The first time I saw Michelle Kwan skate in person, it was her first year skating as a senior at the national level. This was at the US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, in 1994 (yes, there was a quite noteworthy event that occurred at that championship).
She was so young. I don’t mean chronologically only. I mean still a girl in many ways. Bowled over as the stuffed animals rained down onto the ice after her performance. Giddy with the thrill of it all.
(Figure skating side note: her sister, Karen Kwan, also competed at that championship. She skated elegantly.)
By the next year, at the championships in Providence, Rhode Island, Michelle Kwan was a different skater and person. She hadn’t yet turned into the force she would be eventually, a combination of athleticism and artistry that defied being beaten, but she had more notoriety, more fame, more expectations on her shoulders.
I can only imagine the challenges her mom (and dad) faced, starting with years of expensive skating lessons and all the accompaniments necessary to a competitive figure skating career.
Michelle Kwan discusses her mom’s sacrifices here, talking about how her mom sewed her costumes to save money and how both her immigrant parents worked multiple jobs. “I’d be yelling across the rink like ‘Mom, do you have gloves?’ or even a tissue and she was right there next to the ice,” Kwan said.
Moms often intuit our challenges before we realize the gravity of them (or, conversely, the fact that the challenges we think are going to break us end up not being as drastically life-altering as they feel at the time).
When Mom Faces a Challenge
My mom has faced her own challenge since she was hospitalized on December 11 when her heart rate/rhythm, breathing, and overall health were compromised by a viral infection.
Although her recovery seemed to be on a mostly upward-bound trajectory, everything changed when she had an allergic reaction to one of the anti-arrhythmics she had been administered.
“If it were my mom, I would come,” said an ICU nurse around 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. My daughter drove herself and me to the hospital.
After several extremely tenuous hours, my mom was intubated and the immediate breathing/survival crisis was over.
When I didn’t know what to do over the days that followed, with tense nights in the ICU, another intubation, and the juggling act of medical needs/family member relationship management (not saying I managed any of that — just that it’s a fraught time when you’re trying to exchange accurate information through sleep deprivation and layers of dynamics)/keeping up with obligations to my two freelance positions, I thought about my mom holding my newborn son through the night so I could sleep.
Just holding him. Nothing fancy. No machines, no technology, no words.
Has a Challenge Been Met?
Michelle Kwan knew she had met her challenges when she tied Maribel Vinson for the most US Championships (9), when she won five world championships and when she won Olympic medals in 1998 and 2002.
I pray my mom overcomes her physical issues, which provide related emotional hurdles (she had to be readmitted to a hospital after less than 48 hours had elapsed following her discharge because she fell and broke her wrist).
I pray I can figure out how to give her the sense of reassurance I had when she held my son throughout the night, using solely the power of presence rather than words to calm him.
Editor’s note: My mom passed away on February 13, 2018. Her obituary can be read here.
I am linking this post to Mama’s Losin’ It, for the “write about the word ‘challenge'” prompt.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.