Frances Badalamenti: Skate Mommy

I would hop on a vacant board and carve the fuck out of the empty parking lot, a huge smile painted across my face.  It always felt like a warm day in the sun when I was on a skateboard.  It was like all the shit at home, my depressed and broke-ass mom, my OCD stepmother, my checked out finger-snapping father, all of that garbage decomposed into the ground when the four wheels hit the concrete.

The first boy I made out with was a skateboarder. The kid I lost my virginity to was a skateboarder. My first two legit boyfriends were skateboarders and so are the two men that I married.  And now my only kid is a skateboarder.  I made a skateboarder, I tell people.

SkateMommy

I got my first skateboard when I was in middle school.  It was a sunny late autumn weekend afternoon and my dad and I loaded into the expansive, pleather front bench seat of his gold Ford LTD and we drove through suburban Jersey back roads to a strip mall. The two of us, a spaced out jazz musician and a sick mess of pre adolescence, walked into the overly lit Kmart with the blaring Muzac on overhead speakers and we headed to the back of the store towards the multiple rows of shitty bikes.  I remember the smell of rubber tires.  I remember my body shaking with excitement.  It was a birthday gift; I was turning twelve and it was 1984.  I don’t even think that there were any skate shops yet, at least not anywhere near where we lived in the bowels of Jersey.

When I finally caught sight of the shelf of skateboards, I grabbed one and turned the board over in the store.  My dad had a look on his face like he did when I bought AC/DC’s Back in Black on tape at the town thrift store for fifty cents.  The skateboard’s graphic was diabolical, a dragon with a giant flame coming out of its mouth. Psychotic! That’s garbage, he had said to me about the music.  You don’t need that crap, he told me.  With the skateboard, he just shook his head.  He knew things at home were not good for me, so he wasn’t going to give me shit, he wanted to make me happy.  The skateboard was called a Nash Executioner.  I cradled it in my arms like a baby as we headed towards the register.

And then I rode that plank of a motherfucker up and down the driveway at my dad’s house for days on end.  Life inside the innards of that house sucked pretty hard and when my mom dropped me off on a Friday and because I knew that I had a solid forty-eight hours to kill until she picked me up on Sunday — it was the skateboard with the psycho graphics that was my only solace. Wheels, wood, metal and concrete.  Something about the glide was so freeing, the wind whipping through my busted mall haircut blew the stink out of the emotional turmoil that swirled around my confused-as-fuck pre-teen world.

When I got to high school a few towns over, my closest comrades became dude skateboarders and BMX cyclists.  I became the girl with the crimped bangs and the cropped t-shirt and the billowing army pants who was always found sitting on the curb.  I never took to shredding hard, never learned tricks, never dropped into a ramp.  I stayed true to the simple glide, so while the man-boys were crying and breaking their boards in half because they couldn’t pull a 180-grind or a 50-50 boneless, I would hop on a vacant board and carve the fuck out of the empty parking lot, a huge smile painted across my face.  It always felt like a warm day in the sun when I was on a skateboard.  It was like all the shit at home, my depressed and broke-ass mom, my OCD stepmother, my checked out finger-snapping father, all of that garbage decomposed into the ground when the four wheels hit the concrete.

The first boy I made out with was a skateboarder. The kid I lost my virginity to was a skateboarder. My first two legit boyfriends were skateboarders and so are the two men that I married.  And now my only kid is a skateboarder.  I made a skateboarder, I tell people.

This past summer, when I picked my son up at a skate park near our home in Northeast Portland, I began weeping.  I had signed him up for a skateboarding camp.  My husband, a skateboarder for life, was resistant about the whole thing.  John is a DIY type person who thinks you don’t need anyone to help you with anything in life.  He grew up a true loner in boring ass Phoenix and all he had for most of his childhood was the couch and the television until he finally found his way to skating and The Cure during his teen years.  I could tell that he thought the skate camp would be lame and dorky.  A bunch of uncoordinated little kids crammed into oversized helmets, their lanky limbs ensconced in thick pads.  But our kid, who is nine, was willing to go face to face with the unknown.  Let’s just see how it goes, I had said.  See if he takes to it, I told my husband.  They had rolled around together on skateboards for years, but my husband had never pushed our son to learn any tricks, had not yet taken him to a proper skate park.

So when I picked up my son at skate camp on that warm sunny afternoon, when I saw him rolling around solo in the concrete bowl, I was brought to tears.  Here’s my kid, no longer a baby crawling between my feet in kitchen pulling all the pots off the shelves. Here he is, no longer a toddler throwing himself on the ground at Whole Foods in the midst of a tantrum.  No longer is he a kindergartner pulling at my pant-leg, crying like an Italian widow at the door of the classroom.  Here is my boy, doing what I did when I was a sad, lost preteen from a broken ass home, feeling the magical glide of four wheels on a plank of wood.  I saw his smile and I knew exactly what he was feeling, because I have felt the same joy many times – on concrete, on snow, on water. I know the magic well.

For the remainder of the summer and into the fall, I found myself again sitting on curbs.  I hovered on the edge of concrete bowls, wandered the circumference of skate parks, drove around town looking for empty parking lots.  It had been a good couple of decades since I last wore my Skate Betty badge of honor.  And because I took that coveted pledge those years ago, I know that how bad it hurts when the body hits concrete because I have nursed many wounds, massaged many bruised egos.  I cried a lot when I first learned how to snowboard, I kept telling my son.  I would sit in the deep cold snow and weep icy tears, I told him.  He bailed a lot when he was first learning how to skate.  There was a lot of blood and a shit-ton of bruising.  I cleaned and bandaged his wounds and I rubbed his muscles with arnica, drew him hot Epson salt baths.  And I called on all my old skateboarder friends and asked them if they remember falling a lot when they were first learning how to skate.  I still cry when I fall, my friend Jamie, who started skating over thirty years ago, told me.  You’re never too old to want your mommy, he said.  My husband showed our son all of his veteran skateboarding scars.  And the best part is that no matter how much it hurt to bail, the kid kept getting back on the board, getting better and going bigger.

When I think back to the time of my life when I would roll up and down the driveway at my dad’s house on the Nash Executioner, when I would sit on the edge of empty pools in Jersey backyards, when I would carve around empty parking lots on a hot summer night with my best friends – I can’t imagine a life without skateboarding and without the people who ride skateboards in it.  And even though skateboarding is about to be a legit Olympic sport, alongside snowboarding and surfing, there is a raw edge to skating that differentiates it from those other sports.  We are the artists, the mavericks, the renegades.  And I am proud as shit that my kid is now indoctrinated into the secret club, that I have now graduated from Skate Betty to Skate Mommy.  You’re gonna be a soccer mom, my dad told me a few years ago.  No I’m not, I said.  Not gonna happen, I told him.

FrancesPortrait   Frances was born and raised in Queens, New York and Suburban New Jersey, but she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son.  She has completed a full-length memoir and is currently at work on a collection of short fiction.  Musings and more can be found at:  francesbadalamenti.com

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