There’s an ice rink literally fifteen minutes from my house, and I never think to go to it. In part, it’s because Petra went ice skating exactly once, three years ago, stepped on the ice, slid a tiny bit (did not fall), declared it was stupid, and had a meltdown. Since then, she’s refused anything to do with skating. Silas likes it, but it’s hard for me to find a time when I can take one, but not the other.
Last week, I realized I had a free afternoon, and JC would be home, so he could stay with Petra. I asked Silas if he wanted to go skating. He was very excited. Petra overheard, and said she wanted to try again. We invited her friend Emmy to join us. Emmy is a good skater, and also is an absolute delight. We’re always happy to have her along for adventures big and small.
Once I got everyone laced up, we stepped out on the ice. Petra made it about four feet before she was frustrated and crying again. She wanted to leave, but I wasn’t about to disrupt Emmy and Silas, who were having a great time. I coaxed her through a couple circuits, but she was clearly not having fun. We took a break and sat on the benches. She said, “It’s just annoying when there’s something that everyone else can just have fun with and you hate it! Who even made up this dumb thing with tiny blades on slippery ice! What’s the point! It’s awful to watch them just gliding along like it’s easy.”
I normally would have reached for the old saws about practice makes perfect, and everyone is bad at things until they’re not, but she’s heard these things before. When there’s something she really wants to do, she’ll work hard at it until she masters it. So instead, I told her that this is how I felt about downhill skiing. When I was a teenager, my brother and my dad both got really into skiing and snowboarding. My brother still does a ton of it—he moved to Colorado, in large part, for the slopes. But I never liked how fast it was, how there were always little kids zipping in front of me, how high the ski lift goes. Nothing about it was fun for me at all. I pitched a fit very similar to the one Petra was pitching at that moment. When I grew up, I tried cross-country skiing, and I love it.
I feel like telling kids honestly that you know exactly how they feel, and that you’ve felt the same way, is the “magic words” of parenting. Telling two-year-old Silas that I didn’t always love being a big sibling validated his feelings about our new baby, and then it was like they vanished, replaced with a persistent adoration that has lasted to this day. A similar magic happened when I told Petra about how I felt on the ski slopes with my brother and dad. She calmed down. She didn’t need to explain or justify anymore. I got it.
I told her that I wasn’t about to take her home, because it would ruin Silas and Emmy’s fun. But I could go raid the car for entertainments and provisions. I returned from a quick rummage with a chapter book, an activity book, several granola bars, and a bottle of water. Silas and Emmy took a break from the ice and had a snack with Petra. After she was fortified in body and spirit, she said she wanted to try again. So we went back out on the ice. It took a lot of tentative steps, a few falls, a bunch of hand-holding, but she got it. She wasn’t, by any means, good, but she had a good time. An hour later, when we were debating whether to stay or go, Silas said he was tired, but Petra said she could do a bit more.
She says she’d like to try again soon. Winning all around.