When you have kids, there are many things you can’t avoid. And one of those, or many of those, as the case may be, are birthday parties.
Since becoming a dad for the first time a little more than seven years ago, I have been to almost every kind of kid party imaginable. Bouncy houses. Zoos. Gymnastics, uh, gyms. Nature centers. Parks. Pizza joints. Ice cream parlors. Even within the walls of someone’s actual house. I have eaten cake and tried to keep my kids under control in all of these locales.
But until a recent Saturday, there was a particular place I had never been for a kid’s birthday party. This was a place with music, lights, hardwood flooring, and some very necessary wheeled equipment without which the main activity would have been impossible. Something that my kids had never done, and which I’m pretty sure I hadn’t done since Ronald Reagan was president.
We went roller skating.
In 2016, it might be hard to believe, but there was once a time when roller skating threatened to take over the world. And it did take over some of the streets of Southern California, at least in the 1979 movie “Roller Boogie”, which starred Linda Blair, who was still a hot property five years after her head-turning role in “The Exorcist”. Yes, there was once an era when movies a movie made around a plot involving little more than young adults on roller skates. What can I say? People did a lot of cocaine back in the 70s.
I did my fair share of roller skating back in the day, and almost exclusively at Tiffany’s skating rink in downtown Puyallup, Wash. This was you typical suburban skating palace, where my friends and I would go from time to time. It always seemed like there were a million bell-bottomed high-school kids out on the rink, which made it super crowded, yet didn’t stop that one dude from bombing around the place, forwards and backwards, like Apolo Ohno on wheels. There were always a few couples making out on the benches and we lived in fear of all the girls when it came time to pair up for the slow-song skate. I’m pretty sure half the high school kids also smoked inside the place.
As time has passed, roller skating’s popularity has faded. Oh, it’s still around, but getting to a rink isn’t necessarily easy. Which is why when we went skating the other day, we had to drive 40 miles to get to the place.
And I have to admit that we probably wouldn’t have made that sojourn if our daughters hadn’t been invited their friend’s sixth birthday party, held at the Redwood Roller Rink in Redwood City, Calif. But, like mountaineers who climb Everest “because it’s there”, when your kids get invited to a birthday party, you go to where the party is. Even if that party is at the one roller rink that’s 40 miles away.
For a kid who came of age in the Reagan Era, roller skating is a true throwback to a simpler time. Like Donkey Kong, VHS tapes and drive-in theaters, roller skating, as I know it, is something that can only be of a particular period. And before I strapped my skates on for this party, I honestly don’t think I had been rollerskating since Reagan was president. As such, it didn’t surprise me at all when the DJ played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I half-expected Kelly, my ninth grade crush, to start making laps around the rink.
However, that was more than 30 years ago. And instead of trying to sneak a kiss from her, I found myself trying to shove my daughters’ reluctant feet into a set of four-wheel-drive shoes perfectly designed to direct the girls face-and butt-first into the rink’s concrete-hard floor.
The thing about roller skates is this: We are not meant to travel with five pounds of metal and hard rubber wheels strapped onto the bottoms of our feet. Just go inside any Starbucks and you’ll find that most people can’t even stand still without staggering into someone be else. Put some skates on most people’s feet and you end up with a human pileup worse than any highway crash. My seven-year-old, Maddo, seemed to understand this right away, which is why when she first got on the rink, she hugged the wall tighter than she holds her blankie that she can’t sleep without.
But, Maddo is pretty fearless. After less than half a lap she was on her own. She wasn’t perfect, and did a lot of the stomp-and-roll method that many first-time skaters employ. And I stayed near her, usually skating about 20 feet in front in a vain effort to get some cool action photos of the kid. Of course, her feet went out from under her a few times, but she never let any slip stop her. In fact, the only time she took a break during the party was when she needed to check out the tables loaded with party favors. Because, of course, what every first-grader and her parents need is another handful of temporary tattoos.
Little Sis, who is five, showed a little more trepidation, but still eased her way out onto the rink. She was assisted by my wife, The Thoroughly Awesome Ms. Crums, who may have been the only one of use with any brains, as she never allowed any skates to touch her feet the whole time we were at the party. As time went on, both girls got a little braver and moved away from the wall. I held their hands a lot, but I also gave them room to skate around by themselves, too. Late in the party, they were both out there roller-stepping their way around with some of their friends.
And then it happened. The Crash.
Oh, it didn’t involve either of my girls. No, this happened to the one person in our posse who was probably the most-fearless of all: Me.
And it wasn’t because I was doing something stupid like trying to zoom backwards while zig-zagging between cones and kids. No, I was standing by one wall, watching Maddo do her thing when out of nowhere, my feet decided they would rather be up in the air and my butt needed to smash against the floor. And like anyone who falls, I put my hands behind me to brace for the impact, but that did no good. My right palm smacked hard on the floor and came away redder than hell. My right butt check may have hit even harder, as I landed on my wallet, which instead of being full of cash, was thick with old receipts and losing lottery tickets. So much for padded protection.
I certainly didn’t have the skills of those skaters whose photos of them performing in national and international championships were all over one wall. Still, I managed to pick myself up and get back in the rink. But, I’m older than that kid who spun around Tiffany’s in high school. The aches and pains were worse the next day, and a thick line of purple emerged along the base of my hand.
My daughters though, were emboldened by their rookie roller experience. Both began imploring us for a birthday party at the rink, even though the nearest birthday for either is seven months away. Since they change their minds at least once a day about what kind of birthday party they want, they have moved on from rollerskating to a bouncy house to Kung Fu Panda to a “Princess Fairy Baking” shindig, whatever that may entail.
Something tells me that as much as my girls liked rolling around the rink, my birthday-party bucks will be better spent on some Cinderella-style plastic glass slippers than a set of roller derby four-wheelers.