Le Patinage

My son skated for the first time last week. It was not his first time on the ice. I had dragged him once as a little guy, and then brought him to the Yerba Buena rink in San Francisco three times and even got him a private lesson there in preparation for our holiday travels. (I even had a moment of complete parent failure when I realized that somehow allowed my kid to reach ten without learning how to skate. What kind of raised-in-Minnesotan was I?) But the first time he really skated – which, during his many protests that he’d already gone and didn’t like it when I was saying that since he hadn’t actually skated yet he had no idea if he liked it or not, I described as gliding on the ice with alternating feet – was on December 30 in the Parc La Fontaine in Montréal.

A pretty damn magical place to skate.

It’s a huge long rink that snakes a bit around and past the rec center-cum-warming hut. Unlike the previous rinks he’d been on – including the giant and beautiful one at the Plaines d’Abraham in Québec City – it is just open ice. People generally go to the right of each other, but there is no dizzying circle for counter-clockwise skaters to follow. No place I ever skated was quite as gloriously perfect in setting, but it was, in other ways, like the rinks I grew up skating on. No fees, no lines, so start times. People from the neighborhood just walk over to the park where the baseball fields were flooded, put on their blades, and skate around – some seeing how much speed they could work up or practicing their spins, but most just gliding on ice, turning the freezing cold into something fun.

After we finally left to eat lunch, he asked to go back. As I taught him how to do a simple spin he said “Mama, you should get skates so you can skate whenever you want.”

Which was funny, because two days before that, as I was gliding around the rink in the Plains of Abraham in Québec City, I had thought that it was funny that when I was, say, 11 and 12 there were three things I really really liked to do besides read: Ice skate and speak French. At that point I was just learning French, but I loved it. It felt like a secret code and it was somewhat difficult so when things clicked it felt like it mattered. I have, as with my skating, let it fall to the wayside. I don’t use it, so I’m losing it. Sure, I can still get through commercial transactions and read okay, just like I can still whiz around the ice, but I have completely lost the ease and fluency I had in my late teens. I also have some work to do before I land a toe loop.

I have, I am happy to report, changed a lot since I was 12. But this Winter Wonderland tour we’ve taken (Minneapolis-Québec City-Montréal) has shown me that it ends up I still like ice skating and I still like speaking French. In 2014 I’m going to do both. I am going to get skates and go skating, even if the rinks near me are tiny and I have to pay to spin. And I’m somehow going to recapture some of my facility with French. I have a podcast of a decent radio show to get started and a book in French I’ve been meaning to read and a neighbor who would, I’m betting, be willing to correct my bad grammar once in awhile.