For someone who has worked in tech for twenty years, I can be a bit slow on the uptake. Recently I discovered the joy of walking around listening to music on my iPhone. One of the best things about this is that you can play the same song over and over again without making your family members lose their minds.
The other day I found myself listening over and over again to Billy Joel’s Vienna, a song that has filled me with hope and inspiration for years. If you don’t remember it, the catch phrase is “You know that when the truth is told, you can get what you want or you can just get old.” (At least I hope those are the right lines. I also thought that the catch phrase in Flashdance was “take your pants off and make it happen”.) Anyways, Vienna inspired me back when I was a teenager and wanted to publish my first novel by 18. It inspired me when I was in college and wanted to publish my first novel before I was 30. And when I was 30 and wanted to publish my first novel before I was 40. And when I was 33 and had my first child, well, then I basically said screw writing, all I really want to do with my free time is sleep.
But of course you don’t really sleep once you’ve had kids. Instead you start working on their dreams. You watch and see what they are good at and what they love. Even our holiday cards over the past few years have charted their latest hopes. Danny, at nine, is completely banking on making it to the MLB. JayJay at four is going to be an animal rescuer. Annie, at six, is—as she just told me today—going to be a famous singer, actress, fashion designer, model, author, ballerina, ice skater and ice dancer.
She told me this at free skate following her latest “intro to skating” class. This was her sixth class and frankly the first five had been pretty dire. She clung to the side of the rink. She moved at a snail’s pace. One time around the rink took a lifetime. And frankly it kind of pissed me off.
Why? Because if this truth be told, I was kind of hoping she might be a figure skating prodigy. When I was little I saw Ice Castles, starring the wide-eyed Lynn Holly Johnson and the pleasantly non-descript Robby Benson. From that moment on, my character in any game or story was Lexi Jones, just like the beautiful skater destined for Olympic greatness until tragedy strikes. I would skate around my basement in socks, doing spins and “axels”. Whenever I went to a skating rink the theme to Ice Castles (“Looking Through The Eyes of Love” by Miss Melissa Manchester) was on a loop in my mind. The sound of my blade sweeping the ice, the coldness of my hands, everything told me, yes, you, Eileen, you are destined for the Olympics. Weirdly I never even asked my mother for skating lessons. We just didn’t do that kind of thing in the 70s.
So when Annie asked me for lessons it was like a great hope had opened up again for both of us. Yes, oh yes, we will skate. And so every week I trudged along at her side, relishing the moment when she would say she wanted to sit out a lap so I could get some speed going. I would feel that same old exhilaration and think about trying a twirl, but yet I would hold back. Frankly I was terrified I might break an ankle.
But today I saw a woman who had to be pushing sixty out there practicing. Over and over again she backed into a twirl. It wasn’t pretty, it was frankly pretty darn wobbly. But she was doing it. She didn’t care how old she was, she was out there trying. I felt such joy watching her that for a while I didn’t even notice that Annie and I had been skating for more than an hour, out in the middle. Annie had picked up speed, was doing swizzles and some twizzle she learned from Olympic ice dancing. (Note that I am not sure if what she was doing even remotely was a twizzle—or what a twizzle even is—but the girl was adamant.) She fell a few times without tears and got up and glided on. She was gliding. She was finally gliding. And I was too.
We were both doing something we loved together but for ourselves. And I think that is one of the things that is so easy to forget as a parent. We still get to have dreams. And seeing us strive for something makes our kids understand that getting old isn’t the end of anything. That chances don’t go away because you hit a certain age. Anyone can do anything at any time. That is the beauty of life. To not seize that hope is to waste what time you have.
So now I will tell my kids that I want to be a writer. I want to do a camel spin in a pink sparkly ice skating skirt. These are just two of the many things that I not only still want but that I can still have. And that is empowering not just for them, but for that one person I most often forget. Me.