Roller-skating! I love it. I’ve been roller-skating forever. It happened because the skating rink in town held parents’ coffee mornings once a week, and, because Mum didn’t know anyone else with pre-schoolers, she thought it would be good for me to meet other kids.
One of those kids from back then is Beverley. She’s still my best friend eight years later and we still go skating together. We go to the same skating classes and competitions and we’ve learned the same tricks.
Beverly is the best skater. She goes to practice every afternoon after school and then comes to skating classes on Saturdays. Bev’s mum, Mrs Johnson, checks with Sharon, our coach, so she always knows how to make sure that Bev is doing the spins and jumps just the right way.
Mrs Johnson watches every move that Bev makes. If it’s not quite the way the competition judges like it, she yells out, “Beverley! Lift that leg higher; straighten those toes. No! That’s not right! Do it again!” It’s never good enough for Mrs J but Beverly keeps getting better.
My mum doesn’t do that. She says I should enjoy what I’m doing without being judged by other people. Easy for her to say!
I do love skating. I love skimming across the concrete floor and feeling free in a way I just can’t wearing ordinary shoes. I love jumping and spinning and gliding – even backwards. It always makes me feel happy.
One Saturday, Sharon was teaching us how to do a double salchow which meant we had to skate, jump and spin in the air twice before landing and gliding backwards. Getting it all in the right order was a bit tricky. Beverly of course was doing it easily. I could do the usual salchow but getting in that extra spin was a bit difficult for me. I turned to Bev and said, “Show me again where you put your feet to start”. But Sharon yelled at me, “Ariadne! You’re not listening. No wonder you’re useless. Try to be more like Beverley. She’s here every afternoon. You have no commitment.”
Where did that come from? I skate because I love it and I love to learn new ways of doing it, not just to win competitions. Beverley is my best friend but because of what Sharon said, I didn’t even like her that day and I wouldn’t talk to her. She looked sad and hurt when I ignored her but I didn’t care.
When I got home from that class, I frowned at my mother. “Why can’t you be like Mrs Johnson?” I demanded. “She takes Beverley to skating practice every afternoon. I’ve been skating just as long as Beverley but she’s better than me because her mother cares enough to take her to practice – every day. You just don’t care.” My voice was getting louder and louder. “You’re useless as a mother!” My mother looked stunned. Then, for some reason, I burst into tears and ran to my room.
When I came out about an hour later, Mum was sitting at the kitchen table marking assignments. She works part-time teaching Accounting students at TAFE.
She put down her reading glasses and turned to me. “Would you like to tell me what that was about?”
“I’m not good enough” I said. “I need to do extra training so I can beat Beverly.”
“I thought Beverly was your BFF,” Mum said.
“She is!” I mumbled “but she always beats me.”
Mum looked at me with a worried frown. “Ari”, she said, “why do you like skating?”
“Well,” I said, “It makes me feel happy. I can do whatever I like out there. I can jump and spin and go backwards and nobody thinks that’s strange. They would if I tried that in the back yard in my sneakers”. I laughed.
“How would beating Beverly change that? Would it make you feel happier?”
“No…. But I just need to do it.” I couldn’t explain it but I knew I had to try.
“So what do you want to do?”
“I want to train every afternoon and show Sharon that I am committed to doing things better.”
She looked uncertain but she said, “Ok, we’ll give it a go – but just for two weeks until the next competition to see if that’s what you really want.”
I was so excited. I got home from school on Monday afternoon and Mum was ready to go. “Two hours and no complaints”, she reminded me.
This was going to be fun.
I went onto the rink in my bright white boots to warm up with some glides and spins while Mum talked to Sharon and Mrs Johnson.
Mum came back carrying a clipboard like the one Mrs J uses and said firmly, “Right. Sharon has helped me break down your routine into components so we can work on each element separately. Let’s start with the single salchow.”
“Salchow?” I thought, “piece of cake. I’ve been doing them for ages.”
I moved off: gather momentum, rotation into the air, land safely, glide backwards.
“Lazy!” Mum said.
“Wha-a-a-t? That’s the way I always do them.”
“You need to be more definite. Sharpen up the leap. Keep those ankles tidy in the spin. When you land, bring your free leg through crisply. Do it again!”
So I did it again. And again. And again. It was never good enough. This strange Dragon-Woman even walked onto the rink to put my foot way up in the air so I could feel where she wanted it to finish.
After forty minutes of the same salchow, I asked when we could move onto the axels or the reverse spin. There was more to my routine than this one element.
“No point in doing that until you get this right,” she snapped. “Back to it.”
All I did that afternoon for two whole hours was that one lousy salchow. I was exhausted. When we got home, I just wanted to collapse in front of the TV.
“Now your homework”. Mum reminded me.
The next afternoon, it was the same again. On Wednesday, we moved to the double axel, but, just like the last two days, it wasn’t perfect no matter how hard I tried. I wondered where this Dragon-Woman had come from and what had she done with my mum?
And so it continued into the second week. On Tuesday, about half way through, she stopped and said, “Take a break and we’ll do it again in five minutes”.
I skated to the far side of the rink and hung over the rail with Bev who was on a break too.
We didn’t notice the women sitting nearby until one of them said, “Uh-oh! Here comes trouble! I was watching her all last week. Picking on her poor daughter and never letting her have any fun.”
“Yeah,” replied her friend. “Why can’t she let her little girl just enjoy her skating. I despise these competition mothers who try to live through the successes of their kids.”
“Poor Bev”, I thought. “Everyone can see what her mother’s doing.”
I looked up to frown at Mrs Johnson, but it was my mum coming towards us. It was my mum they were talking about. My mum, who only wanted me to enjoy my skating until I told her she wasn’t a good enough mum. My Mum!
I skated over and gave her a hug and frowned at the two nosy women. “Let’s go home,” I said.
“But the comp’s on Saturday,” she said worriedly.
“Mum, let’s just go home.”
In the car I said, “I’m sorry I said you didn’t care. I don’t want you turning into a ‘competition mother’ and I’m beginning to hate skating.”
“I hated being one of those people too, but what about beating Beverley?’
“It wasn’t Beverley who said that stuff, it was Sharon. Bev is still my best friend and I don’t have to prove myself to anyone but me and I don’t want to stop having fun with my skating.”
“What a relief”, she said and laughed and laughed till I joined in.
Well, I did win the 10-11 year old section of the competition that Saturday but only because Bev twisted her ankle executing her double axel. I helped her off the rink and over to the seats. Her mother came down to put some ice on the sprain because, she said, Bev needed to be ready to compete in the 12-13 year old section after lunch!
“She can’t!” I said.
“She will”, Mrs Johnson growled. “Suck it up, Princess!” she said to Bev.
Beverley sat there quietly.
“Poor Bev,” I thought. “I’m glad I’m not you”. I just love skating without always having to win, no matter what.”
Now I realise I’m free to be me. Happiness bubbled up inside me.
I am Ariadne Mpalami, skating fanatic and Bev Johnson’s BFF! I am “ME”!
© Caenys Kerr 2013