Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On Ice

I don’t quite know how this happened, but I managed to grow up in a sports-obsessed house without ever really learning to ice skate.

Actually, I do know how it happened. Even as a kid I had the kind of morbid fear of public failure that stopped me from learning new things. Once I’d decided that I wasn’t going to be any good at something (and usually that meant at least as good as my friends) there was no way I was even going to try it.

I’ve managed to make it a few decades without ever really feeling like I’ve been missing anything because I can’t skate. But now that’s over. My five-year-old son is learning to skate, and he’s been going to the weekly open skates at the local rink with his mother, who is an excellent skater. Now I want to skate, too.

I think this qualifies as some kind of irony: I spend half my time asking my too-careful boy to take a few chances, not be afraid to fail. But I can’t skate with him because when I was a boy I was afraid to fail.

In the February 19 issue of New York magazine, Po Bronson
about kids who are addicted to success, afraid to fail. One of the perils of praising your kid’s achievements, according to the piece, is that they may come to so crave that praise that they won’t want to risk failure. “When we praise children for their intelligence,” one educator says, “we tell them that is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”

So in the name of enlightened parenting, I have been out making an ass of myself on the frozen pond in our neighborhood for the last few weeks, trying to teach myself to skate. I went to Play It Again Sports, bought a pair of used hockey skates and started wobbling around on the ice on my own. After a few times out, I got to the point were I could perform an activity that might charitably be called “skating.”

The next day I took my son and my wife down to the pond with me. We had our street hockey sticks with us and a puck and everything, but my boy had a bad day. It was about ten degrees out and just trying to walk in his skates the ten yards from the changing house to the pond took all the wind out of his sails. I think it was after his second fall that he announced that he was ready to go home.

We did eventually get him out onto the ice, and he did have a pretty good time getting down on his hands and knees trying to see how deep down into the pond he could see. But he just wasn’t up for skating much that day, I guess. And so when I tried to encourage him, I heard myself saying, “C’mon, just try, that’s all we ask you to do.”

I suppose that's an example of asking your kid to do as you say, not as you did.

I could have told him that if he didn’t make the effort now, he might find himself decades later wishing he had. But I suppose he’ll have to find that out for himself.

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