Friday, March 14, 2014

My Daughter's Olympics Dream

We parked at 6pm and walked to the ice-skating rink. My 3-year-old--almost 4-year-old--girl was very excited. She saw the skaters and the dancers at the Winter Olympics, and she wanted in.

"When I go in the building, I'm gonna skate in the 'lympics?"

"No no," I said, trying to balance pragmatic honesty and "You can do whatever you set your mind to!" fatherly support. "You're going to go in there, and it's going to be tough at first. You're going to fall a lot. But then you'll get up, and you'll practice more and more, and then you'll become really good eventually, and maybe one day you'll be at the Olympics."

"So when I'm 4 I'm gonna skate at the 'lympics?"

"No... Maybe when you're 14?"

"Yes, 14!"

So that was that. She was going to go in, fall, get up, and in ten to twelve years, a pink-eyed Bob Costas would interview me. Maybe I'd tell him about the day she started, when she thought she was going to skate at the 'lympics, and we'd laugh and laugh. But I wouldn't sit too close to him, because who knows where that eye has been.

At 6:15, the lesson started. My girl had her gloves, her skates, and her helmet on. She was going for gold!

At 6:20, she was out, crying hysterically.

Now I didn't know what to do. There's this cliché that says Mom comforts a crying child who's fallen off his bike while Dad puts him back on the bike. It's some nonsense that has more to do with outdated stereotypes than with reality, and that only serves to make us feel insecure about our actions as parents. But it affected me, and I was torn. On the one hand, I could convince her to try again, tell her to overcome her tears, and push her back into the ice. On the other hand, she was holding on to me so tightly, putting her trust in me after falling again and again on a frozen, slippery floor, and she was finally feeling safe again--there was no way I was going to let her go. Sure, I second-guessed myself, but when a child hugs you that tightly, you let her hug you.

But what about her 'lympics dream? I felt I did the right thing, but still... I wish life could be more like a video game, or a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where you can always go back and make a different decision.

Back in the car, I had an idea. We would all go ice skating soon, as a family. We would wear skates together, and we would be cold together, and we would fall together, and we'd laugh about it all together. And then, maybe in a year, we'd try skating lessons again. By then, she wouldn't be afraid anymore, and she'd know exactly what to expect.

I called my wife and told her what happened. In 12 or 16 years, she said, when our daughter wins the gold medal, we'll remember the first time she went ice skating, and how scared she was, and how we almost gave up, before we decided to try again, and now look at her, a champion!

But I couldn't help feeling depressed about it. I couldn't help second-guessing myself. In a parallel universe, a dad who looked just like me, saw his almost-4-year-old girl crying hysterically on her first ice skating lesson, and when she wanted to leave, he told her she had to stay and finish the lesson. That girl cried more, and she fell more, and she had a miserable time for 30 minutes, but then, after a while, and after her 100th fall, she didn't care as much about falling. She didn't notice how cold the ice was anymore. She got up by herself, and she looked at her dad, and she gave him the thumbs up. Maybe she fell once more, only now, she laughed about it.

Back in this universe, I was alone in the kitchen, thinking and rethinking, listening to music from my phone on speakers.

I often laugh about how some songs make every mundane activity seem meaningful. Think about the theme song from Friday Night Lights, or the music from Game of Thrones. Or "Jupiter" by Holst. Or that bit from "Carmina Burana" (you know, the one that plays whenever something evil is happening in a movie). But nothing gives mundane moments spiritual meaning like Sigur Rós's "Hoppípolla." And of course, the song I make fun of all the time because of the way people who listen to it take whatever meaning they need from it, got me this time.

While the song was playing, I could see it, just as vividly as I now see the computer screen: I could see my 20-year-old daughter skating. I could see her spinning and jumping, and smiling the whole way through her routine. And as I saw her there, a mature, confident woman flying fearlessly through the air, I knew we'd try again. Whether I did the right thing or not didn't matter. We were going to try again. We were going to make this happen.

3/28: Post is now republished on Huffington Post


  1. I'm not sure if you did the right thing. However, I think you would have questioned yourself either way - especially if she fell again and was upset about it.
    Glad you got a good hug out of it. I think starting lessons at 5 can still lead her to that Olympic Dream if that is where her skills lie.
    I'm looking forward to your interview with Bob Costas!

  2. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't always feel like doing the right thing. And that is why we second guess ourselves so often. And it sucks. It really does. I honestly feel there is too much pressure on kids to 'suck it up and get back out there". At her age, the falling, the cold, that's all going to stay with her for some time. But if you try again, you try again, and you (and more importantly her) have not just given up. When the time is right, it will be right. And when that weird eye starts interviewing you, we'll all say "I know that dude from this old group on Facebook".

  3. Thanks. I'll give you a shout-out!

  4. Yea, it's never easy to basically allow a kid to give up, but on the other hand, I have to see it from her side: she's suffering, and she's looking at me for comfort, so I have to give her what she needs. Who knows...

    We should already start planning a drinking game for my interview. Drink every time I scratch my eye.

  5. You got it right Oren. Encouraging your kid when they need it and giving them a place of safety when they need it is a terribly tricky dance. Trying again is what matter more than that first choice. As long as you have her try again you've won as a father. Eventually she'll love it or want to quit to give something else a try and either way that's okay.

  6. I am 100% behind your decision. I watched kids back in school do things that they hated now but they used to love. Why? Because they were pushed and pushed. My son really wanted to play baseball. I took him outside when he was around 5 years old. The very first time he tried to catch the ball, the damn thing hit the outside of the glove, rolled down his arm, and busted his lip. It took me a while to get him out there again but we did it at his pace. I was devastated that he was hurt and had to pick him up and hold him. I knew that he would try again later.

  7. My son is 7 now and it's only been in the past year that I've reached the point of knowing that it's better to force him to do it through tears than to coddle him. It's a balancing act for sure but at 3 (almost 4) years old, I would have done the same thing. She'll remember that more than anything else.

  8. My son has the dream of being a pro hockey player. He's only 4.5, but he's been completely obsessed with hockey since he was 1 or perhaps right before 1. Anyhow, he cried through two 6-lesson sessions of ice skating, we took a break, and now we're trying again. I have videos of him on the ice for the first time that we dream will be on ESPN some day...

  9. Ha, I took a picture of my girl with a toy guitar, just so one day, when she's a rock star, that picture will pop up, and everyone will talk about how it was meant to be.

  10. Yea, it's tough. This whole, "I didn't want to do it, but my dad didn't let me quit, and look at me now!" is going to stay with me for a while, or at least until we try again.

  11. Who knows... Young kids don't like challenges, and it's hard to explain to them that practicing something would make them more comfortable (and more confident in general). On the other hand, sometimes the only solution is to quit and try again later, or to try something else instead.



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