Ella Belle, Birthday Girl, and the Grandma Thingy (how her Mama needed it!)

A roller skating rink is where people go to experience all the joys of by-gone, dangerous childhood. You know, the childhood their grandparents told them about right after the old folks got done snickering at their grandkids for wearing knee pads and helmets to ride a trike on the sidewalk. Where else in this modern world can a kid go and speed around on wheels with clearly terrified or insane peers without a parent shoving a helmet on their heads? Where else can big kids and adults go to take out smaller people without so much as a by your leave or a why aren't you wearing pads then? All the roller rink needs to be really nostalgic fun is a few rusted tin cans with sharp lids for a match of kick/roll the can and a selection of spinning hub caps to throw in ultimate, take-out-a-sibling roller blade Frisbee.

Gabriella requested that we go to a rink for her birthday. I was a bit surprised, because she has never truly skated in her life. Santa brought her skates a couple years ago, but it turned out being hard work for the rest of us. We had to pull her around the living room between us as if she were a mobile queen; it was the only way she'd use them.

She wrote a letter before we went out for her birthday activity. The gist of it was something like this:

Dear Mama and Dada, Thanks for letting me go to Skate---- for my birthday, and thank you for not making me use the grandma thingy. Love, Gabriella

Oh, you're using the grandma thingy, alright, I thought as I smiled at her lovely little face. That was what I thought until we got to the rink and saw how much they charged people to have an illusion of safety. It was $5 a skate buddy to "help you balance" and increase your chances of survival, and that after a whopping $6 a person just to walk in the deathtrap! Add the skate rentals for a family of six, and Matthew and I had decided that no one needed a skate buddy; we'd probably survive with barely a broken tailbone, busted kneecap and couple fractured wrists between the lot of us.

It didn't take long for me to feel disillusioned and bitter, however, as I crawled along the concrete wall with Ella at .01 miles an hour, watching Matthew attempt to pull along four-year-old Daniel who very much resembled a terrified, floppy-limbed rag doll with no control over its fate. Ana and Berto, on roller blades, were the only ones having a decent time.

I got off the rink with Daniel and tried to teach him to skate on the carpeted area where he fell on his bum with less fear, and Berto came over to encourage and help. Ella was soon off the rink, too, complaining that she was already tired, but the pinched, anxious look in her eyes and frowning mouth gave her away. Meanwhile, I was nervously contemplating getting back on the rink with all the crazies, picturing myself falling forward and skidding wildly into some unsuspecting kid as I took at least one of my own poor children down with me. I paled and cowered at the thought. Then I got angry. Who were these people to charge $5 for the right to keep all your limbs intact, to keep your children safe during a daredevil activity for which you had already paid more than you deemed reasonable? It would be like the county fair charging you to lock the metal lap bar on the roller coaster!

So I charged up (well, carefully rolled) to the skate-rental desk and told them flatly that we were there for our sweet girl's 7th birthday and meant to have a good time if it killed us, but we thought it would be the demise of at least three of us if we did not get a Skate Buddy grandma thingy right away! Then I offered to turn in my skates and pay the difference to get the limb-saving contraption constructed of PVC pipes. The nice young girl looked in my eyes and saw the desperation that could quickly boil over into full-blown hysteria, and she offered me a skate buddy, no charge.

Aha! I went over to Ella, triumphant, only to discover that she far preferred the assistance of her 10-year-old sis, Ana, who had already taken her round the rink and shown her how to safely slow down by crouching gently without using your fingers to scrape the wall in terror as Mama had done.

So Matthew took Danny Sam out with the Buddy, and I went out to try my feet at freedom. Instead of going .01 mph, I went a terrifying .015 mph, and the horrible realization struck me that I was a total wimp who began to hyperventilate when she couldn't touch the wall. I tried to slow down and help some poor kids who biffed it, but I could only choke out an, "Are you alright...alright...alright?" as I skidded slowly away backwards, forgetting my skates had brakes.

When Berto, developing blisters from his blades, sat out with Daniel, my man Matthew came to claim me for a slow dance on the skate floor. No doubt he hoped to recreate one of our first dates when he took me skating and held my hand the whole time, pulling me towards him and being rewarded with a big smile. Fat chance! He tried to make it a modestly-paced dance, but he went too fast for me, who had to swallow multiple butterflies that were flittering up from her stomach. Though it pained me to see him skate away - a little too rapidly and gratefully, if you ask me - I released the love of my life in a panic and hurriedly flung myself at the one I was really longing for: the sweet, sweet wall.

No one wanted to skate with Mama anymore. Daniel didn't even want to go out with me and the "buddy", so he took it out with Papa, and then I took turns taking it out alone when he was resting. Apparently, my hunchbacked form was embarrassing, but though my Ella was too mortified to be seen with the grandma thingy, I certainly was not. I saw Berto shake his head at me as I passed him, so I smiled broadly, pointed a finger at my boy as if to say, This lap's for you, son, and waved exuberantly.

In the end everything worked out. Ella skated sometimes with Papa but more often with Ana. Daniel skated with Berto but more often with Papa. And I was free to be a complete coward. At the end of our little family outing, the only injuries sustained were a couple nasty blisters on Berto's feet.

I don't know what Ella will remember about her 7th birthday excursion, but I'll remember how she skated with her big sister several times and how Ana was so patient with her, going slowly when she wished to go fast, her brown hair whipping out behind her. I'll remember Berto being the great big brother he always is to Ella and Daniel on such occasions even though his feet marred the experience for him. I'll remember how we all skated together for the first time on Ella Boo's birthday and how my kids learned not to trust Mama when death/skating is on the line!

And though it made me lonely for our younger years, I'll think often of how darn sexy my tall, lean man looked zipping around the rink with his million-dollar smile, sometimes pushing Ella or Daniel and sometimes racing Ana or Berto as they tried their best to keep up with him.


  1. What a wonderfully evocative post! Took me back sixty years, to places I'm too embarrassed to recall...

    1. Tim, I seem to remember you commenting on my circus post from a couple years back. I think we have something in common: we're children at heart.

      Thank you so much for your comment! I'm glad it took you back.

  2. I too recall the fear/thrill of roller rinks. I hated them with a passion, but if one was to have a teen social life, one had to bite the bullet.
    It will be fun to ask your daughter ten years from now what her recollections of that birthday skate are. We're usually surprised at how differently our kids remember an event than our own recollection of the same event.

    1. Biting the bullet is an apt description; that's certainly what it feels like, and I'm glad I'm not the only one terrified by the prospect of latching wheels to my feet!

      You are very right. Ella will remember it differently, I'm sure, and I hope I remember to ask her about it many birthdays or Thanksgivings from now.

  3. Sounds like a real Ella experience. Wish we had been there.


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