We had been promising the kids for ages that we would take them to the open-air rink beside the river. It sits alongside the Delta Bessborough hotel, a château-like building that regally overlooks the river. The photo shows the hotel on the right and the rink and changing room on the left. The river is semi-frozen and absolutely spectacular at the moment. The rink is free, and provides skates and helmets to anyone needing them. We had been shopping at Preston Crossing, and decided to swing by the rink on the way back.
It didn’t start well. The kids had brought a mismatched variety of winter clothing with them. They were randomly missing a scarf, proper gloves, and a thick hat. Nicholas started crying the minute the van stopped. “ I’m COLD!” he whinged, standing in the van with a jacket on over his long-sleeved top. “Where’s your jumper?” I demanded. Sheepish look. More tears. Less patience from Mammy. Rebecca was bellowing to be put into all her gear – snow pants, hat, gloves, scarf, jacket, ice-skates etc. It took ages. Nicholas was escalating into full-blown hysteria. The others were still struggling into snow pants and skates. I sent them over to the rink with Michael and tried to calm down my youngest son. “I’m not going out in the COLD! NOT! I want to go with Daddy to Tim Horton’s and get HOT CHOCOLATE!!!!” “FINE!” I snarled, and packed him off with Michael. Rebecca and I crossed the road to the rink. Benjamin and Christopher were chasing each other around the ice, and Isabel was pootling along with a kind of Zimmerman-like frame. Rebecca wanted one. We waited till one was left back to the edge, snaffled it and set off. She was fed up and cold after ten minutes, so we went over to the fire pit to get warm. We stood there, holding our hands out to the flames, watching the skaters whirl round the huge Christmas tree in the centre of the rink. Michael came back with hot chocolate and doughnuts. I couldn’t feel my legs at that stage. Enough was enough. We packed them back into the van and headed back to the greatest invention ever – indoors.
The next day was New Year’s Eve, and the children wanted to go back to the rink. We decided to have dinner and head out when it got dark. The rink was open till 1am, though obviously we weren’t going to be availing of these extended hours. We wrapped every child up like an onion. Only their eyes were visible. I put on two pairs of tracksuit bottoms and wore my fleecey vest under my coat. It was like going into battle, with an invisible and invidious enemy. Canadian winters don’t scare us. Much.
We stopped into June and Eddie’s apartment on the way, as they wanted to inspect Michael on his birthday and see if he’d aged overnight. James and Kelly and Jay arrived and we admired the New Year’s Eve bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum that was waiting to be broken into. However, we hadn’t really thought through the ramifications of heading into a heated apartment building in full winter regalia. It was like walking into a Turkish bath. I could almost feel the fat melting off me. Rebecca was scarlet in the face and the others were starting to attempt to strip. There was no way we were re-clothing the lot of them. We wished them all a happy new year and left for the rink.
It was so different to be there at night. It was pitch dark, and the Christmas tree lights were shining in the frosty air. The changing room had a big fire lighting in the stove, and music was playing from the rink speakers. The kids had me haunted to have a go on my skates, so I donned them and stepped tentatively onto the ice. Now, I used to roller-skate many moons ago, and expected it to be similar, but it was impossible. I moved jerkily across the ice, terrified of falling, and emitting tiny shrieks of horror every couple of yards, Benjamin and Christopher came over to help, and towed me around a couple of times. I had a vice-like grip on their hands, and kept muttering “don’t let me fall” over and over. I gave up after twenty minutes, much to the relief of my sons and my ankles, and resumed normal service of strolling around the ice in my snow boots and watching the experts.
There was one tall, impossibly elegant skater gliding, dressed from head to foot in black and wearing only a hat as concession to the cold. The kids were mesmerised. “She’s brilliant”, whispered Nicholas. “She’s a he”, whispered Michael to me. I looked closer and sure enough, underneath the eye make-up and multiple piercings was a man. There were two figure skaters twirling in their beautiful white skates, and I suggested to the boys that they go over and ask them how to skate backwards. They were aghast at the thought. “We’d look stupid, Mam. That’s so embarrassing“. It’s all downhill on the embarrassing parenting front from now on, I suppose.
More and more people arrived as the evening went on. Couples swung around, hand in hand, and kids in hockey jerseys darted between the adults, whooping and swooping, and skidding to expert stops at the fire pit. Their skill and dexterity was amazing. I think kids in Canada must be born with skates on their feet. Nicholas’ current method of skating is to run as fast as he can across the ice and then fall over in a heap. He loves it. All their winter padding means they can fall and tumble without hurting themselves. Isabel and another girl were happily pushing wooden chairs around as a support, and Rebecca had commandeered a red frame. Michael and I strolled around after them, wrapped up to the eyeballs and enjoying the spectacle.