Posted in Writing Life

*How I Learned to Skate

It was our first day at the outdoor skating rink in Christie Pits on Saturday, a perfect day for skating. Just below freezing, a blue winter sky so clear I could see the red tail of the jet high above. There was a woman on the ice even smaller than me (I mistook her for a boy until I saw her face) learning to skate. She went around the rink doggedly lifting each foot, shifting her weight, back bent, cheeks rosy. We smiled at each other. I told her she was doing great. My kids, now 8 and 11, played games and raced each other down the centre of the rink, forward and backward.

Christie Pits skating 1909

And so this reminded me of a post I wrote when I had just started this blog a year and a month ago. Here it is, re-posted:

My older daughter dragged me. That is the simple fact of it. She was six and had been nagging me to take her skating for about a year. I wasn’t too sure of my ability to stay vertical and hold her up too, but I finally hauled my 20 year old skates out of the back of my closet.

Toronto Skating 1910

I’d skated as a kid, occasionally, on lumpy outdoor rinks, bashfully, embarrassed because everyone else seemed to zoom around and I was far from zooming. I had worn those 20 year old skates once and once only after I bought them.

The skates were made of moulded plastic and a size too small. Need I describe the discomfort and pain that I tried to hide from my excited daughter who had unlimited confidence in me? Fortunately they were figure skates and the extended blade kept me from falling over. I shuffled, holding my daughter up somehow. She was determined to learn to skate and did her own shuffling and falling, lots of cheerful falling. I asked everyone I met at the rink whether skates should hurt your feet.

Old Orchard Speed Skaters early 1920's
Old Orchard Speed Skaters early 1920's

Everyone assured me that they do until your feet get used to them. I am here to tell you it ain’t so.

The next fall I bought CCM recreational skates that were the right size and wide enough for my duck-ish feet. Heaven! I signed up for adult skating lessons. That was a good thing because the new skates were on hockey blades, which do not allow for shuffling in a kind of ice-walk. I didn’t know how to move my feet and the first day of lessons, had to pull myself along the boards to the adult class, waving at my daughter, who was excitedly joining the kids’ class. It turned out that my instructor had learned to skate as an adult, too. So I wasn’t the only one! By the end of the lesson, I knew how to move my feet, and to my surprise, by the end of the session, I could skate.

Since then, skating has become a family passion. We go skating at the arena every Sunday and we skate outdoors in winter when weather permits, too.

Women's Hockey Toronto 1912
Women's Hockey Toronto 1912

I love to see the variety of people skating: the woman in her eighties (yes 80’s!) who is still wearing the same skates she used in high school; the middle aged man with a pot belly who still skates with grace from his hockey playing days; new immigrants taking up our winter pastime with determination–their bravery awesome; people like I was not long ago, just learning how to really skate as adults; kids toddling around on the ice; zoomers like my daughters who fly. There is a sense of welcome and shared pleasure on the ice for people of all levels of skill. This is how life should be: offering space to learn and space to enjoy for newbies and experts of all ages, together in joy. And whenever I see another adult shuffling along on skates, I stop to tell them about the adult lessons at the arena and how I learned to skate.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

13 thoughts on “*How I Learned to Skate

  1. How wonderful! I wish I could skate but I am absolutely atrocious at that sort of thing and end up on my bottom permanently! Just love those old photos – what a delightful lost age.

  2. can I go skating with you? can I? your journey sounds like mine, a bit, though I started on a Boston pond. I can’t get skating out of me. It appears in Undercover, in FLow, and now again in Dangerous Neighbors.

    Love knowing you love it as I do.

  3. Rachel–thanks. It’s something I hadn’t anticipated about being a parent. I figured I would be introducing my kids to my interests, but it goes the other way too!

    Litlove, I love those photos too. That 1909 photo is where we now skate but by the 1920’s there were 5 ice rinks there. Now there is just one.

    Beth–anytime! Come on over.

  4. Wonderful story! I love skating but never learned super well. I’ve never lived much where it was a prominent sport/hobby, either, but I have skated on a lake a couple of times.

    Ice skates are one of my favorite Christmas ornaments. Just to look at a pair of skates, real or ornaments, makes me happy. How fun to take lessons. I should do that someday.

  5. Love the photos and the tale!

    Lilian, the last time I went ice-skating was actually in Toronto, at an outdoor rink by a lake…? It was somewhere quite near downtown; my Polish-Canadian friend took me there – it was early 2001, and we had a marvellous time. Lots of hilarious falling about and bruised bums to boot!

  6. Yes! I’m sure that’s it. At the time, my friend lived on Browning Ave; I walked EVERYWHERE, even though it was freezing. My god, how irritating to realise we may well have passed each other in Toronto during my stay, just two strangers on a busy street.

  7. My girlfriend tried to teach me to skate at Nathan Phillips Square when I was in my thirties. It didn’t go well at all. The fact that seven year old children were doing figure eights around me at about 75kph didn’t help matters.

    It was fun, despite the bruises and the humiliation and the aching shins and the obvious delight my sweetheart took in watching me reel around like a scarecrow in a tornado. But if I had it to do over again, formal lessons — in private — would probably be the way to go.

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