulfilled.  I would have left despondent that I had gotten no exercise, frustrated that I had done nothing but tie laces and hold hands on the sidelines, and disappointed by all the fussing I had endured.  But, within motherhood there is a real martyrdom to be found: a true, daily dying to self that can produce abundant fruit and paradoxical joy if embraced with love by God's grace and help.  These days at the rink, my pride cared less about the scrutinies of others as I sent my child, once more, out onto the rink;  I didn't count or miss the number of laps around the rink that I DIDN'T get to do;  my heart actually swelled with love once or twice when I was asked to tie a skate, kiss a tear-streaked cheek, cajole a frustrated complainer or sit out with the momentarily discouraged.  I realized that these silent progress points are the result of countless falls on my part.  But more importantly, they are the result of my efforts to get up again through confession, by God's merciful forgiveness, with His abundant grace.  

Certainly, by the time we finish our winter ice skating project, there will be more lessons.  I hope that we will also have some fun along the way.  If not, at least we bought the skates used, we can look forward to swimming lessons, and the rink will probably melt away by June at the latest.  Until then, just call us the (not-so-much-but-wanna-be) Mighty Ducks.

Happily Ever,
Queen B

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