Landing the Jump (and other life lessons)

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This has been a full week on so many levels. My sister and her three girls (14, 13 and 10) came out to visit from NYC. I LOVE seeing them, and having those three “big” girls hang out with my two little ones … well it’s a sight. Nina (my 4-year-old) was particularly excited because, my sister’s middle daughter, Maxine, was planning to stay with us after her mom and sisters flew home.

Max is a figure skater, and as luck would have it, I live about 8 miles from one of the best training rinks in the country. So each morning this week, Max and I would head to the rink at 6am or so, so she could skate and have various coachings for three hours. Mr. (John) Nicks (82 and famous in the skating world) would say things to Max like, “Oh I have a young skater in NY, if you see her, tell her hello from me; her name is Sasha Cohen.” Watching him coach is watching a master. He is calm, gracious, wise … the yoda of the ice.

[I’m at the rink right now, and Max just came in the waiting room with a sliced finger – bleeding profusely as fingers will – from a blade-holding spin she was doing. Yikes. First-aid kit in her skating bag. Triage finished. She’s back on the ice now.]

Spending time with Maxine on and off the ice has been wonderful, of course. I love her and her sisters and miss them now that I live in CA. I picture them younger when I was still a New Yorker, visiting me in my various dressing rooms backstage, trying on my Millie costumes (Ellie loved the red dress) or getting ice cream at Serendipity. I miss the day-to-day I had with them when they were small.

Now they are so big! I find it so interesting having Max with us – it's a rehearsal of sorts for when my two girls are teens. We talk about her school, friends, fashion, movies, Justin Bieber (yes). But it’s here at the rink that gets me the most. I started out as a figure skater –
began lessons at 5 and by 7 was skating nearly every day and added ballet to the mix. When I quit skating, I kept up with dance, and that led me to musical theatre. But when I hear music, even to this day, I visualize it on skates. I go to sleep thinking about flying at great speed across the ice. I can still feel spins in my body, though I know I can no longer do them. I can still sense the lower center of gravity of an 11-year-old. Funny how that stays with you.

I watch Maxine and am so proud. She is way beyond what I ever achieved. But this week has been challenging for her. She is surrounded (literally) by Olympic-caliber skaters, which is both inspiring and intimidating. Dare I say like working on Broadway? She is landing some double jumps, but has somehow lost her (1.5 revolution) axel, and it’s getting her down. I can practically hear her mind-games; at this point she cannot even attempt the take-off. She has psyched herself out and she skates in circles … over and over. I’m watching the multitude of emotions converge into a quiet storm, until she finally leaves the ice with tears. It’s familiar to me; I’ve been there. Not as a skater, but as a performer and person. Growth is not linear, it ebbs and flows, plateaus at the worst possible moments; it is painful.

I’m torn, watching her. I’m trying to think of something to say that will pull her out of her frustration, mind-games and sadness. But I also know the only way out is through. And I know that when she figures out how to navigate this for herself … well, it’s a life lesson that will serve her in endless situations. We talked about that a bit. How as you get to know yourself, you begin to understand your triggers. I’ve learned what it looks like when I avoid things, or get lost in things or obsess – and I’ve learned how to curb, embrace, work through all those moments. I know for me, when I lose inspiration I go to the ballet or watch a great athlete do what they do. For me, going outside my element inspires me to do my element. Or in other instances, I pour myself into what I do and that gets me through. I try to balance my tendency to over-think a situation with physical activity that takes me out of my head. We’ve also talked about embracing the process, and how the hurdles (the damned axel or being placed on vocal rest) can often times show you other routes or lessons that will prove valuable. But all this is philosophical – Max is 13 and just wants to land the jump.

I don’t know what Max’s “lifeline” will be; what tricks she’ll master to steer through these moments in her life. It’s hard watching her figure it out, but it’s also amazing watching her figure it out. I suppose this is what raising children and young adults is: constant heartache and pride combined. I'm a fixer and want to do this for her, but that defeats the purpose, and frankly who is to say my way is the best? Likely, Maxine will find a route much more direct and useful for her. I should sit back, stop trying to teach … and learn from her.

She’s a beautiful, complicated, funny, thoughtful young woman … like her sisters and mother. I’m lucky my girls have such role models. I’m lucky to bear witness to moments such as these. Max still hasn’t landed that axel, and her week here is over, but I hope she sees how much she has landed, on ice and off.

Cue the Zamboni, now cleaning the rink, erasing the grooves and holes and small piles of shaved ice. Clean slate for the next life lesson.

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