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Why We Need A Canine Co-Rabbi

Google image of a Rabbinical dog. What do you think?

Would this little guy make you want to go to synagogue? (not my picture)

Almost from the beginning of my time at the synagogue three years ago, I’ve been talking to the rabbi about dogs. I don’t remember how it started. Maybe I brought in a picture of Butterfly and Cricket right after we adopted Butterfly from the shelter, maybe it was because I’d heard about his dog, who’d died just a few years before we arrived, and was well known by the congregation, playing a role in rabbinical stories over her long tenure as canine in residence. And maybe it’s because, going to the rabbi’s house for a new members evening, I noticed that pictures of the dog were as prominent as pictures of his daughters, meaning, she was family.

"We are family!"

“We are family!”

He made it clear that he wants a smallish dog, but not too small, hypoallergenic, because he always has people at his house and doesn’t want anyone to get sick, and she has to be a girl. He has two daughters, so he knows he gets along well with girls, but maybe he also wants to avoid the marking and humping young male dogs can do. I did not ask.

I gave him a list of hypoallergenic, or supposedly hypoallergenic, dogs, and we went over it, a year and a half ago.

Talking about dogs is a neutral zone where I can offer the rabbi my attention and concern, without feeling like I’m invading his privacy. There’s such a strange dynamic with teachers and rabbis and therapists, where you create a bond and naturally want to know more about them, but their privacy is meant to be protected, and it feels like I am puffing myself up imagining that I know anything or have the right to care about whether or not he has a dog.

Once a year, dogs play a role in the ritual life of the congregation when they come to the pond on Rosh Hashanah. The ritual of Tashlich is about tossing our sins into the water to let go of them and start the new year fresh. At our synagogue we toss birdseed instead of the traditional bread, which supposedly chokes the birds. I guess the dogs are invited, because with all of the goose poop, no one will notice if they pee or poop on the grass.

"Where should we pee?"

“Where should we pee?”

But once a year is not enough if we want the dogs to get to know each other and develop their own roles in the congregation. We need a rabbinical dog to lead the rest of the dogs in finding their place in the community, whether it be helping kindergarteners learn to read, helping bar and bat mitzvah kids practice in front of a friendly congregation, or offering help to dogs who need it.

We need a rabbinical dog, a small, well trained, friendly, hypoallergenic dog, who can walk through the crowd offering consolation and sweetness and reminders of dogs at home. Just like a rabbi is often a stand in for the good parent you either had or needed.

The rabbinical dog could sniff each congregant’s dog, have private meetings with those in need of further consultation, and maybe plan a few more events during the year for the sake of dog/human families who otherwise have to go to shul without half of the family.

"Why can't we go with you?"

“Why can’t we go with you?”

I think the only real problem with dogs in the synagogue, other than peeing on the carpet, is that there is often food, especially cake and cookies and chocolate. We are in great danger of setting up the oneg on Friday night, going into services, and coming back an hour and a half later to an empty buffet table and sick dogs.

Butterfly is always hungry.

Butterfly is always hungry.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

The Choir

 

I joined the choir at my synagogue a few years ago, when I was still a one-dog-woman, battling wills with Cricket, and needing somewhere else to be every once in a while, preferably with humans. At the first choir rehearsal of the summer, the cantor handed me a loose-leaf filled with the High Holiday music, and then he had to rush off to answer someone else’s questions. I didn’t even know where to sit.

I wandered around until the musical director introduced herself. As soon as she told me her name, I recognized her as my elementary school music teacher, and started to panic. She was a bit of a… let’s just say she had a tendency to be critical. She didn’t really remember me, but reminisced about other students she really liked over the years. When she asked if I was an alto or a soprano, I said, “somewhere in between,” and she sat me with the altos, because there were only two of them.

The rehearsal started inauspiciously, with a song I had never heard before that required the altos to sing something entirely unlike a melody. The next hour and a half was pure panic and confusion, for me, and boring repetition mixed with endless criticism for everyone else. When I tried to stand up at the end, I couldn’t balance and fell back down into my seat, and when the musical director came over and asked if I was okay, I started to sob.

Partly it was the adrenalin let down after my 90 minute panic attack, but also, I’d been having seizure-like episodes and walking problems for a while by then, so my balance was unreliable. Mom was there to drive me home, and as she walked me out of the sanctuary, the musical director walked out with us, talking non-stop. She said that I was brave to have tried, but choir isn’t for everyone, which made me cry harder. I tried to suck it up and smile and pretend I was fine, but she kept talking to me and the tears kept coming.

When I got home, I was determined to show her that I could stick it out. I put my new loose-leaf full of music on my bed and took out my guitar and picked out the first song in the book note by note. Cricket jumped up on the bed and pawed at the guitar strings. The sound stunned her, but she pawed again, and seemed to think she had discovered a monster hidden inside of the guitar. She is not a fan of monsters, other than herself, so she jumped off the bed in search of safer adventures.

Cricket's suspicious face.

Cricket’s suspicious face.

I practiced the High Holiday songs every day, with Cricket nearby but suspicious. None of the music was familiar to me, and I wasn’t used to four part harmony at all, but I pushed myself to go to the next rehearsal. The people who recognized me were surprised to see me again, and when the musical director came over, she looked at me like I was a fourth-grader who’d just peed on the floor. She said she was glad to see me, and I chose to believe her.

"You pee on the floor too, Mommy?"

“You pee on the floor too, Mommy?”

I thought I would be better prepared this time, but of course we only sang the songs I hadn’t practiced yet. I didn’t cry after the second rehearsal though, that was my big triumph.

I went to the next rehearsal, and the next, but I never seemed to catch up. There were different altos at each rehearsal, so I didn’t get to know anyone very well, and the row of bases behind me was completely filled, and loud, so I could barely hear my own voice to figure out what I was singing.

Cricket thinks fluffy hair would help me block out the bases behind me.

Cricket thinks fluffy hair would help me block out the other singers.

In between rehearsals, my neurologist was testing me for everything under the sun, but finding nothing. I was having a lot of trouble walking Cricket, even around the block, and the butterflies in my stomach during choir rehearsals were turning into pterodactyls and trying to rip me open from the inside.

Cricket, leading the way, dragging me with her.

Cricket, leading the way, dragging me behind her.

By the end of August, the Neurologist was convinced that my problems were all psychological, and that I should try anti-depressants because he saw no physiological cause for my symptoms. He wanted me to see a psychiatrist from his group, but my insurance refused to cover it. They would, on the other hand, cover a hospital stay.

At first I was adamant that I would not go into a hospital: because I didn’t want to be away from Mom and Cricket, because I didn’t want to be watched all day, and because I did not believe I was crazy. But the choir rehearsals were setting off long forgotten pockets of dread that I could not squash, so, when Mom asked me, for the 72nd time, if I would please go to the hospital, I looked at the looming dates of the High Holiday services, and finally said yes.

That was more than two and a half years ago, and my neurological problems are still undiagnosed, though the anti-depressants have made other things easier. Butterfly arrived after my attempt to join the choir had ended, and after the guitar was zipped in its case and hidden in the back of the closet, and I wonder sometimes if I would have handled things differently if I’d already had Butterfly at home. But the fact is, I don’t sing to Butterfly at all! I’ve always thought that the one kind of singing I’d be able to do is to sing to my children, and yet here she is, big floppy ears at the ready, and I don’t sing to her.

Butterfly's big ears.

Butterfly’s big floppy ears are ready.

I do sing, but only when everyone around me is singing too. I look forward to the special Friday night services at my synagogue, when a full band comes to play, because with all of the singing and clapping and drums and amps, I can sing full out and not worry that everyone will hear me.

And it feels wonderful. It really does.

"Don't worry, Mommy. We're ignoring you."

“Don’t worry, Mommy. We’re ignoring you.”

I Want To Write A Mystery

 

My second master’s program was mostly on-line with two one-week residencies on campus per year, but that one week was so packed with intrigue and drama and mental illness; it was like setting up and taking down a circus tent, twice a year. I’ve been thinking about writing a mystery set there, because the campus becomes like a small town, with a lot of viable suspects and a ticking clock. The characters are vivid and verbal and often jealous and unpredictable. And then there’s the irony of setting a mystery in an environment where they look down on genre writing, and mysteries in particular.

"Can we come too?"

“What?”

But I struggle with mystery plots in the same way I struggled with chess as a kid. My father expected me to learn the strategy just by watching him play, and expected me to be a grand master within a few days, maybe a week. I felt stupid for not being able to think three moves ahead; I didn’t understand why one piece was more valuable than another, or why each piece had different rules; and I felt an undeniable empathy with the pawns, because they were small, like me, and easily sacrificed.

Despite reading endless mysteries, and reading endless books on how to write mysteries, I do not even know where to start. I went through a severe addiction to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie that has never really ended, I just ran out of new material to feed it. Lately I’ve been reading Deborah Crombie, Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Donna Andrews, Henning Mankell, J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith, Louise Penny and Charles Todd. I want to be Sherlock Holmes, with a nicer disposition. But so far, my brain has not rewired itself into puzzle-solving-mode.

My other possible mystery setting is my synagogue. I’d love for the sleuth to be an eighty-year-old woman, or a middle-aged rabbi, or both of them together. And the senior citizens in the bible study class (retired doctors, and lawyers, and teachers, and social workers) could help decipher the clues. But I worry it might seem as if I’m writing about specific people, and that could get me into trouble.

"Uh oh."

“Uh oh.”

My mystery would, of course, have to have a dog in it. Even a fictional dog calms me down, reduces my stress level, and reminds me about what’s important and what isn’t. There could be a German shepherd who is more wayward puppy than officious guard dog (I couldn’t train even a fictional dog to be well behaved. I just don’t have it in me); there could be a yapping Yorkie biting at the criminal’s ankle to slow him down; or a sweet Great Dane sitting by her dead owner’s side; or a black Lab sniffing for clues and finding the murder weapon under a pile of leaves.

This is not my picture, but I'd love to put this puppy in a novel.

This is not my picture, but I’d love to put this puppy in a novel.

Lilah the Black Lab, and my niece, is an expert sniffer!

Lilah the Black Lab, and my niece, is an expert sniffer!

I used to think about using Cricket as my detective and writing a children’s mystery. Cricket would make a wonderful Sherlock Holmes; she’d even look good in the hat. She has all of the characteristics of the irascible, obnoxious detective who doesn’t get along with other people, but she would be a terrible police dog, not at all reassuring to the populace.

Detective Cricket is on the job!

Detective Cricket is on the job!

Detective Cricket is always looking out for danger!

Detective Cricket is always looking out for danger!

Detective Cricket is, um, easily distracted.

Detective Cricket is, um, easily distracted.

I’d love to write a detective like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. I’ve watched every episode of that show, at least three times. She is smart and stands her ground, but she’s had many disappointments in life, including never having children of her own, like me. She’s unassuming and uncool, and has to stand her ground against people who don’t believe her, but she doesn’t doubt herself or what she saw, or what she deduced. She’s friendly with everyone but doesn’t mind confrontations when necessary.

My detective would not be quite like that. She would need to take naps, first of all, and she’d have trouble with heights, and social anxiety. She’d have to sit down a lot, and maybe she’d need a driver. So, a female Nero Wolfe, but, again, with a nicer disposition.

Detective Cricket and deputy Butterfly, ready for anything.

Detective Cricket and deputy Butterfly, ready for anything.

Dylan’s Cafe

Dylan’s Cafe

 

It was too cold to go to Washington, D.C. this year to visit my great aunt. We’ve gone the past two winters, in January, but this year the visit was scheduled for late in February, when Washington, D.C. was basically shut down from the snow. So we stayed home, and huddled indoors with the dogs because each time we went outside I felt like someone was carving my ears off with a spoon.

Butterfly made a snow heart with her feet.

Butterfly made a snow heart with her feet.

I missed getting to see my great aunt, and her daughter, and her granddog Zoe, but Butterfly, at least, was grateful to miss the long car ride, and Cricket sniffed every inch of the snow to make up for not getting to sniff Zoe. And in my mind, I did end up travelling to D.C., remembering my first visit to the city, way back before my great aunt moved there to dote on her grandson and granddog.

Sweet Zoe

Sweet Zoe.

All three girls on a previous visit.

All three girls on a previous visit.

I was barely seventeen and my cousin Sarah wanted to go to D.C. the day before Thanksgiving, to take pictures of the white house at night. I had just dropped out of college two weeks earlier, and Sarah thought I needed an escape.

We stopped at a candy store before the trip, and loaded up on gummy worms and jelly beans to balance out the bag of potato chips and the diet soda, and then we drove down to D.C., singing along to Bonnie Raitt and the Black Crows. I don’t know what my cousin and I talked about for five hours in the car, but we had a great time. She is ten years older than me, and was therefore a font of worldly wisdom. She was one of the only people who took my dropping out of college in stride. She never blamed me, or made light of it. She just cared about me and wanted me to feel better.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags and went out to the movies. We saw Bette Midler in For the Boys on a huge curved screen with a red velvet curtain in front of it. It was the kind of theatre that felt magical, instead of like a box with seats in it.

Me and Bette Midler

Me and Bette Midler. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

It was dark out when the movie ended but we were too keyed up to go back to the hotel. We joined the crowds walking around Georgetown, window shopping and people watching. When I saw a sign that said “Dylan’s Café” I stopped. For background, you need to know that Beverly Hills, 90210 had just come on TV the summer before, and I was in love with it in a way I cannot explain, or even understand, today. And the cool guy character on the show was named, of course, Dylan.

My cousin said we had to go in. The café was up a set of stairs and when we found out there was live music – two guys with guitars – we had to stay. And, according to my cousin, I had to have a drink. I don’t even remember what kind of music they played; whatever it was originally, it was played on two acoustic guitars so it didn’t end up sounding like heavy metal.

The guitar guys

The guitar guys. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

There weren’t many people at the tables, so Sarah went over to chat with the lead singer and his sister between sets, and requested a James Taylor song for me. The guitar guys sang Fire and Rain, which, with lines like, “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,” felt like it had been chosen just for me.

Important lessons learned at Dylan’s cafe: wine coolers make for the worst headaches; and a cute guy with a guitar trumps even the worst headache.

That trip brought me back to life. For one long day and night in D.C., I didn’t have to argue with anyone; I didn’t have to be lonely, or work at things that seemed meaningless; and I didn’t have to give in to authority figures who had none of my best interests at heart. I thought, maybe, life could be fun and interesting, and filled with music and cute boys. Maybe I could transfer to Georgetown and study Political science. Maybe I could learn to play guitar and sing in a band. Anything seemed possible.

The White house, in the morning. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

The White house, in the morning.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Democracy. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Democracy.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

We almost missed Thanksgiving dinner, because we wanted to do some sight-seeing on Thursday morning. Sarah hadn’t gone to sleep at all, because of the late night taking-pictures-of-the-white-house thing, so we turned the music up and kept the windows open to keep her awake as she drove across chilly New Jersey in the dark. We made it home before all of the food was gone, and Dina, my black lab mix, gave me a greeting as if I’d been gone for years instead of just a day.

Dina. Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

Dina.
Photo by Sarah Feinsmith

I might have forgotten my night in D.C. once I got home and back into the reality of my life, but Sarah made a photo album of the trip for me, to remind me that I could be happy, and that wonderful things could happen at any moment. And I realized that, even if I was not going to have the smooth path forward in life that I’d expected, the bumpy road might hold a few good surprises along the way.

Sugar

I love sugar. Well, not straight sugar. I was never a big fan of Pixie Stix, or rock candy, or sugar cubes. But I love chocolate frosting and Nutella and Twizzlers and marzipan. I like candy in every color and shape and size. When I first watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was pretty sure it was a vision of heaven. I don’t like bitter or sour very much, savory is good, salty is okay, but sweet is my thing. Sushi was a wonderful discovery, because it looked and tasted like candy but had actual food value.

One winter, Mom and I took a series of cake decorating classes. They were inexpensive, and once a week, at the local Michael’s craft store, and once we finished level one, we went on for levels two and three, and would have done level four if it had been offered. I loved making cakes, and frosting, and doing crumb coats, and lattice work. I learned how to make royal icing flowers, and animal characters out of fondant and marzipan, and experimented with Nutella cream cheese frosting. I made chess pieces and roses out of molded chocolate, and white chocolate molded flour pots with chocolate frosted dirt. I tried to make petit fours and failed miserably.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

The trouble with petit fours is, even after you find the right recipe for the cake, so that it’s moist but not delicate, you need a sure hand for the cutting and placing of layers, and then you need to be willing to waste a lot of icing by pouring it over the cakes on a wire rack so that the excess pools underneath. This is where Cricket came in, waiting for the overflow to overflow.

"You can start pouring, Mommy."

“You can start pouring, Mommy.”

Cricket was an only dog during the cake decorating winter, and she made full use of her prominent place next to the table, standing by the edge as the icing dripped onto her head, or jumping as high as she could to reach the counter to inspect whatever was going on up there. She cried and scratched at Grandma’s leg to get access to the mixer as it rumbled and tumbled and created glossy white frosting. She’s not especially dexterous with her paws, so she couldn’t participate in molding marzipan figurines, but she loved to help with clean up whenever something fell on the floor. We all had a great time that winter.

Cricket, after icing removal.

Cricket, after icing removal.

But, my father developed adult onset diabetes by the time he was the same age as I am now. In fact, his brother and father also developed diabetes, and then diabetic neuropathy and strokes, and a whole host of other problems, so it is definitely in my genes. I focus on moderation, and go to doctors regularly, and eat my vegetables, and take the medications I’m required to take. I use a lot of vegetables in my cooking, because I like my food to be colorful: red and yellow and orange peppers, tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, red onions, and French green beans, and perfect heads of broccoli cut into individual trees. But I worry.

I am always being told to cut sugar out of my diet completely, that it will solve all of my health, mood, intellectual, spiritual and whatever other problems I may have, immediately, and I will have the energy of a cheetah.

This, of course, is never true. I try it, I suffer, I keep trying, and then I stop. And whether I’ve tried the diet for two weeks or two months or two years, someone is always certain that if I just tried a little bit longer it would all work out and I would be perfect. I’ve tried sugar free, and dairy free, gluten free, and wheat free, and it’s all terrible and squeezes my brain until there is not even one drop of serotonin left and life is not worth living. Mom tells me that too much sugar makes her feel sick and tired, but I’ve never felt that way myself. I might refuse to notice such a thing.

My father went on a high protein diet, eventually, to try and manage his diabetes and ate mostly chicken and spinach. This would not work for me at all, but it would be Butterfly’s ideal, without the spinach. Butterfly, my ten year old Lhasa Apso, has diabetes too, but her diabetes is more like type one, or juvenile onset diabetes in humans, and is controlled by twice daily insulin shots. She also has a special diabetic-friendly kibble and eats a lot of chicken, though not as much as she’d like.

"Yummies?!"

“Yummies?!”

She doesn’t look or act sick, unless her sugar gets very low, and then she gets maple syrup on her gums and she bounces back. It’s a relief to know what’s wrong with her and how to fix it. For Butterfly, sugar is directly related to how she feels every day; no matter how much she craves things like pizza crusts and pancakes and bread, which were among her favorite things in the world before her diagnosis last year, she’s better off, and happier, without them.

The same isn’t true for me. There is no diet that will fix what’s wrong with me, at least that I know of. And while, theoretically, I’d be healthier overall without sugar, I would not be happier, or even happy at all, with a diet like that. I tend to think, and I know this is not the prevailing view, that a little bit more sugar in our diets might help us like each other a little bit more. Maybe I should try to make those petit fours again, and pass them out to my neighbors. I just have to make sure that the icing doesn’t drip to Butterfly’s level. She’d be licking the floor for days.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

The Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

 

My synagogue, periodically, runs an adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah class. Mostly women take the class, because it is mostly women who missed out on the chance to have their own Bat Mitzvah back when they were 12 or 13. The current class has about 13 people in it, ranging in age from early forties to early eighties. There’s one man and the rest are women.

The one man in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class is a non-Jew. He and his Jewish wife have a son in the Hebrew school and are very involved in the synagogue, and he started the classes as an opportunity to better understand the religion his wife loved and his son was learning in school. He took Hebrew language classes, and learned the prayers and history and philosophy, and gradually, through his own process, he decided that this was his community, that he would convert and become a Jew. But the fact is, he could have decided otherwise, and that would have been okay too, with the rabbis, with his wife and son, and with the community at large (for the most part).

The work he put into this, not knowing for sure how it would turn out, is what I respect so much, rather than the outcome. There’s something about having two years set aside, with teachers and fellow students and a set goal that everyone values, that I really want for myself. Graduate school was sort of like that, but more expensive. I’d love to have a two year program to learn how to deal with Cricket, with a group of peers going through all of the same difficulties. There’s a cocoon-like feeling to it, this group of people struggling towards the same goals and overcoming difficulties together, in a non-competitive environment. It’s the non-competitive-ness that appeals to me most, the idea that everyone is supposed to succeed, not just the cream of the crop. They don’t come out of this program with a degree, but I think it must be life changing, like my Bat Mitzvah was for me.

"My turn!"

“My turn!”

"I am so well trained!"

“I am so well trained!”

 

I loved my Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony itself, anyway. I didn’t love my party, or having my grandmother stay over in my room so that I had to sleep on the floor. I didn’t love my father spending months trying to convince me not to have a Bat Mitzvah at all, and the rabbis at my school complaining about the music and dancing planned for the after party on Saturday night. But I loved leading a whole Saturday morning service from beginning to end. I loved reading the Torah and chanting the Haftorah. I loved having my own congregation for a couple of hours.

My current congregation.

My current congregation.

There are four separate Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services being done, once a month throughout the winter, with three or four students running each, with the three clergy members there to preside and help. And their families come: grandchildren fly in from across the country; ninety-year-old mothers come from nursing homes to finally see their daughters Bat Mitzvahed; children and siblings and cousins and friends are all invited. And the rest of the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah students come to show their support, along with a few of us from the rest of the congregation, though not many. I went to the first of the four services, because one of the women asked specifically, and it was beautiful.

I didn’t grow up in a Reconstructionist synagogue. I didn’t even know what Reconstructionism might be. It sounded like a lot of work – like maybe we’d be building and tearing down houses every week. I’ve only been to this one Reconstructionist synagogue, so I can’t be sure if it is representative of the whole movement, but what I do know is that it is about being open minded, but rigorous. If you are going to adopt a ritual, or get rid of one, you should do your research, understand the history, understand your own reasons for your decision, and take the community into account before you proceed.

The only thing wrong with the synagogue is the prejudice against dog participation. There are no Bark-Mitzvahs, no dog-naming ceremonies, no doggy choir for the high holidays. Clearly, this is the next necessary level of innovation for the Reconstructionist movement. I’d bet more people would come to the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services if dogs were invited to participate. I’m just saying, it’s something for the membership committee to think about.

Butterfly wants this outfit in pink.

Butterfly would look great in this outfit, in pink.

"Um, I'm not so sure about that, Mommy."

“Um, I’m not so sure about that, Mommy.”

 

Skating Lessons

 

The ground has been very icy lately. Even when the snow starts out powdery soft, we end up with ice rinks on the grass within a day, and the girls seem to enjoy it. I’ve always wanted to take them ice skating, but indoor rinks don’t seem to welcome dogs.

"This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy."

“This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy.”

Cricket would be a terrible figure skater. She would be gripping the ice with her toe nails and hopping like a bunny rabbit, but maybe Butterfly would like the glide, just flying for a few seconds, and glorying in the curve.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

I took skating lessons as a kid at the local rink. We were separated by levels – alpha, beta, gamma, delta – and given one rectangle of ice for our group lessons. We wore snowsuits and white skates and gloves and hats. We learned snowplow stops, two foot turns and bunny hops, falling and standing up. But the rink was so cold, and I was uninspired. I never saw skating as something I could get better at.

But that changed when I was seventeen. I had gone to college, and run home screaming, and needed something therapeutic to do while I went to therapy. One day, in desperation, Mom suggested going ice skating, and we went, and I never wanted to leave. I spent the whole two hour session, in terrible blue plastic rental skates, loving it.

I went three days a week, took group lessons and then individual lessons, got my own white skates, and started to improve. But really I loved just skating around the rink. I loved the whoosh of the air, and the speed, and I loved that feeling of attachment to the ice – like a trolley car must feel. With walking and running, your goal is to push off of the ground, to get away from it, but skating is all about the ice and the blade coming together. You fly best when you are attached to the ice (unless you’re a female pair’s skater, in which case, God help you).

No!!!!!!!!!

No!!!!!!!!!

Eventually I had to go back to school and be responsible, and I couldn’t figure out what place skating had in my life. But I was still obsessed with watching skating on TV. For a few years there, the televised skating world was filled with wonderful, creative, emotional performances. Torvill and Dean did a program called Encounter, or January Stars, and it was extraordinary. Everything they did was wonderful, but that one haunts me. Scott Hamilton makes me laugh, Kurt browning makes me want to skate or dance or just watch him on an endless loop. Katya Gordeeva, either back in her pair days with Sergei Grinkov or in the aftermath, is exquisite and soul deep. Michelle Kwan made me cry and made my heart beat in sync with hers. They all have this ability to be inside of the music, wearing it like clothes.

katya and sergei

Katya and Sergei, way back when.

Mostly now we get repetitive Olympic eligible competitions, and packaged professional shows that all look the same, but every once in a while something wonderful happens: Meryl Davis blossoms into a beautiful and evocative ice dancer, Kurt Browning skates with his sons, Jeremy Abbot creates whole new styles of movement on the ice. Even if there are only one or two minutes of blissful skating in a whole two hour program, I can’t risk missing those two minutes.

I wish my girls could take figure skating lessons. I can picture them, bundled up in pink snowsuits, wearing four skates each, learning to glide and stop and turn, and hopefully not pee on the ice. Cricket would love to be able to jump, but she’d also be at risk for severely hurting herself, and others. Butterfly would follow her teacher and then sniff after the Zamboni as it cleaned the ice.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

Ditto.

Ditto.

They’d probably have to have the ice to themselves, because putting up orange traffic cones wouldn’t really stop Cricket from busting out into the crowd and going in the wrong direction and kicking her blades around. Maybe she’d do better with hockey skates, because they don’t have a toe pick on the front. Figure skates are serious weapons.

Those toepicks are vicious!

Those toepicks are vicious!

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

 

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