After several days spent indoors assembling new Christmas presents, clearing out space for new Christmas presents and squashing down the cardboard packaging of new Christmas presents it was time to make a break for it.
We left the house.
Better than that, we did something active and something festive. We went ice skating at an open-air ice rink. It’s the sort of pursuit that looks so effortlessly romantic in the movies, and Toby certainly looked the part emerging from his bedroom dressed in a Christmas jumper, gilet and Russian hunting hat.
I did have some reservations. I haven’t skated since I was about 14 and I don’t recall being particularly gifted at it. I hoped it would be a bit like riding a bike. I hoped we weren’t going to end up in A&E.
What I did discover is that ice skating poses a series of dilemmas for a parent. It’s the ultimate test in parenting self-sacrifice and dependability. Your child needs you to stay strong, stand tall and be a hand to guide them – literally. But stepping up to the plate isn’t quite straightforward. Slipping up, on the other hand . . .
Challenge 1: the boots
Walking on blades is neither normal nor natural, and working out how to strap them on securely didn’t exactly feel like second nature. Do you put yours on first and hope that your child sits patiently in their normal shoes? Or suss out their boots and risk them running on to the ice unaided and unsteady as you grapple with your own footwear?
Challenge 2: stepping on to the ice
You’ve mastered the boots. You’ve witnessed plenty of adults and children whizzing past on the ice. How hard can it be? Except you step on the ice and discover that your legs want to do the opposite of what your brain tells them. Not only are you unable to control your own body but you also have a child to control too. Thankfully there’s a rail which comes in handy because your child is using you as a rail and you wonder how you’re ever going to be able to let go without collapsing in a heap.
Challenge 3: moving
You’re trying not to panic because you’ve lost all control of your limbs and you need to quickly work out a plan to ensure you both make it round the rink without breaking a wrist. Your child needs to hold on to you to stay upright but you are unable to stand still so for the first time in your parenting history holding your child’s hand is the least secure option. If one of you topples he’s taking the other down. So you both make your way around the rink holding on to the wall. However, lots of people like to stand at the wall to pose for photos, which means sometimes you either have to let go or extend your hand around the strangers in a slightly creepy embrace.
Challenge 4: the first fall
Your first instinct as a parent is to pick your kids up when they fall. Try this when you’re both on an ice rink. It’s not that easy. I’m just glad Toby’s arm is still in its shoulder socket. Still, it was almost a relief to get the first fall out of the way. It was one of many and not that bad. It helped us become braver on the ice, and we began to enjoy ourselves. Perhaps I enjoyed myself a little too much. I struggled to stifle the laughter at my little Bambi on ice!
Challenge 5: growing independence
Although I found my rhythm on the ice, skating didn’t exactly come naturally to Toby but it didn’t stop him trying and that made me so proud. Proud, yes, confident, no, as I failed to refrain from shrieking at him every time he strayed unsteadily to the centre of the rink. He may have already fallen about 20 times but I didn’t want to twist my ankle rescuing him!
Despite its challenges and nervy moments I loved our ice skating session. We were at it for a full hour and I thought we’d abandon it after 10 minutes. It reminded me how thrilling it is to try something new, even if my attempts at teaching ice skating weren’t exactly successful.
We experienced tears, laughter, shrieking, arguments and some bumps and bruises so by any standards I’d call that a successful family day out.
PS The lack of photographic evidence of this trip is due to the fact we needed our hands to cling on to the wall for most of the time.