I do most of the snow shoveling. It has always been thus in our household, as J hates the cold and I enjoy the challenge of a driveway with a foot of white stuff on it. As we have acquired more children, I have come to realize a perk to this division of labor. Even though the kids do come out to help for part of the time, there is usually at least a half an hour when I am outside, alone, with no one talking to me. I will gladly take on more of the manual labor and frigid temperatures for the privilege of silence. I live in fear that J will cotton on to the fact that the person outside may be cold, but that the person inside has to take care of the children.
Shoveling is exercise, too. I find it hard to get enough exercise when it is too icy to run. Unfortunately, it doesn’t snow frequently or hard enough to constitute a regular exercise program.
So, I arrive at The Cove, a small part of the lake just down the street from our house that town maintains for ice skating. In a canvas bag, I have my brand-new skates. I was filled with good intentions just an hour ago at the sporting goods store, but when I look at the fourteen-year-olds playing hockey on the ice, I am filled with doubts. They look like they have been ice-skating since they were preschoolers. I, on the other hand, have not put on a pair of skates in almost a decade.
But, I am far too old and have come too far to be stopped by fear of a ninth-grader snickering at me. Let’s be honest. I am far too old for a ninth-grader to bother snickering at anyway. I lace up my skates and head out on the ice.
The one thing I remember is that tentativeness is an ice-skater’s worst enemy. I push forward, moving faster than I feel comfortable doing, and am astonished to find myself remaining upright. I have never skated on a lake before. This ice has not been zambonied, although the town does plow it and spray it with water every so often to create a new layer of ice. It is bumpy, imperfect, especially near the steps. Yet, somehow, I maintain my balance as I circle around and around the pubescent ice-skaters.
There is one other adult on the ice – a man with his five-year-old daughter. His wife shows up briefly, but she has no skates and declares it too cold to remain on the ice with her boots on. The adults try to steer clear of the teenaged boys who have come out to use hockey as an excuse for gathering. They are clearly aware that I cannot quite control my direction, and when a puck comes my way they know it is their job to retrieve it without crossing my path.
There are three teenaged girls there, but only one has skates. The other two shuffle about in their Uggs, giggling and slouching, glancing over at the boys playing hockey in the middle of the ice. The third girl has hockey skates on, and she tries to get her friends to stay longer. She wants to play hockey with the boys, but she cannot do it if her friends leave. Their presence gives her social validity.
After about twenty minutes, I take off my skates and walk home to get one of my sons. Zachary is in some snit or another, and he declares he does not want to skate, only to change his mind the minute Benjamin expresses interest in accompanying me. I clearly cannot manage both boys on the ice at the same time. I have serious doubts about my ability to skate with just one of them.
J suits up Benjamin. We agree that he will drive Zach over to The Cove so that we can trade off in twenty-five minutes. There is no earthly way J would actually walk to the lake when the temperature is in the low twenties.
As I walk with Benjamin, I myself start to wonder about the wisdom of walking. The street is windy, and even though I tell him that the wind will abate once he reaches the lake, he whines and dawdles. I pick him up and awkwardly carry thirty-five pounds of preschooler plus two pairs of skates to the end of the road.
As I try to get him to focus on shoving his feet into the skates, Benjamin keeps up a running commentary about the activity on the ice. “They have hockey sticks,” he points out, his voice lilting upwards at the end with a note of hopefulness.
“Yes, they do. And when you learn to skate well, you can play hockey. Can you please push your foot in?”
“They aren’t slipping,” Ben goes on.
“No they aren’t. You need to actually put your foot in.”
He corrects himself. “Except for that one. He’s slipping.” Eventually, we accomplish skates on both of his feet and both of mine. We head out on the ice, braving the bumpy parts by the steps and then joining the man with his five-year-old daughter on the edge of the action. Another man has arrived while I was back at the house, and he shoots with the teenagers while his two young sons – about the age of mine – do their best to keep up.
Benjamin and I last about twelve minutes, during which time I hold him up between my legs. We maintain our balance, and he spends most of the time watching the older guys. He is clearly taking notes for future reference. It’s just never too early to learn about manhood.
“I’m not slipping!” Benjamin exclaims.
The ninth-graders are still shooting, talking gentle trash, and pretending not to notice the opposite sex. The two skateless girls finally leave, but their friend remains, a lone girl stealing the puck from her male classmates. I wonder when she will stop playing hockey and if she will someday come to the ice while her husband skates with her child, then leave without even lacing up. For the time being, however, she is brave enough to remain out there, one girl among ten boys, politely avoiding the grown-ups who are encroaching upon teenaged territory.
“Watch what she’s doing,” I say as she approaches. “See what she’s doing with her feet. Can you do that?” Benjamin tries stomping on the ice. “Not quite like that. Can you push the ice away from you?” He slides his feet against the surface as I hold him up. He probably won’t be joining the NHL next week, but it is progress. We make it up and down the ice four times before my back starts to give out.
By the time I get Benjamin’s skates off, it is clear that Zachary has decided not to leave the house. We need to head home, partly because my toes are numb and partly because I suspect that, while I am out here playing Winter Wonderland with my cherubic three-year-old, my poor husband is dealing with a very bad-tempered five-year-old. I take off my skates and stow them in our bag. We head down the road towards home.
Today, I am confident we have made the right decision.