It’s the height of summer but we’re at the rink anyway. It’s our last skate of the season.
Liz is flying across the ice with her golden hair streaming behind. Hannah (her black Ugandan locks jammed under a black hockey helmet) is also going round and round, as is Jon, smile from ear to ear, telling me how many laps he’s just finished without falling.
It’s among our favourite activities – all three kids have been up on their skating pegs for some time despite our limited time in Canada every summer – and it reminds me of my own boyhood and Saturdays and going round and round at the local rink with the Beatles and other old rock and roll pushing me along.
As a kid, I would actually dream about these times, dream that I was being pulled across the ice by a bigger and stronger cousin. Now I pull my own kids behind me while they yell ‘Donkey, Donkey!’
Jon was at lap 35 or so when he told me so. But when you learn to skate as well as Jon can, you don’t need to count laps anymore. This is what I told him.
Instead it becomes more important to do things like practice your starts and stops and turning and backward moves, and to, more than anything, just have fun with it all.
‘You can play games like this,’ I said, moving my skates in patterns without taking them off the ice. ‘Or when you come to a line, jump over it.’
‘I do that all the time!’ Jon said.
And so it didn’t take much to make my point about just having fun and trying different things because this, after all, is how we learn.
As a family, we’re now getting ready to do another lap in Africa, something My Bride and I started some time ago, what I call our “Two lives for the price of one” overseas routine. It’s been so many years since we started, I, in fact, tend to lose count.
It was just after 9/11. I remember this. Someone yelled fire in the theater and when everyone ran out, My Bride and I, for one reason or another, found ourselves running in. This is how we got our start with it all, in the heart of the Islamic-Arab world, in Yemen.
When I wasn’t helping to steer the Yemen Times, I’d push Liz round and round in her stroller in our little ground-level flat on some street with no name in the middle of Sana’a.
A few years later, when Jon was barely a couple of months old, we all moved to Uganda so My Bride could launch Save the Mothers. And a couple of years after that, of course, Hannah joined us.
So now we’ve all done more than a few laps as a family. Soon we’re on a plane for another one. And then we still have a few more to go. And I do tend to lose count.
When one lives in a foreign culture, especially one that has the sorts of needs that Africa does, you never feel totally at ease. Nor do you ever feel you’ve learned it all.
But maybe losing count of the laps is not such a bad thing. Maybe it means that as a family we’re having a good time, despite the challenges.
And while such a back-and-forth life means never feeling totally settled, it also means we don’t just do one day after another, round and round without thought. The days stay fresh.
There’s a certain joy in that. And what more could anyone ask of life?