Abby Adelman's ice skates felt too tight yesterday. Some things are destined to remain constant from one generation to the next, and uncomfortable skates are apparently one of them.
"They're not too tight. They're just stiff because they're not broken in," assured David Adelman, the father of the wincing 5-year-old from Columbia.
Abby nodded bravely, then headed out on the ice, where her gleeful expression assured her dad that her moment of distress, like the recent Christmas snowstorm, had quickly passed.
Kids, it seems, have always been drawn to skating. In Baltimore, that love affair was on display yesterday - as it is every winter Saturday morning, weather permitting - at the Inner Harbor Ice Rink.
From 10 until noon, the rink, at Rash Field (adjacent to the Maryland Science Center), discounts rates for kids 12 and younger as part of its "Tykes on Ice" promotion.
When it's crowded, kids and their parents get the outdoor rink all to themselves. Sometimes, they are joined by mascots such as the Oriole Bird, the rink's own Perky the Penguin or the National Aquarium's Puffin.
Rink officials say they are happy to accommodate the tiniest of tots. And they do mean tiny.
The smallest available rental skate - an infant size 6 - is only slightly larger than a dinner roll.
The shoe looks almost as wide as it is long.
"Little kids' feet are fat," explained Francis Brooks, 23, manager of the city-owned rink, which possesses a picture-postcard view of the city skyline.
An avid skater, Brooks was 9 when the rink opened in 1988 - her mother was manager then - and she knows how to create an ambience appealing to adults and kids alike.
It's the little things
The rink music, for example, is selected to emphasize fun.
Yesterday, the selections included children's music, the "Macarena," and an assortment of television soundtracks.
Kids new to the ice are given "skating aids" that resemble walkers and enable users to remain at least partially upright.
Trudging along behind the devices, the kids resemble a grownup pushing a lawn mower on a summer afternoon.
But at least they manage to stay on their feet.
"It definitely helps them because they're not constantly hanging on the rails," Brooks said.
It also helps kids' confidence that they don't have to share the ice on Saturday mornings with teens.
"It's nice because it's all little kids, so there aren't teen-age boys skating around, scaring them," said Kathy Murphy, who showed up yesterday with her niece, Kate Macchi, 6, of Towson.
For safety reasons, the rink bans the longtime teen practice of forming human "chains" of speeding skaters.
But Kate wasn't talking about potential hazards on the ice as she prepared to skate yesterday.
She said her aunt had "stuck my pants inside my skates, but I didn't like it so I took them out."
"A fashion decision," said her aunt.
Murphy wasn't there only as a spectator. Like most of the adults, she donned skates and joined her niece on the ice.
"I'm trying to teach her to bend her knees and stick out her butt. That's how you skate," the aunt said.
Some of the children didn't need much help.
Ambitious start early
Allie Zimmerman, 8, of Edgemere skated effortlessly on her own, pausing at times to help her cousins - identical twins Katie and Dee Wallace of Cape May, N.J.
"She is a natural athlete," said Allie's uncle, Bob Wallace. "She's also a snow skier."
Ambitious skaters can't start too soon. Instructional programs are cropping up everywhere for skaters younger than 5.
Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski "won her first national competition at age 12," said Christine Brennan, author of Inside Edge, a 1996 book on figure skating.
"For her 13th birthday, she got an agent," Brennan said.