Monday, February 28, 2011
Dream: On taking up space
This was all my fault.
Skating with Big E is one of my greatest pleasures. As much as I enjoy gliding around the rink myself, I love watching her do it even more. Her confidence on the ice thrills me; the only time my responsible, rule-following girl does anything daredevilish is when she's on skates.
She's been taking lessons for a couple of years now and can not only twirl and do a few little hops, but stop and start and change direction on a dime. This is what she was doing that morning as we raced around the rink. Every other lap she gave me a head start but, as usual, darted past me before the finish line, ducking nimbly through the crowds of amateurs leaning on red training bars, waiting for me at the finish line with a grin.
I know the fun of circling the rink with your hair whipping behind you, your body warm from exertion, your face blasted with cold breeze, and that enjoyment is inarguably increased when everyone around you is teetering precariously on bent ankles. This day, because it was during the vacation week, was particularly crowded and that crowd was especially wobbly.
After I watched one particularly unsteady lady in gray sweatpants cast a long sour look at the whoosh of Big E as she glided by expertly on one foot, I began to fret. What if Big E got in someone's way? What if her speedy darting caused sweatpants lady or someone like her to panic and stop short? Surely sweatpants lady would fall, and certainly she would be angry, and she really did look exactly like the kind of woman who feels it her right and duty to scold strangers' kids in public. Wouldn't this, ultimately, be all my fault?
So I pulled Little E aside at our finish line and I told her to relax a little, to make sure she stayed out of the way of all the sweatpants ladies and their red bar-clinging kids. She cast down her eyes and agreed to be more careful.
She was. And I wished I'd never mentioned it.
I tend to apologize my way through life. In the grocery store I smile sheepishly and offer sorry and excuse me to nearly everyone I pass. Please excuse me for stopping my cart to pick up a box of Cheerios, if only I could have grabbed them on the fly so as to avoid delaying you for even a second. So sorry for taking up space as I wait at the deli counter, for allowing my toe to stray into the path of your cart, for existing in such a way as to potentially inconvenience you, random stranger in the dairy aisle.
I have noticed similar tendencies in my girls. A few days before that morning at the rink we went to the science museum, also packed with school vacation crowds. I watched as both girls suffered the quiet frustration of having more aggressive kids push in front and box them out at exhibit after exhibit. As much as I encouraged them to do the same, I understood that their desire to step confidently to the front was foiled by their inability to defy the rules and manners they'd been drilled in at school and home. I had done this.
After Big E made a few more miserably polite passes around the rink, she told me she was done. By then I'd come to a realization that I wish I could have had back when I was her age: the lady in the gray sweatpants did not likely regret her sub-par skating taking up space on the rink that could have been put to better use by my infinitely more proficient seven-year-old, so why should I have worried about Big E inconveniencing her?
Afterwards, I tried to undo my mistake. Before we left the parking lot, I turned to the back seat and told her how much I loved to watch her skate, how proud I was of all the hard work she'd put into to honing her skills, and how wrong I'd been to tell her that she should worry about everyone else more than herself.
She gave me a smile just devilish enough to give me hope that I hadn't done permanent damage.
I've possibly set back my attempts to raise considerate, well-mannered girls and have surely ensured more sour looks to come my way. That's okay, though, because there's a lesson needs more attention: you are entitled to take up space in this world --without apology.