Skateboards are not only back, but are bigger and better (or so it is said) than they were a few years ago, and they are certainly a great deal more expensive than they used to be. They seem to require more side equipment than the aboriginal models, and I'm told by one source generally reliable in these matters that they are supposed to be safer, but the jury is still out on that.
Skateboards have never been in great favor at my house as a preferred means of transportation. The first encounter with skateboards occurred in 1978, when my firstborn decided that life wasn't worth living without one. Unfortunately for him, I'm one of those newspaper readers who pay attention to warnings from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the commission had assembled some impressive numbers about skateboard accidents and kids.
He got around this by mounting a campaign that would have dazzled the most high-powered Washington lobbyist: skateboard magazines mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, all over the house. Friends would drop by to wax poetic about the merits of skateboarding as an athletic endeavor. The campaign was subtle and it was flagrant; no base was left uncovered, no tactic was out of bounds.
We capitulated. Eighty-five dollars and one birthday later he was the proud owner of a skateboard.
Three months later, he was the owner of a broken wrist.
For reasons that remain mysterious (surely having nothing to do with safety), skateboards fell out of favor in the years that ensued. For reasons that are equally mysterious, they have returned -- complete with ramps, helmets, protective pads, guards and various other pieces of equipment that can set back the owner (or his parents) a cool hundred bucks, just for starters.
And: "Everyone has one."
One of the things that parents learn as they complete their apprenticeship with the first child and start in on the rest is that there are certain tides in the affairs of childhood that are useless to resist. Thus, a youngster might break his wrist on a skateboard, but he will most certainly give the parent an ulcer if he can't get one. Besides, if he can't ride his own, he will ride his friends'. You can, of course, forbid him to ride a skateboard and spend every waking moment making sure he doesn't, but he will end up hating you and you will end up very far behind in your other chores.
You can be an optimist, let him have his fun and hope he comes through safely.
You can always say: He has to learn the hard way.
Peer examples don't work.
This fall, my younger son's soccer team was graced by the presence of F.J.
F.J. had a skateboard.
After a recent practice, my son rode across the blacktop on a friend's skateboard. His coach yelled at him to stay away from skateboards.
"Remember what happened to F.J.," the coach said.
"What happened to F.J.?" I said.
"He broke his collarbone."
The other day, F.J.'s mother said he'll be out six weeks.
We may have lost F.J. for most of the season, but F.J. has not been forgotten. I think of F.J. every time I look at the new skateboard that arrived at our house when my son celebrated his 10th birthday. The acquisition was conducted in conjunction with his older brother (the theory being that someone who had become an expert in such matters was going to make a sounder, safer purchase than someone who was not). I underwrote half of the purchase and the birthday boy made up the difference (that theory being that I was not going to spend that kind of money on a skateboard).
I have been assured that skateboards are safer now, and I have been assured that he knows what he's doing. And I know from experience that there are certain things one can learn only firsthand.
Sunday afternoon we returned to the site of the purchase to buy guards that, I was told, protect the skateboard. We were standing in line to pay. A father and mother were standing behind us and another father was in front of us, accompanied by two boys and one new skateboard. As the clerk was separating that father from a handful of $20 bills, the man behind me started talking about costs. Then he mentioned something about wheels.
"Trucks," said his wife. "Not wheels."
Then he said something about the ramps that are appearing all over suburbia.
"Half-pipes," needled his wife. "You've got to get with it."
There was more talk about the flashy new boards, and it was clear he decided it was easier to join than fight.
"Some of them are awesome," he said. "Totally awesome."
And there was a trace of longing in his eye.