Learning to skip

As my first child leaves home, I remember my own mom’s simple lessons for facing life’s challenges.

Gracia Lam

I remember my mom teaching me to skip. How funny that seems now. Who needs to be taught to skip? But somehow I recall not knowing how to at an age when many of my friends, classmates, and neighbors could. I remember being seated with my mom at the kitchen table. She was wearing a calm expression and a button-down cotton blouse with the sleeves neatly rolled up, as I told her of my frustration. She replied quickly, “Of course you can skip.”

She stood up from the table and promptly walked out the back door to teach me. Reluctantly, I followed. “Come on now” was her response to my moment of self-doubt. She reached out her fingers, smelling like hand cream, and took me by the arm. Bending down to look me in the eye, she explained it systematically: “It’s a step, then a hop.” Any fear of looking foolish vanished as my mom, who was “old” at the time, nearly 40, and the mother to six children, stood in our driveway with no concern of ridicule.

She stated the action first, then she demonstrated. “You know how to step? You know how to hop? So it’s step-hop . . . step-hop . . . step-hop . . . step-hop.” I was willing to try, since I did indeed know how to do those two movements once she had broken them down, but also because her hand holding me firmly told me that refusing to try was not an option. Mom went through each movement with me, her white sneakers deliberately meeting the black asphalt of the driveway on the “step,” her apron flapping up on the “hop.”


We practiced together for several minutes, looping around our driveway — step-hop . . . step-hop. Then I heard her tone change from steady repetition to one of jubilation — “That’s right, you’ve got it!” — as her voice rose in celebration. I felt her grasp lighten and then release me. She smiled in a way that I would come to know as her “I’m proud of you but knew all along you could do it” face. After the smile came the sound of her hands clapping for a challenge faced and surmounted.

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My mom then climbed the three brick steps to our back door and returned to the kitchen, where she went on to her next seemingly trivial task of parenting. Perhaps she was peeling potatoes or setting the table, but every once in a while she would peek out through the back-door screen. I felt pride knowing she was watching me and pride in what I had accomplished. I skipped around that driveway for the remainder of the afternoon, certain that anyone driving by couldn’t help but notice my wonderful skipping.

My oldest started college in September. Maybe that is why I am now suddenly flooded with memories of moments from long ago: moments of being held firmly, of having things broken down into more manageable pieces, of receiving support, of feeling another’s confidence in my ability. Most of all, I remember the exhilaration of Mom letting go, while smiling and trusting my ability to continue.

I hope I have given my daughter similar experiences that seemed trivial at the time but actually stay with her forever — in the form of fond memories. I hope she feels my pleasure in her accomplishments as I peek through a screen at her, although now it will likely be a computer screen. I hope in time when she glances back on her life, she might remember me wearing an “I am proud of you but knew all along you could do it” face of my own.

A nurse and a writer, Claire Curran-Balquist lives in Wrentham. Send comments to

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