I am looking at my daughter's feet. This is not as easy as it sounds.
To look at these feet in their natural state -- perpetual motion -- you have to film them and then freeze one frame on the wall. I am therefore looking at my daughter's feet . . . in passing.
I don't see any toes, of course. I haven't seen any toes for weeks. What I see are wheels, eight of them to be pricse. These days they come attached to every kid I meet, sort of like braces.
There is in my neighborhood an epidemic of wheels. Spring doesn't spring anymore. It skates. Children don't walk anymore. They roll like a caisson or a stone.
Roller skates have sprouted around here in the last few weeks like crocuses.
What I see on the feet of my daughter and her friends are not just, God forbid, skates I mean skates with keys, skates that come on and off your shoes. These have been un-invented
My duaghter is wearing a medium-priced pair of sneaker skates, which cost more than the first two autombile tires I ever bought (although my car didn't outgrow its tires every six months). They cost this much because they were created scientifically!
Here is how they were made. First, they took a running shoe, which was designed by a marathon champion engineer, to distribute the impact of the payement from Hopkinton to Boston perfectly along the the length of foot. Then they screwed on a set of wheels so the shoe would never again touch the ground.
It is not entirely clear why skates were made like this, although I haven't yet asked James Fixx. But it is entirely clear why children want them. (If you don't know, you are probably the sort of grown-up who used to polish white bucks.)
These skates have a stopper on the front. This is not really to be used to stop. (Trust me.) it is to be used to walk up and down the stairs inside the house. The stopper also is useful for walking across carpeting and for sneaking across linoleum quietly when your mother has finally forbidden you to skate inside the house.
("But they are indoor and outdoor skates, mom!" "This is not a skating rink!")
This stopper is crucial because it makes it entirely unnecessary for children to remove their skates for any activity except hair-washing.
And that is the point.
The 1980s belong to the eight-wheelers the way the 1950s belonged to the motorcycle gang. "The Mild Ones" are more urban and benign, of course. If they spend their lives tooling through the streets, they only terrify squirrels and pigeons.
But it is possible to search through my community at any time of day and never see a young of foot fixed to the ground. It is possible to encounter children who have totally forgotten the wonderful feel of concrete beneath their feet. Some of them only make pit-stops long enough to fill up at the refrigerator.
I know 11-year-olds who barely loosen their laces at bedtime and 12-year-olds competing for the Guinness Book of Records in "longest continuous roller-skate wearing." The Board of Health may have to start cutting their souls free.
Parents are supposed to raise their children to "stand up on their own two feet." And Lord knows we are trying, but it isn't easy.
In a mobile country like ours, childhood goes from baby buggies to gas guzzlers. We raise our children from one set of wheels to another, as if they were stages.
Still, no one warned us that adolescence would turn into a roller derby. Nobody told us that our kids would be out wheeling for eight hours a day without a license.
The bumper sticker on the corner asks me every morning with snug, nosy insistence: "Have you hugged your kid today?"
It is none on the bumper sticker's business. What I want to know is this: How do you hug an eight-wheeled vehicle?