All I really need to know I learned at public skating

Author Robert Fulghum coined the phrase “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” in his book of the same name. His premise was that basic life lessons such as sharing, playing fair, and cleaning up after yourself could be found in a preschool classroom.

I’d like to borrow this concept from Mr. Fulghum, with a new twist: everything I need to know, I learned at public skating.

This revelation came to me as I was on skates, knees bent, back hunched, hands supporting my son’s armpits. We were joining a crowd of other families in the classic Canadian experience of public skating.

When I suggested the idea of going skating, my son was keen. Out on the ice, though, the cold, hard reality was setting in. His rear end hit the ice constantly, just like my rear end did as a kid, along with the generations of rear ends before me.

My theory is that all human beings are awful at skating at first. I know what you’re thinking: “But what about those little kids zipping around like mini Sidney Crosbys?” I guess there’s a chance they were naturally adept at skating from the word ‘go’, but there’s an even better chance that they started skating at a very young age and worked through all the awkwardness early on.

As I helped my son up over and over, I could see his resilience starting to falter. “It’s hard, Mom,” he lamented.

“I know it’s hard,” I answered, feeling like I was reading a script from an after-school special. “But the only way to get better at it is to keep trying.”

That was the ‘a-ha’ Robert Fulghum moment. Of course! Skating is like life. The same principles apply when you’re facing any new challenge. You may feel intimidated in the beginning and choose to observe from the side. Initially, you’ll probably need a lot of support. Those first steps will be wobbly, but trust yourself and go at your own pace. Yes, you’ll fall, but if you get up and keep going, you’ll gradually build confidence. In time, you’ll find your balance.

There’s more… like remembering to keep your head up and be mindful of the others around you. Give space and patience to the young, unpredictable ones, and respect the wisdom and experience of those older than you. One time, I was in awe as I witnessed an older couple gracefully skating together, holding hands with their forearms intertwined, moving as a single unit with four skates. I can only imagine how many years it would take to achieve that kind of precision and synchronicity with another person.

Finally, don’t compare your progress to others, because what really matters is your personal improvement from what you could previously do. By the end of that first hour, my son was able to stand still on his skates, on his own, without holding on to me. For us, it was a huge triumph.

When the session ended, we clomped over to the bench with the rest of the skaters. My back was sore and my toes were cold, but I was glad we had come. My son had learned something valuable. And so had I.