I was nine years old the year I discovered figure skating. That was the year Katarina Witt won the gold medal at the Sarejevo Olympics, and it was my first fandom. In retrospect, I think what I loved most about her was the fact that she served as a mirror for me, or rather a more beautiful version of me. That was my fourth grade year and my school picture was unequivocally the single worst photo ever taken of me, tiptoeing at the cusp of an incredibly awkward puberty. She was German, like me, her hair looked like mine when my mom did the fanciest braids; she had the same body shape (although mine was just starting to develop, so I didn’t really know that then), even her name was a mirror of mine.
For several years, in defiance of reality (i.e., the nearest rink was an hour and a half away and I never took a single lesson), I dreamed of being a figure skater. I spent my recesses “practicing” my jumps and striking poses, pretending I was in the middle of a routine. I graduated from that when I realized how foolish I looked, but instead I wrote a proto-novel about an Olympic ice skater.
Over the last thirty years my tastes have shifted. The singles no longer hold a lot of appeal for me. I find ice dance and pairs far more beautiful. But I haven’t watched much, because we’re always busy and even when I made note of an event that would be televised on a station we actually got (we were on basic-basic cable for over a decade, and then dropped it altogether for a few months), I usually would forget to turn it on.
Well, with the Olympics coming up it’s time to get back in touch. So Saturday afternoon we watched part of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Alex was grumpy–he wanted to use the Wii–but he could hardly argue that Mommy’s request to watch a single program was unreasonable. Mommy never, ever, ever claims the TV.
I swept the kitchen during the advertisements and sat on the couch while the pairs programs were on. Julianna and Nicholas were mesmerized, watching with me. When it was over I went to the computer to look up a program from the last Olympics that I remember being exceptionally beautiful. And in the middle of the program I looked up from YouTube to see my daughter on the other side of the computer desk, slowly and carefully twisting and turning…pretending to be a figure skater.
How to describe the emotion of that moment? I have all these boys running around. We’re a superhero family. I know far more about Transformers, Avengers and Justice League than I do about Strawberry Shortcake or, what are those creepy dolls called? Monsters High, or something? Christian and I have an inside joke; we call the girls’ toys section the “creepy girl aisle” because it gives us the willies.
I can’t get inside my daughter’s head; I never know for sure what she’s thinking or if I’m getting a genuine answer to any question I ask her. I’ve learned, for instance, that I can’t ask her if she did what I told her to do, because she’ll say “yes” no matter whether she has or hasn’t. Instead I have to tell her to do it again, and if she says, “Wye dee!” (“already did!”) in a tone of great personal affront, then I know she did it.
She’s the hardest child to shop for because nothing really interests her except music and books, and we already have so many of both. It’s hard to know what sorts of activities will excite her. It’s hard to include her in the family activities as her younger brother shoots past her in cognition and verbal ability and physical prowess.
All of this went through my head in a shock wave as I realized something that was infinitely precious to me as a child, and remains the only sport I actually like, is also special to my little girl. There’s a connection between us I didn’t even know was there. And it made my day.
We’ll be watching a lot of figure skating this year, I think.