I am already sweating by the time I finish lacing up the rental skates on my daughter’s feet. It’s the fourth pair she’s tried, and I made the mistake of putting mine on first, so I’m kneeling and teetering unsteadily at her feet, tugging on her laces while trying not to keel over backward or roll away entirely.
There are circles of blackened bubble gum pancaked into the carpet beside our bench, and the preponderance of tall bangs and jean jackets in the photos on the walls make it pretty clear that not much has been updated around here in some time (“Congratulations Jenny and Jason, 1983 junior champions!”). The scent of damp socks is everywhere, and the half-walls encircling the rink are dented from decades of grade-schoolers learning the hard way that that toe-stop on the front of your skates doesn’t really stop you at all. You can almost feel the other parents reaching for the hand sanitizer the moment they walk through the door.
But then the lights go down, and the bass comes up, and rainbow-colored spotlights swirl like fireworks across the rink. My little girl’s eyes light up like sparklers… and I remember suddenly what this place feels like to a kid. Heck, when you’re seven, a roller rink – with the music, the lights, the disco ball – is the closest thing to a rock concert you’ve ever seen. (Plus: snack bar!)
I stand up and do a wobbly little spin, suddenly grinning and fighting the urge to belt out songs I haven’t thought of in years (“We built this city, we built this city, we built this city on rooooccckk anddd ROLLLLLLL…”)
My daughter takes my hand and clomp-clomps along, gripping my fingers, pulling me off balance so that I nearly fall on top of her. I try skating backwards, holding both her hands in mine. It works better for a while, and she is incredulous: “How do you DO that? BACKWARDS?” (“I’m full of surprises,” I say.)
After a few slow turns around the rink, the clomping blends into a firm little step, which become glides, and more glides, and she’s skating. Lean and push, lean and push.
Suddenly she looks up from her feet and takes in the sprinkling of lights that swirls around us, her light hair damp and wispy around her face. Her eyes are shining. “I LOVE it here,” she says. “Can we come here all the time?”
She teaches me how to whip and nae nae; I try to teach her how to moonwalk, nearly breaking my tailbone. She giggles and teaches me another move called the sprinkler. She no longer needs to hold my hand.
When her friends skate past us–laughing and falling, grabbing on to one another – she asks if she can join them. “Sure,” I say.
I watch her go, her ponytail hanging down her back. No longer is there a cute little toddler ruffle on her behind; no preschooler’s ruffles around her cuffs. Her shirt doesn’t have puppy dogs on it, or polka dots, or flowers – it’s just plain white with a single tiny bow.
I didn’t tear up when she took her first toddling steps because she was walking toward me (and because the look on her face was so funny: “Ha! Betcha didn’t know I could do THIS!”). I didn’t cry on her first day of preschool, because I was the one leaving (and frankly there were only two hours to do 27 errands before I had to come back).
But I cried when the bus pulled away to take her to kindergarten, because for the first time she was leaving me. And that, it seems, was only the beginning.
In the dim light I see a glimpse of the girl she will become – how she will run off to join her team on the soccer field, how she’ll link arms with a friend and head into the mall, how she’ll wave and join her roommates as they disappear into her dorm.
Unconsciously I’ve started humming along to the song the DJ is playing:
“Everybody wants to steal my girl
Everybody wants to take my girl away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one, ‘cause she belongs to me.”
To my horror I realize that my eyes are filled with a suspicious liquid. Oh my God, I’m tearing up to a One Direction song.
I take a deep breath and try to collect myself. This is ridiculous; she’s seven. I sit down on the side of the rink and adjust my laces for no reason, put on some chapstick, check my phone. There are other parents I know here; they will think I’ve lost my mind.
And I keep blinking, and blinking, and blinking. It’s crazy… and I can’t help myself.
Then, out of nowhere, she swoops up beside me, grabs my hand. “Will you skate with me, Mommy?”
“Oh, honey, it’s okay if you want to skate with your friends,” I lie.
“No,” she says. “I want to skate with you.”
I catch my breath at this little reprieve I’ve been granted, this tiny miracle of frozen time upon request.
“Sure,” I say, as if miracles happen all the time. Her little hand grabs mine and we start off around the rink – hand-in-hand, at least a little bit longer.
“Find another one, ‘cause she belongs to me…”