U.S. ice dancers' moms a winning pair
DETROIT -- They are greeted in the plural: "Hi, Moms," and respond in kind. Seventeen years together earned them the nickname. Seventeen years together, and you tend to finish each other's sentences. So many hours of waiting around drafty ice rinks for practices to end, it's a little surprising they remember whose kid is whose.
But in a world where stage parents are the norm rather than the exception, Cheryl Davis and Jacqui White are the antithesis. As much a team as their kids Meryl and Charlie, who are among the favorites to win the ice dancing gold medal at the Winter Games in Sochi in February, the moms could, should and have actually been asked to give a seminar on sane parenting in figure skating.
Their kids were 7 (Charlie White) and 8 (Meryl Davis) when were first paired up, strangers at the time, though they lived just 10 minutes apart in suburban Michigan.
"We still shop at the same market," Cheryl said.
"We probably would have bumped into each other," said Jacqui.
They travel the world together, browse fabric stores and look back on it all with a sense of wonder and gratitude at what 17 years has produced, one of the most talented skating tandems in the world and a friendship that is as seamless as the choreography they usually do not understand.
"It's funny because I think we have different strengths," Cheryl said. "Even with our vision, it's funny. Because when we travel together, Jacqui can read up close and I can see far away."
"I read the menus," said Jacqui, "and she reads the road signs."
"And that's really the story of our lives," Cheryl said. "What I can't do, she can."
They're a team, they readily agree. "And we happen to have kids who skate," Jacqui said.
That's the key, it sure seems.
"I don't think we were the kind of moms who stood at the boards screaming at our kids to do it the right way," Cheryl said. "I don't think it ever even occurred to us."
"The thought of it frightened me," Jacqui said. "If we even recognized a slight bit of that, we'd back up and go, 'Oh no.' "
They were lucky. They were compatible -- normal, if you will -- and they happened to have two of the easiest-going children who ever existed.
"Neither one of our kids cried and said they don't want to go to skating today, and had they ever done it, we could have called the other one and said, 'She's not coming today, she's tired' or whatever and that would've been OK," Cheryl said. "But we never really had that issue."
Somehow Meryl and Charlie negotiated their way to greatness without practicing hours before school. They attended neighboring high schools and graduated with their class. They practiced two hours a day and Charlie, his mother estimated, "missed almost half of that" because he'd stay for orchestra (he played the violin) and soccer.
One thing I think we have very much in common, which I think helps tremendously is that we both emphasize to our kids consideration for another person's feelings. And I think that has been something that our kids have had all along that has really carried them through a lot of tough times.Jacqui White
"That's unheard of nowadays," Cheryl said.
They both went on to the University of Michigan, where Meryl joined a sorority and studied anthropology and Charlie majored in political science. Seven years later, they joke that they really will graduate soon.
Cheryl, who taught at an elementary school until she retired a few years ago, and Jacqui, who owns an oil distribution company with her husband, Charlie, are both married with other kids -- the Davises with a 23-year-old son, and the Whites with four older children.
If the moms are experts, it's in how to juggle, not how to skate.
"I can tell Meryl what looks pretty on her," Cheryl said with a smile.
"We never tried to be the parent-coach," Jacqui said.
"We also had so many other things going on in our lives," Cheryl said. "It was their lives, and we were in just in it."
When Charlie was little, Jacqui remembered, she read Olympic champion Brian Boitano's book "Boitano's Edge: Inside the Real World of Figure Skating" to her son.
"I remember where he said his mom would drop him off at the rink when he was young, and she'd pick him up from the rink and then they'd go home and have dinner and talk about other things," Jacqui said. "And he said that was one of the things he really, really appreciated about his mom because she allowed his skating to be his."
"That's very important," Cheryl said.
"I don't think it comes naturally, necessarily," Jacqui said, "because you want to be involved. But I knew my limitations and neither one of us felt qualified to jump in and tell them what to do. And we trusted the coach."
Simple common-sense parenting, combined with what they call "luck" in having two really terrific kids, has guided them around potential heartache and heartburn.
"One thing I think we have very much in common, which I think helps tremendously," Jacqui said, "is that we both emphasize to our kids consideration for another person's feelings. And I think that has been something that our kids have had all along that has really carried them through a lot of tough times."
"One time she skated over his arm and one time he sat on her head," Jacqui recalled.
"And one time he pulled her arm out of its socket," offered Cheryl.
"What goes around comes around," Jacqui said. "In competition, too. If one falls this time, you can't say too much because you fell last time."
"But they never said anything to each other," said Cheryl.
Bad days or not, hurting the other person's feelings was simply not allowed.
"I think they just respected each enough not to say too many things to one another," Cheryl said. "They didn't argue and that was a big thing we talked about, about not wasting time arguing."
"What helped a lot," said Jacqui, "is that they both always had a high regard for the other's skating ability."
"Also, when they were younger," Cheryl said, "Charlie had more of a coaching instinct. He liked to instruct, he liked to ...
"Boss her around," Jacqui laughed.
"Not in a mean way," Cheryl said, "but Meryl respected the fact, and we would talk about it, if you felt he was right, you need a leader. ... You need one person who can call the shots and then if you have a question or don't agree with it you can say so, but if everything seems to be running smoothly, then why would you even question it?"
And from the beginning, they realized, it was best to follow that advice themselves.
"If you don't get along," Jacqui said of the moms, "the whole thing would fall apart, it really would. Because when they were really small, we had to do everything for them -- planning, scheduling, and you had to be together with them and with each other all the time. If you really didn't get along, you would probably want to start over with someone else, because you have to get along to make it work."
Now they all have an understanding. Charlie and Meryl handle the planning themselves, and the mothers and handle the costumes with some input from Meryl.
"I don't really run that many ideas past Charlie," Jacqui said. "He's pretty accepting."
"When he was really little, we would try to put him in a costume and he'd look at us and [say very skeptically], 'I don't know,' " Cheryl said. "And finally Jacqui got smart and she said, 'OK, you get beads or you get ruffles. Ruffles or beads, which one is it?' And he'd look at us like, 'This is a trick question.' And she'd go, 'You have to pick one.'
"One or the other," Jacqui shrugged.
"He's pretty good about wearing whatever we tell him to wear now," Cheryl said. "He won't accept purple pants, that's one thing that's out. No purple pants, I know that. And he doesn't like brown."
They are of one mind now, the moms say of the kids, Charlie's humor and general optimism a perfect mix with Meryl's attention to detail and "fixer" mentality. The skaters' relationship has always been platonic, businesslike. But the moms say it has been good preparation for when the two get married (to others).
"How could it not be, because they're learned so much about what it takes to have a successful relationship?" Jacqui said.
"It's good training," Cheryl said.
The two families have melded, Cheryl's husband, Paul, and Jacqui's husband, Charlie, becoming good friends, and the siblings are big supporters.
Once in a while, the moms said, they have to reassure Meryl and Charlie that rearranging their lives was something they wanted to do. They laugh that they "pinch themselves" all the time at their collective good fortune.
"We really do appreciate where they are. It's just phenomenal," Cheryl said.
"It's really almost a fairy tale," Jacqui said.
"Magical," Cheryl said. "And I'd do it all again tomorrow."