Though I’d all but vowed to burn my volunteer badge after my most recent
public humiliation chaperone experience, I’d previously committed to a few additional stints of enrichment, all in the name of fairness. For in addition to falling prey to emails threatening cancellation of so-called learning excursions, I am even more susceptible to the mythical pursuit of equality when it comes to volunteerism.
As in, whatever I do for one of my boy-children, I must also do for the other. A fieldtrip for one, begets a fieldtrip for the other. For failure to invest my time equally could only mean I love one child more than another and will surely become the subject of many therapy sessions twenty years from now.
This would be how I found myself volunteering for the Gort’s end of year Kindergarten fieldtrip and, despite ‘notliking’ it and vowing never to do it again, signed up for the same experience three years later when it was the Hen’s turn. Because maybe I’d misremembered the affair? Maybe time had mitigated my appreciation of those hours spent traipsing through the forest with five year olds?
I did, however, learn my proverbial lesson the second time around and, a scant two years later, ignored all forest-related correspondence when it was Percy’s turn.
‘Too-doo-doo. The number you have reached……has been….disconnected.’
But this is about speedskating. Ofallthings.
The email came out requesting help and as I hadn’t yet donated any of my time to the Hen’s grade three experience, I said yes. Yes, I would forfeit six hours during the last week of school, in the off chance my middle boy turned out to be the next [insert name of famous male speedskater ‘cuz I’m drawing a real blank].
A few weeks later, I was back on a yellow bus. With the same bus driver from the ‘coffee incident’ of 2015. I smiled in an ultra friendly but avoiding eye contact kind of way, and found an empty seat.
‘Can you get me a coffee?’ I texted the professor. ‘Nope’ he replied, immediately. ‘Bus hasn’t left yet,’ I joked. ‘In that case definitely not.’ he refused.
It is my personal opinion that the bus ride is actually the worst part of any school excursion. I’m not sure if this is related in any way to seventh grade, when I, an immigrant girl with bad clothes and a less than stellar command of the English language, got on a yellow bus for the first time ever and found myself being stared at by a hundred pairs of unfamiliar eyes; forced to make a split-second decision about where the most hospitable seat-beside-a-stranger might be.
All while Cameo’s ‘Word Up‘ was playing.
Or maybe it’s just because I hate trying to
shout at talk to people over the din of sixty other people’s conversations while being jostled about in a large vehicle with poor shock absorption.
To complicate the situation, the raison de volunteering– the very person for whom I am forfeiting my time in an effort to prove that I love him exactly as much as his siblings – will likely choose to sit with a friend rather than with his mother. Thus, not unlike the seventh grade – I will be forced to share a seat with a fellow volunteer and make smalltalk. Sixty percent of which I won’t hear due to the noise level.
Alternatively, I could share a seat with a random young person who may or may not turn out to be the chattiest person alive, subjecting moi to all manner of jokes I’ve likely heard a time or five [hundred] before and other anecdotes that require a semi-thoughtful response.
Which is precisely what happened to me. I’d snagged an ’empty’ seat and just after I’d sighed with relief in anticipation of a silent ride, a young boy walked by and asked if he could sit there and…..yada yada yada….dogs, parents, older brothers, jokes, muscle cars, musical instruments – no conversation topic was left unturned during that 9 kilometer bus ride.
Upon arrival at the Olympic Oval, we marched off the bus, through a corridor, downstairs and upstairs where I helped squeeze young feet into less than hospitable speedskates. I believe 1994 was the last time I laced up a pair of skates. It was the age of gross-colored rental skates. Not shiny brand-new, made in the Netherlands, speedskates.
Laces. A thousand lace-holes. Velcro straps to secure the tied laces. Laces stuck to velcro straps while you try to lace up the skates. Skates that are too small and require you to run back downstairs, and upstairs, along the corridor to get a different size. And then back downstairs and upstairs to the anxiously waiting child.
And then there were helmets! Back in 1994, nobody wore helmets.
Once on the ice, a girl started sobbing that her feet hurt and the no-nonsense, white-haired instructor with the booming voice sent her off the ice. I walked over to help her get her skates off and found they were essentially bonded to her feet. Intransigent. Immutable. Twosizestoosmall. Bring the Jaws of Life.
‘How did you get these on your feet?’ I gasped, trying to extricate her feet while she yelped in pain.
‘It was really hard.’
I hurried back to the rental shop to find a bigger pair and upon lacing up the ugly duckling, last set of size 36 skates, made an inch-long, brimming with blood gash…in my own finger.
And then the Hen, who did not take to the ice like a fish to water, hobbled off the ice with blisters in triplicate and I removed skates, applied bandaids, stuck his feet back in the skates and battled the laces and velcro before sending him back to the ice.
By the time we got back on the bus, I was utterly depleted and still had an afternoon of teaching ahead of me. I squeezed into a seat with the Hen and one of his little friends, with the tacit understanding that we would not speak for the duration of the ride back to school.
It was a pretty good plan. Except my muscle car loving friend claimed the empty seat in front of us and swiveled around to pick up where we’d left off.
One down, one to go.