The Museum of Natural History’s ice skating rink should sell engraved Zippos that say, “I’m for sure going to heaven, because I’ve already been to hell.” Turns out uncoordinated children, middle-aged parents, poured over ice, garnished with too many layers is a bitter and sweaty cocktail with a horrible finish. I’m determined to document the terror and pain dusted with joy that defines this annual pilgrimage to a slippery land far away from my better judgment. My motivation is to have a document to consult next year, lest the historians of mind slip into that inevitable amnesia under the influence of merry Christmas endorphins.
If you are going into battle, I can’t say enough about surrounding yourself with Spanish people. Our friends Victor and Paloma and their 3 kids are unflappable. It keeps your spirits up, as you think about giving into despair and glance over at their smiling faces dripping with sweat, eyes just hinting to the agony that lies beneath. Victor tells me that Spanish people don’t ice skate, but misled by US movies featuring angelic and romantic ice saunters at Rockefeller Center, they agreed to join our family on this adventure.
The pain begins before anyone hits the ice. Like some kind of head hood before the waterboarding you have to get the skates on the feet. In my case it was 8 feet. My wonderful wife Stacie, the keeper of important knowledge like UK shoe sizes, was kept late at the office with a call. Here are just a few of the foibles you have to deal with getting the skates on children. My 8 year old had convinced herself that the size was off, but after I tried to convince her that the pain was normal, we loosened one of the 6 buckles and it felt better. I had the skates on my 7 year old with ease, only to realise they were on the wrong feet. It was at that time that my 4 year old kicked me in the shin with his new tiny weapons. He then had an itch on his right foot that could only be cured by skin on skin scratching. By this time our 6pm-6:50 session was beginning and I realised that you had to pay for the penguin that children (who should not be on the ice) were using as props to keep themselves upright.
6:15 and we were on the ice. Yes! My 8 year old grasps the side of the wall and inches around for the next 20 minutes, getting about half way around the rink. My 7 year old darts off in all directions immediately swallowed by the throngs never to be seen again and my 4 year old tells me I’m a dummy because I won’t let him take the penguin by himself and fall every 4 seconds, where I have to pick him up. Oh the holidays. And by the way that penguin design is worthless. Because it is at a 90-degree angle it makes it impossible to skate normally. You see these armies of penguins propelled by V legged children.
All the while the sciatic nerve, that acts as the prime meridian of my body, was threatening to ruin the rest of 2016. There is no place on the planet where that arrogant sciatica feels as empowered as on the ice when you are lifting 41 pounds of 4 year old by their armpits, as their steel blades barely graze the ice, giving them a deluded vision that they are actually ice skating. Luckily on this trip I only felt it vibrating and it did not go rogue.
I looked over at Victor who was inching a 2 year old over the ice with a sweat drop dripping off his nose, and told him that there was only ten minutes left. His smile was radiant. Knowing it was almost over you can actually relax and have some fun.
Your skates get in a rhythm, and you become slightly competent. Your 8 year old has braved the open ice, building some confidence. And your 4 year old is rocking the penguin solo. You start to notice the other details that make the world so amazing. Sounds of laughter start to drown out the ramblings of the pessimistic mayor of your mind. You notice the satisfying and clean crunch of blades of the skates as they scar the surface or the ice. You see the world through the eyes of your children as they giggle with new friends, the lights from the trees above absorbed by the slushy ice below. You start to understand and love the holiday spirit.
The pros have finally outweighed the cons, you smile in pure joy- for a minute. Then you have to wait 30 minutes in your socks in cold puddles to trade in 10 skates (of which you drop one on the socked foot of the very kind person next to you) for 10 shoes that no one can put on themselves.
And just when we had everyone settled with, coats, hats and gloves off, ready for a nice post skate meal, we found out the Hoop in Toy Pub in South Kensington does not serve food on Wednesday evenings.