Roller Girl

“Do not wear your skates down the stairs!”

This was a common directive lobbed at my back as I dashed down the steps from our third floor apartment each day to explore my world on wheels. As per my mother’s request, I would dutifully sit on the bottom step closest to the sidewalk at the entrance to my building and step into my skates. In those days we had the types of roller skates that strapped on over shoes. They were adjustable and tinny sounding and unstable and I refused to go anywhere without them.

There was a sidewalk in front of our apartment building that ended where a small sloping hill up began. This stretch of concrete is where the majority of my rolling would take place, avoiding chips and rocks and those pesky cracks that threatened to break my mother’s back were I to step on one. It was a limited track but freeing all the same.

It would be so much more fun with a change in terrain. You know, a hill.

Then one day, as if the roller gods had heard my pleas, tanned and muscled men were clearing a wide swath of grass to make room for a sidewalk expansion where our narrow trodden path up that hill at the end of the sidewalk once was. This was exciting indeed.

On the playground, across the street from this noisy and smelly work, my best friend Teri and I watched the progress from the swings. We speculated, as only seven year olds can, on what new and exciting promise this extension would provide. We imagined speeding down the hill and all the way to end of the sidewalk without lifting a wheeled foot. Maybe even floating. Or flying. Kids with bikes and trikes could race each other from the top.

We stopped to consider other scenarios as we took to the hot metal slide. Maybe all of us could be tied to a bike, you know to hold onto it like water skiing, that would start at the top of the hill…

Then one day the hill was complete. Sort of.

This newly flattened surface was made of tar and not concrete. It didn’t match the sidewalk. Not only was it pavement, but it was also bumpy and uneven. Yet, it still provided ample opportunity for experimentation with roller skates and bicycles and anything with wheels that previously struggled on the dirt and grass. It was the new shiny thing in the neighborhood and kids from all over showed up to test it out.

I started out carefully enough, side stepping up the grassy part of the hill in my skates a few feet before testing out the pavement. The first test yielding decent results: not smooth, but not awful either. The unevenness of the pavement slowed me down just enough to give me a false sense of confidence. I walked up higher in the grass and stepped onto the pavement and rolled down. Still okay. Bumpy and slow, but rolling. Then I got cocky and careless, marching to the very top of the hill in the grass and stepping onto the top of this glorious black hill like an Olympic skiier ready to compete for gold. Half way down this short hill my skate caught on something, I over corrected, arms windmilling, feet defying gravity, limbs flying in unnatural directions and despite the Herculean effort to save myself, I landed face down on the gravely pavement and skidded to a stop, shredding the tender flesh from my face and hands. The force was strong enough to produce the appropriate amount of blood to freak my mother out (sort of, she was pretty pro at wet towels and ice packs for my curiosity-gone-south by now) and leave me with a giant scab in the form of a question mark. On my face. Forehead, cheek, nose and chin. My hands were mostly just raw and tender.

Once my mother mopped up the blood, patted dry my raw and stinging face, and wiped away my tears, I pleaded to go back out. But my mother, ever the voice of reason, hung my skates up for a few days to protect me from myself.  

These skates were a natural appendage. This was not a horse I was afraid to ride again. It was not the fault of the skates, but clearly the new hill. However, in my juvenile lust for wind in my hair, I would master that little bit of pavement and seek even bigger adventures.

With age and experience, like at 8 years old, I began to make more discerning choices. I did not, for instance, skate down the slide. I walked up the ladder leading to the slide in skates, hovered on the little platform at the top, considered the consequences of flight, and possible death, by parental shaming – not necessarily bodily harm due to the velocity at which I would be traveling that short stretch – and sat on the slide instead with the wheels touching the slide in font of me, rather than tucked under me as I so desperately longed to do. It was a compromise. It felt like I was kind of rolling.

I did however swing with the skates on. Seems harmless, right? However, I really liked to hang upside down and wrap my legs around the chains of the swing holding me in place, while I let my arms and hair drag along the ground. On this particular day, a day like any other, with the exception of the skates on my feet, I miscalculated the force with which I had to hoist my wheeled feet up to throw myself upside down, and instead kept going on through. The weight of the skates created the perfect conditions for another face plant. In the gravel. Home I went for a quick patch job, then back out. Sans skates.

In the summer I would skate in shorts and a tank top – mostly Danskin sets. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, Google it. These were required of every young kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s. At the height of the Polyester awakening, we the children, endured plastic clothing sets because they were virtually indestructible and wrinkle-free.) It was an invitation to shred the bare skin off my bones repeatedly, especially my knees and occasionally an elbow, and of course, sometimes my face. But I was undeterred. Those eight wheels were freedom, like flying. And if the scrape didn’t take my breath away and make me feel like I was going to cry, I waited to share it with my mother, should she decide I had had enough.

The skates were my parents answer to a bicycle. We were on the third floor and schlepping a bike down all those steps sounded like a chore to them and an impossible task for me, so I traveled on 8 wheels instead of two. The bike would have to wait until we lived less densely and closer to the earth.

How fun would it be to ride a bike in skates?!


21 Day Body Love Challenge – Skin Deep

Third grade

What color is your skin? It’s not white or black or yellow or red. It is on the spectrum of brown, everyone, everywhere. Some darker, some lighter, but all part of the brown family. Family. I’m a peachy ecru I think. My husband is a sagey tan. My yoga teacher is a light mocha and my date to the sixth grade banquet was 72% cacao dark chocolate.

If you thought this was going to be about sagging skin, smooth skin, wrinkled skin or freckled skin, you are mistaken. We have much bigger issues to address than the natural process of aging. We have a world to change.

So much ado over something that can’t be changed, but oh, how we try. If you’re pale you want to be tan. If you’re dark you want to be lighter. If you’re somewhere in the middle you want to be different or just like…someone else.

It’s very difficult to hide the color of your skin. I had an epiphanous experience in India a couple of years ago. Our little group of 20 white Americans was walking through the streets of a very small town of Indians. Everyone came out onto their stoops and balconies, got out of their cars and rickshaws, stopped what they were doing, lined the streets and stared at us. They were smiling and excited to see us, but it was still unnerving and, for the first time, I got it. What it’s like to truly be a minority. It changes your behavior.

I can only imagine what it would have felt like if we had been greeted with hate and ignorance instead of joy.

From fourth grade on, I grew up as a middle class white girl with blond hair in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. I was surrounded by people who looked a lot like me, different hair colors and slight variations on skin tone, except in the winter, we were all pasty.

Before fourth grade we lived in Maryland also in a suburb of Washington. Here, I was bussed to a “black school” so that we could integrate. It was the 70s. I was 7 and so I just got on whatever bus they told me to and went to school. Half of each of my classes from kindergarten through third grade was on the pale end of the spectrum, the other half the darker end. But to each other we were just kids. I don’t recall really knowing the difference.

My best friend was Monica, she was dark. She came to my birthday parties and was the darkest girl there. I went to hers and was the lightest girl there. We played with each other’s hair, roller skated together and played Barbie’s – white Barbie’s – together. She lived in a neighborhood with people who looked more like her and I, the same. We wished we lived closer together. I did not realize what an anomaly each of us was in the other’s lives until I looked back at photos from my birthday parties.

When we moved to Fairfax County I could count on one hand how many people in my class looked like Monica. Still I didn’t really notice. When do you suppose the prejudice gene develops?

As I was considering what to write about for skin it occurred to me that we are all just a shade of earth. Dirt. From pale sand to rich loamy soil, we are born of the earth, and back into the earth we will go. Dust to dust. To say I am white is to conjure an opposite of me. There is no opposite of me. There is only different from me. But our human brains struggle to categorize and parse, it helps us to understand. Somehow, somewhere in endeavoring to understand we picked favorites. And in so doing, we created prejudices.

Judging a person by the shade of their skin is like judging flowers based on their height. It just doesn’t make sense.

Go out, find the soil that matches your skin color and plunge your hands and heart deep into it. Become grounded in your own skin. Then go find soil that is far from your color and do the same. Blend them together, marvel at the beauty in the combination, plant new seeds and grow great magic.

“It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what colour my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man.” – John Lennon

[Photo: My third grade class. Hint: Monica and I are both in the middle row. She is on the left, I am on the right. I look pissed or mysterious, probably has something to do with what I’m wearing.]