Comedian Ron White had a tweet recently that sums up the feelings of many parents about their kids these days:
“Hey, you little [kids]! You like 3-D?
It’s so real, you can almost touch it.”
OK, he said something more profane than “kids.” But his point was spot on.
Two Saturdays ago, my three sons played, collectively, with approximately 14 friends that day. None of those kids, including mine, ever left their homes.
It’s a head-scratcher to see your kids at home and assume they’re not connecting with friends, then walk into their room, and hear five voices all chiming in as a building is being blown up on the TV.
But that’s how it is these days in our wired world.
It’s why I was thrilled that the crew at MillCreek MetroParks made the Lily Pond available for skating these past few weeks — among the purest of winter-recreation activities.
For one son and his friends, it was finally an activity that had them outside, in Ron White’s 3-D, if you will.
The practice of pond skating was foreign to most of the kids. But in total, they probably spent more than 100 hours on the pond over the past 10 days.
As youth hockey players, they see ice as something made in a climate-controlled building with lots of pipes, then smoothed to perfection by a Zamboni. It exists for the purpose of athletic competitions that are over-managed by too many adults, most of whom cannot skate, but who yell at them to skate faster, shoot harder and play tougher.
And it’s “ffffffun.”
To watch the boys under a cathedral of Mill Creek trees and sprinkling snow, it was a chance to see a more pure fun.
Made-up rules, adding kids to the game as they showed up, no whistles and no horns. What parents did attend admired the woods more than the play.
Probably most rewarding was that the kids were actually seeing the eyeballs of the friends they were playing with.
Though the first visit needed some coaxing, the subsequent days were about trying to find more kids to go. “Do you want to go skate on the pond?” was swapped with “We’re going to skate on the pond.”
To open the Lily Pond was a rather quick decision by Dennis Miller’s Mill Creek team.
Mother Nature gave them the chance. After a few tests and days’ worth of checks with the park board and the insurance folks, they committed to a plan and opened two days later.
“Not only are we happy with how it turned out, but we’re investigating what more we can do next year, including if Mother Nature does not give us the chance like this month,” said Miller.
Citing the pond attendance and the park’s 32,000 Facebook views just on this topic, he said it was an awareness to his team that people want skating to come back.
The last pond skating was in 1991. The outdoor rink closed in 2002, and Miller said there has been occasional, seasonal mentions of ice skating.
But this event was an awareness that there’s a role the park can serve that was missing.
His favorite part of it all was seeing the Youngstown Phantoms hockey players come out last week for a couple of hours with 30 or so kids. “They even let little kids yank their jerseys over their heads [like a hockey fight].”
As much as I enjoyed seeing my son and his pals playing outdoors, and even skating with them one of the days, my best tale is a lady I’ll likely never see again.
As we were getting on the ice one day, she was walking off, and I teased her about leaving too early.
Easily in her 70s, she just gushed:
“This was such a bucket list item for me. This is what we did as kids, and I sooooo wanted to do this again.”
Then she held up her skates and laughed.
“My skates were fine. But my laces were too old and didn’t hold up.”
But she did.
And that is a special memory for her, and for me.
Thanks, Mill Creek.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.