Friday, 5 February 2010

Zen & the Art of Ice Skating

The roar of the rumbling freight train, by the sounds of it of some considerable size, heralds in the East Lansing night. It's a busy one it would seem. From our window you can see nothing but tall pine trees still dusted with snow, and our snowman, named Mr. abominable by the young one. Perhaps it is a ghost train after all? We have never come close to seeing it though it has punctuated our stay here so far. It sounds like those trains you hear in the old movies. It must be an american train thing, it takes me back to our first few weeks of the road and our little dwellings in Hartford Conneticut. Well, whatsoever it may be all I know is that is quite a romantic soundtrack to a cosy night in recovering from our poker night. Note to self, playing after 3 o clock when you know you are on the early shift is never wise, unless you make a pact with yourself not to clear out your healthy stash of winnings in the last few hands because of tiredness. That was just shoddy sportsmanship. Only hours before I had earnt my stripes as bone fide poker player, then I go and let my guard down in a few hasty moves. Everyone brought snacks - big ones - and we had enough beer there for a party of 100 rather than our cosy group of 8. Cory left the game around 2 to relieve the two dancers from the cast - Britt and Lara - who were baby sitting. I stayed up with the boys till I lost royally and left them thrashing it out for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. My parting gift to them was a nip of my cousin's homemade chocolate raspberry port. Sweetened the blow.

In fairness I had missed almost the first hour of play on account of kindly receptionist burning pop corn in the microwave she was heating as a gift to the game. When it started smoking it set the alarms off on the entire complex. Our friends had just arrived and we were almost leaving when we suddenly found ourselves wrapping up a now sleep walking Sam to get him and us out into the snow. Only when we had finally managed out the door do we find out it was a false alarm. Sam was then in that happy half state, neither waking or sleeping but managed a quick pet of Britt's toy poodle (living not plastic I must be clear) and a short exchange about him forgetting the name of the "other fluffy puppy...what's his name? mmmm oh yes Toby!" I ushered him back into the bedroom lest he start using so many exclamation marks to wake himself up in earnest. Britt had earlier lamented to Cory that the only downfall of babysitting so late would be they couldn't actually get to chat with the little fella. I suspect she rigged the alarm. Anyways, 45 minutes later and Sam had finally relinquished to sleep, his last words ring in my head, "Don't go to play cards mum." He is after all of Baptist stock, this much we know after our Atlanta history trail.

Did my losses, both of sleep and money wreck the following day? Strangely, no. As is customary, I often find the first night after a social is usually highly productive. I did a Patricia turn in the kitchen producing sauce, risotto, burgers and marinades out of the bimbo in under two hours whilst playing shop with Sam. That is truly impressive for me. I am a self confessed failed multi tasker. I always shirked this term. If it means half doing five things and stressing everyone out around you then, yes, I qualify. But really, is this something women, or indeed the meandering (I mean that derogatorily in terms of attention not otherwise) sex, should really be aiming for? No offence meant Cory dearest.

After my kitchen twirling, and a quick blast P90X stretching (I knew I had Hamstrings back there somewhere) we took off the ice rink. Not something I am accustomed to doing of a Friday morning. We simply couldn't resist going back after yesterday's proceedings, whereby our son found his skate feet. It happens to be, like everything else we have found, just across the road. I arrived towards the end of the public skate session - one man - senior, Cory and son. That's it. Just metre-age of ice and a little boy and his dad wobbling their way to skill. Of sorts. When I turn up what I first notice is a contraption that boyo is pushing along. It is in all intents and purposes a walker, akin to those in hospitals or elderly homes, but in miniature. He wouldn't look out of place as a wizened old villager in Gulliver's Travels. His little size 7 boots go clackety at a pace along the rink. His expression one of serene focus. By the time we drag him off, with much artful coaxing, he is sliding all around the space without a look back for Dad at all. When we see that there is a pre-school session the following day we sign up. More out of curiosity than anything else. We get to the rink early, Preston, one of the cast who grew up on the ices of Minnesota, Kelly who does magic to the wigs in the show, and Nicole the spotlight operator join us. The first two twiddle and glide around the ice, smooth and playful like the children they were when they first donned their boots. I, having made an absolute pact to myself to Let Go Of The Wall and am happily surprised at my ability to do this (thank you ladies). Amazing what a little peer pressure can do. Nothing like your three old two day skater son overtaking you to make you want to bite the bullet already. Around and around we go, troupees fawning over the boy, helping him up when he knee slides, usually just after a little girl, who he befriends, does so. They form an instant mini friendship and he, tries to help her up only to hit the deck for the nth time. On they skate, up and down, figure eighted around by his new troupee family. I try to remember to breathe and bend my knees. I'm sure they do bend. Least they did half an hour ago. Now, not so sure.

We retreat to the warmth of the changing area to refuel and defrost son. He starts chatting with one Nate and others and I barely get a banana and cracker in him before he is waddling off to join the children back on the rink. Cory takes him to meet the teacher who is effortlessly gliding between all the little ducklings taking to the frozen water. She explains to Cory that the thought behind the session is that the props and games (pretend hockey puck, balls and hoops) literally distract the children from merely skating and by focusing on the play, their bodies get on with the rest. By the time she reaches this part of the explanation Sam has skated, unaided, to pick up a mini ice hockey stick. It was quite something to watch. My aching arches and I stood on the side, taking photographic evidence and marvelling at the little people's resilience. Each of them skating or skate walking, or running for some, falling effortessly. Without thought simply pulling themselves back upright. No embarrassment. No self judgement. No ego. Just getting on with the job at hand. What a beautiful attitude towards life. Simple. All the effort going in the right places. I could learn a thing or two here.

Certainly for an apparently quiet place our little winter retreat stop has offered Sam a wealth of experiences. After our ritualistic croissant and coffee at the asian run Chapelure that is consistently spotless, welcoming and serving the most beautiful sweet offerings clearly made with great pride and love. Non-starbucked. Non-snobby. Family run. Sincere smiles all round. Amazing what a well placed raspberry atop a little tart does to me. Of course, its simply a little desert, but look closely and the care someone has taken to offer their creativity for other's pleasure is something very moving to me. After our decadence (for the record I would like some pats on the back for managing to be satisfied with genteel tastes of the boys sweets rather than inhale a whole mega croissant to myself. My P90X teacher keeps telling me to "Bring It" so I thought, for value for money, I ought to listen. Just about) we walked past a little dance studio, and being a son of hams, Sam-boy immediately asked if he could join in. The teacher kindly allowed him into two classes, one tap, one ballet and he lapped up his time with the older women. 5 is the new 10 don't you know? What a marvel to watch him copy the teacher intently, and then, in every spare bar or breath, punch the air with his own little improvised elf moves. Jack Frost meets Martha Graham. Pure entertainment. I don't know of anything that can quite match the delight we feel in watching the sheer joy that pumps right to the ends of his fingers and toes for moving, for the music, the undivided attention of the teacher and other pupils. The boy was in his element. Oh boy. We're headed back there tomorrow. In between laundry and packing and preparing for the next tap in Minneapolis.

It has been a welcome gear change old East Lansing. I feel like an elastic coiling back ready to spring into city living action again. There is something about being surrounded by trees and having the local haunts being so very local, low key and relaxed that makes it very easy to write and think and generally re-charge. Sam asked when he saw them swaying at his window whether it was a tree or a monster? Perhaps not the same effect on him ha? Onward with a matinee weekend. After the high of the Atlanta crowd, the troupe is a little like a pack with their tails between their legs. Apparently Mel Brook's humour is not eaten up so ravenously up here in the colds of the north. Georgia seems like a whole world away from these frozen parts, in more ways than one.

Well folks, that'll be a Michigonian goodnight from me....

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