Once upon a time, someone sat down to figure out how they could combine the clumsy awkwardness of childhood with the improved control one gets while stumbling around on roller skates, in order to bring the two together into a total package intended to grace a child’s feet as they go throughout their daily lives. Oh, if only we could bring the thrill of skating out of the roller-ring and into our homes. Rather than a flat, wide open surface buffed to perfection, we can have our kids skate around tables and chairs, up and down stairs, all with the thrill of sharp, pointy objects a mere arms-length away. At least, these are the thoughts that run through my mind anytime I see a child with roller-shoes.
Of course, it didn’t start out that way. I remember the love affair the first time a child showed up in the classroom with a pair. There were the ‘ooohs and aaahs.’ The drools from the other children, alongside a well placed “well I’ll be darned.” There we sat, marveling at this wonderful feat of human engineering. Both awestruck at the ingenuity of our fellow mankind and ashamed that we didn’t think of it first. Any ‘ole fool could dream up space flight. But to put skates on the bottom of everyday footwear? Now that’s true genius.
Then came the inevitable: “can you try them out Megan?” Happy to comply, the little girl popped out the wheels and was helped to her feet. For several moments she strolled around the carpet at a safe pace to exclamations of “that’s so cool” and a low-pitched murmur of coos coming from the other children. Then she hit the tile area. The first skate was planted without a hitch. However, as she shifted her weight to put her other foot in front, like a child stepping on a sudden ice patch, her feet were swept out from under her. She plopped butt first to the floor, sending a chair flying across the classroom in the process. Apparently no worse for the ware, she looked back to the class with a big smile on her face. We all laughed and laughed.
It turns out; this little trendsetter wasn’t the only one taking a spill. Doctors around the globe report treating injuries such as cracked skulls, broken wrists, arms or ankles; and dislocated elbows, all in children whose spills didn’t go as well as Megan’s. In the U.S. alone, around 1,600 emergency room visits occur each year after children take a spill while on shoe-skates, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t exactly a child’s most pressing danger, but it’s hardly chump change either. As a result, many schools have even taken steps to ban the trendy footwear.
The skates come in several different varieties. Some are set up so that a wheel in the back of the shoe engages when the child shifts their weight to their heel. (So not only are they skating, but they’re off-balance.) Others function like regular roller skates, with pop out wheels that a child can use to transform their everyday shoes into a pair of wheeled recreation devices. Whatever the style, the concept is to combine roller skates with everyday shoes.
We won’t fault parents if they want to get their child a pair. Be honest, we know you can hear the voices in your head urging you towards them. One reason parents buy them, I suspect, is because laughing at kids when they fall is half the fun of the experience. Just be aware of the potential for danger, and remember that a skate is a skate, no matter what form it’s in. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends a child wear full wrist and knee pads, along with a helmet, anytime such shoes are in skate mode. Kids should at least have a helmet anytime they want to skate around. As for their use in everyday life to zip around malls or down sidewalks, we don’t see any more harm in it than usual, so long as a child is holding the hand of a firmly anchored adult. This should prevent any serious injuries if they slip. A couple of extra bumps and bruises won’t hurt. It’s good to toughen them up, or at least that’s what my Dad always told us as he was trying to stop the bleeding. We just don’t like seeing hospital visits.
In the meantime, I’m working on a little patent of my own. It’s called the fire-cycle, and it combines the joy of fireworks with the utility of bicycle riding. There’s a button on the handlebars that shoots bottle rockets and another one that releases jumping jacks and cherry bombs at will, which is great if you need an impromptu obstacle course, or if you just want to keep your little brother from following you. Nobody steal my idea.