Skating Moms Part Three: The Ugly

I looked at good and bad behaviors of parents at the rink in the last two posts. Problem parents are mostly annoying, but not worse. Despite some exchanged glares and bathroom conversations, the rink is business as usual. The occasional fight between mother and daughter in the lobby is so common as to be promptly forgotten by all witnesses. Even parental presence rinkside is not strange and other skaters and coaches adjust to parental patterns. Nevertheless, sometimes a parent goes too far.

While I am sure I haven't seen the worst parental behavior, I have witnessed some pretty bizarre episodes. I try to stay out of the way, but sometimes you can't help but notice World War III coming your way. Unlike the previous commentaries, this is a series of anecdotes about my experiences with truly odd parents.

I used to skate in an annual ice show. This is common to anyone who has ever participated in a skating club or program. The ice show ran three nights and was a major affair complete with curtain and spotlights. While the club was large and had a number of coaches, many of them skated in the show. This meant the backstage area was supervised by parent volunteers. They were in charge of shuffling show groups to and from backstage dressing rooms and the ice. In the dressing rooms, we were entertained by epic card games and movies (indeed, the first time I saw Empire Strikes Back was during an ice show). The parent volunteers were the only adults encouraged to be behind the scenes. Other parents remained in the stands and out of the chaos. My mother had the dubious privilege of volunteering and thus was put in charge of the backstage area directly next to the ice. We're talking about waves of thirty kids to deal with, all trying to put on their skates at once while sitting on the ground or benches. In this area, my mother had a close encounter with the youngest soloist, but no harm was done. That is, until her mother went ballistic and accused my mother of deliberately trying to step on and harm her daughter. Why would my mother want to do that? Well, she clearly wanted to knock the young girl out of her place such that I could fill her part. Since I had the skating skills of a chimp at that time, I highly doubt that was the case. Needless to say the paranoid mother discouraged my own from ever volunteering again.

I used to practice during rec skates since the rink I took lessons at offered few freestyles and all were early in the morning. The advanced freestyle students, we're talking learn to skate freestyle before pre-preliminary tests, used the center to jump and spin while hockey players whizzed around the edges. Rarely, an unknown skater would arrive to work during the session. One summer, a young boy and his mother came several times. He was talented and it eventually became clear that she was both mother and coach. While parents as coaches is a whole other can of worms, I will note that they did not have the worst coach/parent-student relationship I have seen. Nevertheless, for hours on end we endured her screaming rants echoing across the ice. None of us understood a word of the language spoken, but we understood that the young skater was being told perfection or consequences. On some occasions the mother became so irate we thought she was going to strike her son with a physical blow. While it never came to that, we were shocked to see the nature of their interactions. So much compassion can die with the push for perfection.

While parents can certainly talk to their children at the rink, a constant litany of corrections hurled over the glass is no help for either skater or mother. At some point, the skater is going to snap. No matter how terrified or tread upon the skater is, the breaking point will come. I witnessed a skater finally stand up for herself after her mother insisted on yelling at her during a program run through. Her reward was to be abandoned at the rink, which was situated in the true middle of nowhere. While a fight between a teenaged skater and parent might occasionally end that way, the skater was far too young to be left alone at a rink all day. Similar incidents that I was not present for resulted in the mother being kicked out of and banned from a number of area rinks. If you're being kicked out of rinks on a regular basis, perhaps it's time to reevaluate your attitude as a parent.

While none of these instances are extremely common, they happened. Parents need to remember that figure skating is merely an activity, one facet of their child's life. If this is forgotten, joy and compassion are crushed by the pursuit of distant perfection.