Thursday, 21 November 2013

Oh to still believe




One of the best bits of our new life is the fact that my 10yo daughter, like all Dutch primary school children, gets the Wednesday afternoons off. Every single one of them. This leaves us ample time for a leisurely lunch and some ice skating lessons at the famous Amsterdam ice rink.

It's her second lesson today. Just like last week, my girl is very excited to put on her ski trousers as I guess, they remind her of Switzerland. There, for about three months every winter, she would more or less live in her 'snow pants'.
It makes me happy to see her so buoyed up at the prospect of another skating lesson, as the transition from her beloved international school in Zug, to a small Dutch primary school has proofed to be quite hard for her. So much so in fact, that my daughter at the moment point blank refuses to read any Dutch books, or watch any Dutch programmes on the telly. Instead, she totally lives for 'Strictly Come Dancing', 'Junior Bake Off' and 'Operation Ouch!'.
Anyway, she adores the idea of going to the outdoor ice rink every week. Together with her half Dutch, half German 8yo cousin and a number of other children she is being taught the basics of ice skating. The best bit, according to the girls, is that they now know 'how to fall properly', something they enthusiastically demonstrate at every opportunity. The flipside being that they make me practise tumbling down as well. But whereas the girls quickly scramble to their feet, it takes me ages to get my skates firmly planted on the ice and my head sticking in the air again.
Fortunately, after my second fall, it is time for their lesson, so I glide around in relative peace for a while. It's an interesting sensation to be back on skates after eighteen or so years.
In our courting days Mr. S and I, both wearing black,  long track, ice speed skates, and looking much more streamlined than we do now, would easily skate forty odd kilometres together. But by the time we got married and both started work, a period of frost seldom seemed to coincide with time off work, so skating quickly became something we would get back into if we ever got more time.
Instead we had two babies within the space of sixteen months and, besides when we had to go to work,  we were hardly making it out of the house. By the time we got out on the other side of the nappy tunnel once more, we moved to England, then to Italy and later to Switzerland. And although Switzerland had plenty of ice rinks, they were all geared towards figure skating or ice hockey matches and besides we loved skiing too much to go skating more than once in a blue moon.
The minute though that I put my skates on and set foot on the ice, I feel great. So great in fact, that after only a few rounds, I decide that I am going to risk a left turn whereby you cross your right skate over your left a number of times. I manage to put my right foot down, but can't seem to remember what my left foot is supposed to do at this point. Again I land face first on the ice, but since all my limbs seem still to be in working order, I crack on. I haven't had such uncomplicated fun in a long time.
When my daughter comes to join me after her lesson, she can't wait to show me all her tricks. Within the short space of two lessons she has learned how to skate backwards, jump on her skates, break -  a useful skill that I haven't quite mastered yet -and jump up onto the soft boarding alongside the rink. I manage to avoid to have to try any of those things by taking tons of pictures of my stunt girl.
Just as we are leaving the ice to get some hot chocolates, Saint Nicolas flanked by three black Peters - all on skates-  turn up. I am gobsmacked but the gathered Dutch children seem to take it completely for granted that Saint Nicolas gets into a sleigh so that  his helpers can pull him round the ice rink. My 10yo daughter on the other hand, is over the moon. For the first time in her life Saint Nicholas isn't just turning up once a year between two and three in some village hall. Instead she meets him constantly, at the supermarket, the swimming pool, the cinema and now the ice rink.
She doesn't really believe anymore, although she says she does about six times a day. She can be very stubborn. But I must admit that she has a point, because wouldn't life be so much nicer if we could al still believe in Saint Nicholas , Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny?
Ten minutes or so later, her face stuffed with cinnamon biscuits and a sleigh pulling session under her belt and my lovely girl seems to be completely in tune with the 'Dutchness' inside her. For the time being skating seems to take centre stage, alpine dreams fast becoming a thing of the past. And judging by her glowing, happy face, she is almost ready to wear  wooden shoes to school, grow tulips for a living and paint some windmills.