The ice skating rink was my happy place for years. When most tweens would go to the movies or to the mall on weekend nights, I could be found on the ice. Nothing could compare with a healthy dose of gossip, soft pretzels, and Olympic-style spin attempts. My life was complete.
I loved the ice. I still do to this day. For being someone who is always temperature-challenged, you would never find me complaining about the three layers of clothing and double-layered socks I would sport as a laced up my never-polished white skates and made one with the ice. It was my get-away. On the freshly resurfaced rink I felt like I could tackle anything. To this day I don’t even need a face-to-face encounter with the rink to be able to recall the unique smells I would take in and how free I felt the moment I set foot on it. Like an old friend you don’t see for ages… I know it’s where my heart lies because when we meet again, it is like I never left.
This one weekend was like every other. I was in high school and talk at school was about convening at the rink later that night. It was already a done-deal. Saturday night was booked, though, as it was the Father-Daughter dance, and dad and I were already prepared to take it back to the 70’s with our bell-bottoms and groovy patterns. But Friday…Friday I needed my ice-fix.
That night it was packed. Days like that left me frustrated because I felt confined and restricted on the rink. I couldn’t go as I pleased – I had to go with the crowd, and they never would go at my pace. My friends and I found that the best way to get speed was weaving in and out of the beginners. So that we did – sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we even skated backwards.
I remember the tight spot that approached. I remember my friend making a quick decision to weave in front of me. I remember not being able to stop. I remember falling flat and sliding for what felt like the length of the rink. I remember the embarrassment. My friends were going so fast that the crowd swallowed me up. Looking back, I’m surprised no one else stumbled over me as I laid face down on the ice.
I guess the cold, which I worked so hard to shelter myself from, helped me ease into the panic when I looked on the rink and instead of seeing opaque ice, it was tinged red. The pain came after. It came when I attempted to stand and I couldn’t. It came when I noticed the endless rush of blood from my knee. It wasn’t until my mom was called and my jeans were cut off my leg that I pieced the story together. As my friend prepped for speed, I stumbled onto her blade and for a split moment, the blade and I united by way of my knee.
The outcome? Ten stitches – five internal and five external – and a leg brace that became part of my daily attire for over a week. I went from feeling the breeze as I would skate, to warming the bench; to sitting on the sidelines. And even sitting wasn’t easy. Those split seconds, changed my world. I struggled walking. One leg bent, the other had to be stick straight. I couldn’t bend my knee or the stitches would break. Try walking around, even for five minutes, keeping one leg locked in place. You’ll experience the challenge of remembering how to walk; how to go up stairs; how to go to the restroom.
I remember struggling with little things, like trying to not get bombarded by my classmates at school when switching classes. I had to leave each class early, with a friend holding my backpack, and wobble down the stairs to make my way to the next period. Hopefully in one piece. I remember several times nearly falling down the stairs trying to do just that; it was a lot harder than I ever thought. I remember how our plans changed for our Father-Daughter dance. We still went, because a good daddy doesn’t let a leg brace stand in the way of a good time, but my costume adapted and so did a piece of my spirit. Even there, I was an observer as others danced all night. While my inability was temporary, the memory has lasted for years.
So when I heard my son, Eli, scream after jumping into a tent made of blankets, I was in denial that he, too, may experience what temporary inability would be like. After an hour of him not moving his arm and his sister, Lyndi, and I trying to care for what we thought was a bad bruise, it was determined that an ER visit would be in our near future. After multiple x-rays and a brief stint of Eli playing with Buzz Lightyear in the hospital room, he stepped foot in the house with a cast on his arm. He had, indeed, broken it.
At first, I think he liked the attention, probably like I did when I was whisked away like a fallen princess on the ice. People are concerned and show that concern by extra hugs, additional assistance, and friendly smiles. Who wouldn’t welcome that? But once reality sets in, you realize that the “coolness” of a cast or a brace isn’t really so cool after all.
Eli loves transformers, and to play with his toys to their fullest capacity, it requires two hands. He loves to draw, but as he is still learning, he needs both hands – one to draw and one to hold the page. He loves playing pretend with his sister, and over the weekend, I overheard him tell her that he couldn’t play “clean up” because he only had one hand, and needed two to hold the broom. Even going to the restroom can require two functioning hands.
For a four year-old, Eli’s world is rocked. His little life, that is already complicated yet filled with such excitement, is scaled down by what he can’t do, now that he has an arm that is more of a hindrance than a help. At least to me it is. But to him, he hasn’t stopped a beat. No, you would think that he would get frustrated by his inability to transform his toys or open a banana or get in and out of his bunk bed. You would think that he would complain about his “large Band-Aid” or come home from school talking about more of what he can’t do versus what he can. But he doesn’t. He actually doesn’t complain at all, and while he does ask for help, most times, I’m having to prompt it. Instead, he is figuring it out his new life, experiencing it with one less functional arm and hand.
But he doesn’t see it that way. Yes, he definitely knows that one of his arms isn’t able to bring as much to the table as the other, but he’s not stopped by this inability. Instead, he’s thrilled that the other arm works! He still plays and jumps and does things that stresses me out, but he is more cautious and even tells me that he needs to watch what he does because if he breaks his other arm he won’t have any arms to use! I watch him while at a stop light trying to eat his afternoon snack in the car, and somehow and someway he figures out how to hold a bowl and eat his snack all the while not dropping it on the floor. He even runs to his little brother, Luke’s, rescue when he drops a toy and bends down to pick it up for him, even while his one hand is preoccupied holding something else. His seemingly inability is actually anything but.
The day I got my stitches out of my knee was a day I was counting down to. I broke free of the leg brace and, while I was timid to bend my knee, I was thrilled to be able to fully walk again. I remember telling others how you don’t realize what you have until you lose it. I didn’t realize how important my legs were. I had taken them for granted, much like we all do for many things in life – like the ability to talk or eat or even breathe. Not everyone has those abilities. And I bet when Eli gets his cast off, he will be thrilled to be able to have his arm back too. There is no doubt about that.
But through watching Eli these last several days, I’ve learned that while I may smile and help him while catering to his every need, he doesn’t see his broken arm as an inability. He’s just grateful that he has another arm that works! It doesn’t stop him from trying to still build tents, color pictures, or help others. No, he continues with life, just grateful that he gets to experience it.
I know we all tend to let things hold us back in life. We aren’t Van Gogh so we don’t even try to paint. And I’m no Stephen King, so maybe I should stop writing. You’re scared of screwing up parenting so you don’t even talk about having a family. We are so stifled by what we see as our inabilities that we don’t even attempt to try. We focus on our weaknesses so much that we lose sight of our strengths.
My challenge to you is this. If you have your hands, paint! And if your hands can’t do it, use your toes! Whatever you make will be a work of art. If you have a thought put it down on paper. Capture it. Who cares about typos or correct grammar. You may touch even one person by your story, and if you do, then it’s worth it. And when you have kids, they don’t come with a handbook that’s for sure. You will screw up, but you’ll learn and your life will be fulfilled in ways no one can describe.
Put your energy in focusing on what you do have and what you have the ability to control. Health. Happiness. Safety. The three things I pray for daily. And while some elements of each are out of my control – I couldn’t pad Eli from his fall and save his arm from the break – I can be grateful that he didn’t break both arms. My leg may not have been functional for a time, but the time was brief and I didn’t break my knee cap, which I was a mere inch from doing.
You may not get to choose what life deals you, but you get to choose how you deal with life. That doesn’t mean you have to live in a glass half full or half empty kind-of-life. No, sometimes reality just stinks. Own that. Accept what has happened, and then choose to not let it stop you. We are here for a brief moment – and if we can see through our inabilities our true abilities, then maybe…just maybe…we can be grateful for what we do have, for what we can do, and for who we get to experience it all with.