SKATE-N-FUN ZONE in Manassas looks like everyone's hometown skating rink. It has the same multicolored carpet glowing in black light, the rows of chirping video games, a disco ball dangling over a wooden floor and a snack bar with hot pretzels rotating slowly in a warmer on the counter.
The roller skates are the ones you remember: beige, faux suede, with four pink wheels and flat brown laces, knotted together in places where they've come apart.
What's different about Skate-N-Fun Zone this morning are the skaters, mostly thirty-something women on skates pushing strollers. Toddlers, not teenagers, circle the rink. Holly Reasoner of Potomac Falls is here for the first time with 13-month-old Zachary, who from his stroller is watching his mother pull on skates. She tentatively rolls onto the rink, eases Zack's stroller onto the hardwood floor and sets off -- a little shakily -- pushing her son. As she rounds the first turn she is nearly run down by a small child driving a plastic firetruck. The boy is one of dozens of kids on tricycles and toy vehicles unhurriedly but determinedly circling the rink, mostly in the same direction. Children, most of them younger than 3, cut in front of Reasoner and other moms on roller skates pushing strollers, or congregate in the center of the rink to swap playthings or gaze up at the strobe light.
From October to May, on the first and third Thursday morning of each month, Skate-N-Fun Zone opens its doors to parents and caretakers, their kids and an assortment of push, ride-on and pull toys. Managers Kenny and Stephanie Hall, who were married in 1996 at Skate-N-Fun Zone -- on skates, of course -- started offering "stroller skating" six years ago, in the fall through spring months, when unpredictable weather can keep everyone indoors. Up to 40 adults and children show up each session.
The Halls, who have three young children, wanted to give families a place to go during the week where kids could play and their caretakers could mix with other caretakers and maybe break a sweat. Think play group on wheels. There's a similar program called "Tot Rock and Roll" at Skate Zone in Crofton (410-721-7155, www.sk8zone.com).
"Moms can socialize with each other," Kenny Hall says. "And skating is good exercise."
Janalee Jordan-Meldrum of Arlington takes a breather with daughter Amelia, 2, on one of the round carpeted benches. For the past 30 minutes, she has skated behind Amelia, who has been pushing a miniature pink stroller and doll around the rink in her socks. At times Jordan-Meldrum broke off and did a few heart-pumping laps around the rink, all the while keeping track of her toddler.
Both mother and daughter benefit from the workout. "This is great for Amelia," Jordan-Meldrum says. "Even on a cold rainy day like today, she can run around and burn off energy." Amelia lets her mom pop pieces of Kix cereal in her mouth, too tired to care that a toddler boy has just taken off with her carriage and dolly.
Corey Debrody of Centreville calls what's happening out on the rink "controlled chaos." There are collisions and near misses. Some children -- unsteady on toddler-size skates -- fall down. Cushioned by diapers, few cry. A couple of kids wear helmets, but most don't. One woman loses her footing and nearly upsets her stroller (and the infant inside), but right away another mom swoops in for the rescue and rights her.
This is Debrody's second time stroller skating with her son, Austin, 1. "I never could have imagined this: Austin listening to 'Funky Town' while I'm skating around pushing him in a stroller," she says. She wishes the DJ would turn off the overhead lights; the disco ball's spinning specks of light are easier to see in the dark.
Skating here reminds Debrody of a time before marriage, before children. But "there's no couple skate," she says, thinking back to Friday nights at the rink when she was a teenager, and the DJs dimmed the lights and played love songs, and couples skated arm-in-arm. She smiles and adds, "I guess it's a different kind of couple skate -- now it's me and Austin."
Skating rinks may not have changed in the last couple of decades, but the stroller skaters have. They aren't buying hot dogs and popcorn from the rink's concession stand; instead they pull out bottles of milk, sippy cups of juice and containers of Cheerios, cheese chunks or ginger cookies. And nobody's flirting with the DJ, who looks awfully young. Josh Brown -- he and Kenny Hall are the only males over three feet tall in the building -- is pulling double duty, handing out rental skates and manning the DJ booth. The George Mason University freshman puts on "ABC" by the Jackson 5. "I pick songs that moms in their twenties and thirties remember -- older stuff, disco. And newer pop stuff, too, by No Doubt and the Backstreet Boys," Brown says.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," Reasoner says of her first visit. "But it was fun to get out, listen to music and be around other people. There was so much for Zack to look at. We were both plenty entertained."
STROLLER SKATING -- At Skate-N-Fun Zone, 7878 Sudley Rd., Manassas. 703-361-7465 or 800-203-4605. www.skatenfunzone.com. Stroller skating is offered October through May, the first and third Thursday of the month, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. $5 for adults, $5 for children who can walk and includes skate rental (traditional or in-line) and moon bounce (for kids under 50 inches tall). Free for stroller babies. Diaper-changing facilities are available. Skate-N-Fun Zone also features a private party room, refreshment bar, rock climbing wall (open only during regular skating sessions), skate shop, games and laser tag (open during regular skating sessions).