Ice skating was a big part of my life as a child. My parents arrived in Canada one sunny afternoon in May more than 40 years ago, and by the time hockey season started in September, they were rabid Toronto Maple Leafs fans. They wanted us to embrace our new culture, so my brother plunged into the fast-paced world of competitive hockey, while I explored my creative side through figure skating. What could be more Canadian?
I’d always assumed that my daughters, too, would know the joys of skating. We enrolled them in lessons when they were just tots, and as I watched them lurch around the ice, I envisioned us gliding down Ottawa’s Rideau Canal together, perhaps stopping for a cup of steaming hot chocolate and a beaver tail before leisurely skating off into the sunset.
Then we moved to Singapore, and life didn’t work out quite like that.
For those who like to keep track of such things, raising children overseas can be viewed from a perspective of gains and losses. The gains include language and intercultural skills, heightened maturity, and the expanded mindset that comes with trying new things. I think it’s fabulous, for example, when expat kids get involved in activities that are completely alien to their home culture. That kind of psychic stretching is what expatriation is all about.
The flip side of the coin — missing out on “typical” experiences that their peers back home take for granted — is a loss; one of the inevitable consequences of expat life.
Now, I’d accepted the fact that my girls only saw their grandparents once a year. I’d come to terms with the certainty that living abroad would rob them of some key cultural markers (a state of affairs that would probably brand them as weird — the cruellest of childhood insults — if and when we returned to Canada for good.) But there was NO WAY my daughters were going to be deprived of their God-given right to skate.
Fortunately, just as I was about to get worked up into a lather about this, the good folks at the Canadian International School stepped into the breach. When the registration form for the CIS Skating Club came home, I (and everyone around me) breathed a huge sigh of relief. Meltdown averted.
For one term every year, the club went to Jurong for weekly skating lessons. In the cramped and crumbling interior of Fuji Ice Palace, it was easy to pick the hockey players out of the crowd. They were the pint-sized Gretzkys who flew around the rink, weaving in and out of the other skaters and spraying ice three feet in the air every time they whooshed to a stop.
Most of the kids in the skating club were rank beginners, though, and as a volunteer Rink Mom, it was my job to coax them around the lumpy ice while they waited for their lesson to begin. I laced up their skates with their blades held firmly between my knees, just as my dad did with me. I picked them up when they fell, wiped their tears when they cried, and made them laugh when I showed them how to skate backwards by wiggling my backside.
I had a wonderful time. And my transplanted Canucks learned how to skate.
Now, back in the land of Elvis Stojko and Barbara Ann Scott, the girls enjoy going to the rink on a Friday night with their friends. We still haven’t made it to the Rideau Canal, but I know we will someday. I can almost taste the beaver tails.
What activity from your home culture were you determined not to live without as an expat?