It's been a busy week, with Spouse and Boy-in-Black out of town, and the kids off from school. The out-of-town cousins have been traveling in herds, from my parents' house to my house to Blonde Sister's house, and then back again. I never know when I come home from class which group of people might be at my house.
Last night, Red-haired Sister took charge of the Littles, while I got the Middles. The Middles are three cousins from three different families, all born in 1991 -- Shaggy Hair Boy, Blonde Niece, and Drama Niece. I was happy, actually, to get a break from watching the Littles, since two of them have shrill voices and a tendency to sing Hilary Duff songs. I piled the teenagers in my car, waved good-bye to the high-pitched little ones, and headed for the outdoor skating rink downtown. The skating rink is fairly new, and I hadn't been there before.
We expected the place to be crowded but it wasn't at all. A beautiful winter night - about 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a light breeze - and the place was empty. Crazy.
I spent my childhood and teenage years skating on ponds and canals, so I am not used to artificial ice. It is so slippery and smooth compared to pond ice. When I was a kid, we had one floodlight focused on our pond, but all around were shadows and then darkness. It was always quiet at night, with just our voices, the creak of the old willow tree, and the sound of skate blades scraping the ice.
Skating on an urban rink is a whole different experience. The lights were so bright I could have read a book. I could not see the stars in the night sky, but I could feel the presence of the city, all around us, as we skated. Grey monuments, old brick buildings, and parked cars crowded up against the edges of the rink.
High above our heads, a loudspeaker blared music. I've often noticed that my urban students bring music with them no matter where they go. I wonder if that is their way of marking space for themselves within the hectic sounds of urban life. At the rink, the music hid the sounds of traffic, car horns, and rattling trucks. As I circled the ice, I was reminded of the rollerskating rink where I spent every Sunday afternoon as a teenager. Perhaps it was the oldies music that brought back these memories.
Skating on a pond leads usually to games of hockey or snap-the-whip, but here, strangers were sharing the same stretch of ice. A bored attendant was skating around backwards, a whistle in his mouth, and I knew that if I suggested a game, I might have the embarrassing experience of having a nineteen-year-old expel me from the skating rink. So I behaved myself, and skated obediently around the circle, watching my gang of teenagers, who were laughing and calling to each other. Blonde Niece attracts attention no matter where she goes, and a young boy in a grey sweatshirt glanced at her so many times that he almost crashed into the side of the rink. Shaggy Hair Boy skated fast around the rink, his long hair blowing out of his face and his freckles moving self-consciously. Drama Niece was singing some of the songs and attempting to teach Blonde Niece some dance moves.
On the way home, the two girls sat in the back seat, giggling and sending text messages to each other on their cell phones, while Shaggy Hair Boy sat next to me in the front, rolling his eyes and saying "It's almost as bad as having to listen to Hilary Duff songs." I turned the car towards the east and watched the moon, almost full and emerging from the clouds, rising in the sky ahead of us, marking the path home.