Skating Mom Shuffle / Shuttle


Skating moms. There wouldn’t be any skaters without them. (This is of course true of fathers as well, but for different, generally more background reasons.)  

Skating rinks differ from baseball fields, basketball courts, and tracks in that there usually isn’t one located right in your neighborhood. They also cost just “a bit” more to use and require equipment of a “slightly” more specific nature. But mainly, to get started with skating, you need a ride to get to an ice rink. As you become a better skater, the quest to get more ice time takes you to the rink more often (sometimes twice per day) and sometimes takes you further and further from your house. And who gets you there?

Most often, Mom.

My own mother drove my brother and I to all ends of the earth to help us expand our skating horizons. This started with 20-minute trips from our small farm town in Wisconsin to a rink in Madison. Because this rink was mostly dedicated to hockey, we started to go to Janesville Ice Arena 90 minutes away, where there were lots of freestyle sessions after school. Along the way, our mother contended with flat tires, dead batteries, blinding rain, snowdrifts, sheets of black ice and an occasional deer prancing across or standing on the highway. Eventually, on Fridays, we’d even trek all the way to Chicago, three hours away, for ice dance lessons. One summer, we packed our white station wagon to the gills and our mother drove us from Wisconsin all the way to Colorado Springs to skate at the Broadmoor. Another summer, she took us to Lake Placid, New York and eventually to Delaware where we ended up staying.

This was before Mapquest, or GPS navigation systems. To prepare for those cross-country trips, our mother would go to the local AAA office and pick up a pile of maps. Late at night, on our kitchen table, she’d use a marker to highlight the route the AAA agent had recommended and try to memorize the highway names and exit numbers. My brother was an expert co-pilot, helping her navigate from the passenger seat. In the backseat, I’d inexpertly try to re-fold the maps once we were done with them.

She also catered every single one of these trips, both long and short, with a smörgasbord of snacks including most often: carrots and celery, cheese sandwiches, and a whole orchard of fruit. My brother could peel an orange so that the rind came away in one piece and I spent many trips either copying him or carving out smiley faces in their sides as if they were jack-o-lanterns. On rare but splendid occasions, our mother would pick up fresh donuts from the Gobles, a bakery on Main Street. Every time I came to the car after school, I’d anxiously scan for that distinctive white bag containing the best donuts in the universe (well, they were the only donuts I’d ever had – I just knew they were far more exciting than celery.)

Of course chauffeur-ing is just one of the many duties of a skating mom but it’s arguably the most time-consuming and definitely important. Woody Allen said that, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up” and this is certainly true of skating. At home, skaters can study lots of skating videos, stretch their muscles on the livingroom floor, and guide themselves through as many visualization exercises as they want (not that any of these things happen very much), but the most essential thing is lacing up and getting on the ice.

To this end, I see my students getting dropped off at the rink’s front entrance with their skates already laced, their guards on, and snacks in hand. Their mothers wave to me as they peel out of the lot, many of them on their way to run errands, or to head back to work, or pick up another child from school in order to shuttle him or her to soccer, religious studies, or even ice hockey at another rink. 

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to interview Bonnie Gilles about what it’s like to have three rising skating stars in their family in addition to two children pursuing other goals. Years ago, they relocated from Rockford, Illinois to Colorado Springs in order to train. At Nationals this year, Todd, who skates with Jane Summersett, placed 6th in Senior Dance. Alexe won Junior Ladies and her twin sister, Piper, who skates with Tim McKernan, got 2nd in Junior Dance. Kemper, a junior in high school, is active in an educational program mentoring students with learning disabilities. Finally, Shelby, an 8th grader, is a budding tennis player, who is also involved with school plays and musicals.

When I asked her to share A Day in the Life of Bonnie Gilles, what she provided (included below) reminds me of those silent movies where the characters are moving at double-speed, accompanied by frantic music, like Flight of the Bumblebee. I have a feeling that, while her story is on the extreme end of the hectic spectrum, lots of mothers have endured days of a similarly dizzying nature. 

In order to fully appreciate the following excerpt, it’s important to realize that, at the time, Bonnie was on crutches due to a broken leg, an injury sustained from shoveling her driveway. During the week, her husband works in Oklahoma and comes home on the weekend. She has had her car for about six months and already has 15,000 miles on it.

So…On your marks, get set, go!:

Get up in the morning, get dressed, and get the kids and the dogs out. Todd goes to his car, which decides not to work. Several calls to dad and a rush to get everyone into my car …call Tim, Jane, Tim’s mom trying to get to Tim, and their coach Patti telling everyone we are going to be a little late. Drop my car off because it needs an oil change and the head beam light button is going off.  Fortunately they give me a loaner. Go back to the rink, pick up the girls to get some essentials at Target. Run home to drop off some groceries. Jane has thankfully brought Todd home to pick up his books for his class later in the day. Try to start Todd’s car again. No luck. Bring Piper back to the rink. Watch a little while and then bring Piper to the tutor. The car dealership calls that my car is ready.  Pick up my car, go back to the rink. Headlight beam light goes off again. Call the dealership and they will bring me the loaner back.  Orthodontist calls and tells me Kemper has an appointment the next day, which I promptly forget to tell him.  Fortunately, the tutor brings Piper home. I pick up Alexe at 5 and proceed to go home and try to make dinner. The kids check the weather channel and it looks like snow for tomorrow. They are always hoping for a two hour delay…

And that is exactly what happens: several inches of snow and a two hour delay but the dogs haven’t gotten that memo… they’re barking at the usual time to go out. Kemper is trying to shovel the driveway a little to get the cars out. This is the driveway I broke my leg on shoveling. Everyone is running late again. Todd’s car still won’t start, so we pile in my car. Shelby calls on the way to school with Kemper to see if I scheduled a haircut for her then Shelby calls again because she remembers she needs a protractor and can Kemper please take her to Office Depot…thank goodness for Kemper driving.  They have time because of the school delay.  Piper just figures out that when I switched cars with the dealership that we didn’t transfer her skates or her laptop. Call the dealership and they are willing to drive to the rink and bring her stuff.  DEEP BREATH! Finally remember that Kemper has the orthodontist appointment so call him at school and he makes it in time. It is now 9 AM. The sun is shining now though and the snow is beginning to melt so I can buzz around a little faster. The girls and Todd have decided to throw a going away party for a friend, so it is off to the grocery store. I hobble in on crutches, get a battery-operated cart, and away Piper and I go through the store. Run home, drop off groceries, check emails quick, and back to the rink. It is 12 noon…                                                        


Ha! Thanks to Bonnie Gilles, for taking time out of her action-packed schedule to share that.

So, where did your mom drive you? (Other than crazy, that is…)

And for those of you wondering how “The Fate of Compulsory Dance” discussions went at Worlds (see installment entitled, Ice Dance: Crisis or Opportunity?), it sounds like the ISU is going to very likely downsize the dance to two events BUT so far, they have approved the idea of combining the Compulsory Dance and Original Dance into one. This has to go through a few more rounds of approval within the ISU, but tentatively, it is good news. Thanks to everyone who has written comments on Current Skate of Mind on this topic.  



  1. Heartig · April 1, 2008

    Yes, the snacks were key. And learning how to change your clothes in the car without anybody seeing anything was important as well.

  2. handsome_devil · April 1, 2008

    This mom outlines a very exhausting day!

    Though I must say that it’s not just ice skating: my mother (and father) drove me all over the world for baseball when I was a child. I guess because it was a team, there was a lot more carpooling, though.

  3. Yussel · April 1, 2008

    Is this a joke? In Russia we had no mothers.
    The State raised us and we had only to thank the politburo for the opportunity to represent our communities at the regional levels. Of course, once a skater “made it” to the national level we were allowed many many “extras”. I knew of a skater who was given a Vespa and it was her job to transport parents from one medical appointment to another. She eventually gave up skating.

  4. pbf · April 1, 2008

    I must agree most definitely with Heartig: changing in the car like superman became a well learned ability, even more so when it was the shuffle between gymnastics and skating practice. I think the hardest part was changing into tights… what a pain!

    ps THANKS MOMMY!!! (and Daddy too!)

  5. sony · April 2, 2008

    oh yeah…ma would drive 45 min one way, drop off, drive back, work for 2.5 hours then drive back another 45 min to come get me. still makes no sense, driving an extra total of 1.5 hrs (no traffic days) to put in 2.5 work hrs. nuts, but the truth is, she couldn’t sit still at the rink for 4 hours while i skated. the day i turned 16 she took me for my driving permit test and signed me up for the road test all in the same day.

  6. J. Walker · April 2, 2008

    And this is only one day. I can’t think of how many days it is repeated. I applaud the whole family.

  7. Fave · April 2, 2008

    Getting ready in the car is key. For the kids that show up with their skates on, I can never figure out how they do the jump-roping. Amazing.

  8. Alyssa · April 2, 2008

    The MOMENT I passed my driving test, my parents THREW the car keys at me and told me to get myself to the rink from now on! ha ha ha!

  9. Ann-Marie · April 3, 2008

    Our parents used to make 2 trips from Maryland to Delaware every weekend for our lessons. We would get out of school early every Friday, drive up to Delaware, skate a few sessions, have dinner, waste time walking around the mall or something and then go back to the rink for a late session. Then my dad would take us for a early morning session on Sunday morning. We would leave at 4am. There is only one thing that can make anybody do these things for another person…unabounding LOVE! Thanks Mom and Dad! I think you are a little nuts, but thanks!

  10. Ice Mom · April 5, 2008

    I’m starting my first shuttle to 6 a.m. ice for my daughter tomorrow morning. I still can’t believe I’m waking up at 5 a.m. to shiver at an ice rink. Too bad I don’t drink coffee, hey? Maybe I should start…

  11. BA · April 6, 2008

    My saintly mother! She would wake around 4:45am to get me up at 5am to get ready for skating at our local outdoor rink starting at 5:30am. She now tells me that she used to hear her alarm and think, oh my god, what time can I go to sleep tonight! Eventually I started getting up before her and letting her sleep until we had to leave when I tip toe into her room and gently wake her so my dad wouldn’t wake.
    Skating in New Jersey happened for a while. That was about an hour’s drive one way, w/out traffic. And yes, we did that before school in the a.m.
    When I switched coaches, she began the 45 min treck to Rockland County where she’d drop me off, then go home to deal with my 2 siblings, then come back to pick me up a few hrs later.
    God bless you mom!

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