Practice of any kind—writing, teaching, or exercising—can be so mentally excruciating for me that at times, I feel I simply cannot.
I’m much better at being lazy. I’d grab a bottle of wine and treat a glob of taleggio like a salt lick until my face is sweating rather than go to bed early just so I can wake up for a pre-dawn training run. I’d skip a night I’ve set aside for writing to watch a show about lusty vampires instead—all you’d have to do is ask.
But the effects of my self-indulgence, delightful as they are, are only temporary.
When I discover my daughter holed up in her room making potions out of stickers, feathers, beads, and glitter, I see a bit of myself in there. Rather than practicing the piano or completing the subtraction problems that I have to double check for her by counting on my fingers, she’s holding steady with something effortless.
So it’s become part of my job to push her gently through the gloomy I-cannot-will-nots that, like me, she chants in surround sound when setting off to try something new.
This winter, she asked me to take her ice skating. It was only her third time.
We’d been holding hands for nearly an hour, circling the ice in our rental skates. The pair I’d chosen was so ill fitting that the skates clamped down on my big toes like the jaws of two rabid dogs. I was in agony, but my daughter didn’t want to quit. Not exactly, anyway.
Instead, she channeled that old, lazy, sandbagging inner man that I’m pretty familiar with myself:
“I’m horrible. I’ll never be able to. I can’t DO THIS! I’m…I’m…I’m…” she trailed off, her sweet lips warped like the mouth of Elvis.
“You’re doing it,” I said, giddy.
Then she crashed into the wall.
“I’m terr-i-ble,” she moaned.
Some part of me felt triumphant, but my patience was waning.
Then, like a sign from god, over the loudspeaker came a buzzer signal so loud that my daughter nearly jumped over the wall in fright.
“Blood on the ice,” a man nearby explained.
Someone had gotten a nosebleed.
My daughter was still clinging to the wall like a child-sized batch of flubber, so I peeled her off and skated toward the bleachers.
We watched as a surly young woman in a pink crochet hat trudged onto the rink and scraped the soiled ice with a garden hoe, muttering expletives. She stomped off and reappeared on top of a Zamboni machine.
“ZAMBONI!!” I squealed, and my daughter looked at me skeptically.
“Just wait,” I promised her.
We watched the Zamboni wetting the ice, its rubber flap trolling around the rink, filling in the tracks and divots, smoothing the surface, its guttural Om soothing us back into balance. My daughter turned to me.
“It’s making perfect ovals,” she said in the same breathy monotone she normally reserves for phrases like, “whipped cream” or “chocolate frosting.”
“Told you,” I smiled.
I figured she’d had her fill of the rink, so I suggested we ditch our skates and head out to dinner. But she yanked on my sleeve and wobbled back onto the ice before anyone said it was okay.
“Come on, Mom!” she yelled over her shoulder, as though I’d been doing the wrong thing for all of time.
My daughter is nothing if not determined and gutsy.
I followed her onto the ice and she motioned for me to go ahead.
“I’ll skate to you,” she said, finally smiling. And she did, again and again.