What Are Adults For, After All?

THERE'S rarely a happier moment than when those family members in the 9-to-10 age range discover adult proficiency. The reason probably is that most grown-up activities are taken for granted. You know - driving a car, fixing a blown fuse, unclogging a stuck drain, getting rid of lawn gophers, mounting a basketball hoop in the driveway, locating mislaid schoolbooks, remembering birthdays, setting up allowances vis-`a-vis chores, repairing bike chains, mending torn backpacks. There's just a host of adult activities like these that go on all the time. That's the way it is. And that's probably what adults are for, if anyone in the 9-to-10 age group stops to think about it.

It doesn't occur - especially to those 9- or 10-year olds - that there may be other hidden (and even more glamorous) accomplishments to be found in family adults. No one asks; no one finds out. But sometimes these come out as a surprise.

An experience we had was like that.

We live in a temperate climate - little and only occasional snow, temperatures rarely below 35 degrees, some rain, some intermittent winter sunshine. Consequently, we have only outdoor sports that fit the climate. To ski, alpine or cross-country, you go up into the mountains. Lakes, ponds, creeks, and streams near us never gloss over with shoreline ice crystals, much less freeze solid all the way across. So nobody here can even talk about outdoor ice skating.

That's why it was a real novelty when a new indoor ice rink opened in the vicinity. One of the first groups to sign up for participation was the Girl Scout troop to which our 9- to 10-year-olds belonged.

SHORTLY before the scheduled time to use the rink, there was a problem. More adults were needed to drive cars, more adults were needed to bring the sandwiches and hot chocolate for afterward, and more adults were needed to organize the individual assessments for the rink expense.

We said we'd go. (There was an unasked question in the air: What are adults for?) We said we might even skate a little.

Oh, please, no. Just do the duty stuff, we were told.

Long before 9 or 10 years ago (a time which offspring rarely ask about because it was a time they feel never existed), we parents were young adults in the winter cold of New England. Everyone had skates - tubes or speeds or figures - and winter afternoons and weekends were spent skating outdoors on flooded tennis courts, in parks with ponds, and on long banked edges when rivers froze solid.

Maybe at one time or another, we were asked about those times. Probably once when our old tied-together skates came clunking out of a packing carton on a family move. But the interest wasn't deep enough to probe further. Yet, the interest in the group-night at the new rink was deep. Correct costumes were being planned, heavy socks located, size of rental skates estimated, and skating techniques discussed. The 9- to 10-year-olds had seen figure skating on TV in all its charm, grace, and ease. They, too, would float away to music - backward, forward in breathtaking circles and lovely convoluted ice figures, they were sure.

It didn't happen that way, as anyone who has tried ice skating for the first time knows. A neophyte is lucky to get two solid feet on the ice while holding on desperately to the boards. And here, even the best skates turn down at the ankles.

Our background saved everything.

Somehow you never forget how to push off effortlessly, gliding right, gliding left, once you step out on the ice. We took a couple round-the-rink turns. And we were - to be sure - the focus of the whole group's eyes. And close to the ice entrance, there were groups of threes and fours bunched up clamoring for our attention or at least lean-on assistance.

Our 9- to 10-year-olds were basking in the reflected glory.

``Why sure,'' one said, ``of course they can dance on skates, backward, even. They won a medal once, I think.''

Adult proficiency can be such a pleasant surprise. For everyone.

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