Today was a brisk, sunny, perfectly Canadian winter day. Jack and I spent some time this afternoon on a local skating rink – he played hockey without rest and I mostly watched. For a while, though, I got to hang out with a spit-fire of a five year old girl – a family friend who humoured me with a few laps around the rink together. As we skated she talked about what it’s like to learn how to skate – the whole practicing on your own vs. formal skating lessons. Skating by herself, she informed me, was the best way to get better.
As I skated and then passed a puck with this plucky girl, I had a flash back to a moment in my life when I was exactly her age, carefully making the transition to being upright on skates more often than being cold-bummed on the ground fighting to get back up. My own memory of the story is only fragmented – I remember the feelings attached to the moment much more than I remember what it looked like. But the story has been told in my presence enough times by other family members that I can pretty well piece it together.
The Story of the Skating Lesson Final Exam
I was four, maybe five years old. On the non-Kindergarten days, when my siblings were at school, I was enrolled in skating lessons. The classes were either private or semi-private because I don’t remember there being many other kids in my group. I’m not sure I was ever really crazy about the whole idea of skating lessons. Like the girl I skated with today, I preferred skating with my family on the Bay of Quinte or, better yet, along the Rideau Canal on our family trips to Ottawa. But those were the days of few choices and my desire to please undoubtedly made the whole experience relatively effective in improving my personal skating. At least I hope it did. Considering how it all came to an end.
What must have been the last or second last class came and with it the testing for level advancement. I remember that there was an actual skating test where I was asked to weave in between pylons and skate backwards and bend to pick up balls on the ice. Upon completion of the practical portion of the testing, I was taken into the locker room to complete the written portion. Yes, I was in Kindergarten. Shockingly, that portion didn’t go so well. I couldn’t properly identify the various parts of the skate – or at least I didn’t yet have the ability to write the words on the dittoed lines pointing to the hand-drawn skate parts. I remember feeling helpless. I remember not understanding the paper. I remember not understanding what was being asked of me. Not sure where the lines were pointing exactly. I don’t remember if I actually knew the parts of the skate or not. That does seem rather irrelevant after the fact. My teacher, on the other hand, was certain that I was just being belligerent. And so, by force, she kept me in that locker room, insisting that I complete the test, leaving my pleas for my mom unanswered.
And somewhere in the middle of this all, the pleaser inside me lost the battle and was overpowered by my anger-ball self. My mom recounts that from the other side of the rink, sitting in the plastic chairs of Memorial Arena, she heard my shrieks. She jumped out of her seat, hurdled the boards and slid her way across the ice to the door leading to the locker room where I stood mid-tantrum. She entered the room just in time to see me kick the teacher, with all my might, in the shin. I was still wearing my figure skates.
Needless to say, that was the last skating lesson I ever took. I remember the hangover from that anger-ball incident. I remember feeling certain that I would be scolded and punished at home. I remember dreading the apology I would undoubtedly be asked to give. And I remember feeling so justified in my action – so sure that I had been wronged and so apprehensive about trying to explain that to my parents. I didn’t have words for those kinds of things yet.
But I didn’t need the words. There was no scolding. No punishment. No forced apology. We went home and I was given a cup of warm cocoa and a bowl of Harvest Crunch – the highest treats in our snack world. And later that night, when I heard my mom telling the story to my dad, I remember realizing that she knew the truth, even without me having to explain it. She knew I had been treated unfairly. She saw the teacher holding me down and shouting at me to stop being a brat. She understood that my shrieks were the only voice I had left in that place.
My sister Meredith has referred to this part of me as my “shin-kicking determination” for this was not the last of my shin-kicking episodes though it was certainly the most forgivable of them. I don’t know what happened to that teacher. I don’t know if my parents ever discussed it beyond that night. But I do know, that in a moment when I only felt things I couldn’t yet understand or process, my mom knew.
Cocoa and Harvest Crunch.