Education happens sometimes in some strange places.
Personally, I have spent this fall and winter (so far) somewhat amazed by what goes on at our local skating rink, right here "at the park."
My three kids-ages 14, 12 and 7-all started ice skating just last year. I expected to watch them learn how to get around on the ice, maybe even go backwards at some point, maybe do a trick or two.
Little did I know that the skating rink is not really about skating.
Yes, skating happens there. Some pretty good skating by some, in fact. My own children’s increasing skills have been good.
But what really goes on at this skating rink is a social education.
The romance. The drama. The flirting. The jockeying-for-position.
Do you remember what it was like to be 12? Or 13? Or 14? To stand at the fragile intersection of childhood simplicity and teenager freedom?
As the kids go round and round, there is so much more going on here than putting one foot in front of the other.
A girl loses her hat as her friend steals it and whizzes forward, laughing all the way. The girl chases him back, trying (and failing) to look really annoyed.
Then the hat is passed to another boy, and he races from the same girl.
Last week, the boys’ roles were reversed, I remember. Is she with the new boy this week? Or are they all "just friends", like my kids tell me?
Over in the snack bar area, about nine middle-school-age boys are loudly trying to top one another, and gain the attention of the three girls who are clearly quite pleased to be middle of attention.
Last week? It was a different set of girls, but similar group of guys.
And this week, there are two that are clearly "a couple" now: their hands clasped together for all to see their new proclamation of how smitten they are with each other.
Another couple skates by, hand-in-hand, only 14 or 15 years-old, but looking for all the world like an old, contented couple. They are ignoring all the noise and confusion, clearly content in their own little world, skating round and round ...
Then again, I see the quick kiss exchanged-one that is really not so chaste and innocent as I remember happening at this age. I am quickly reminded of the phrase of "raging hormones".
Over across the way, I see one boy watching the girl he was skating with a few weeks ago. The girl is now reaching for her new interest’s hand. A quick shadow flickers across the first boy’s face.
But then he skates resolutely forward, this time sneaking glances at yet another girl who has piqued his interest this week.
Later, on the way home, I listen as the kids joke and laugh about their newest "best friends" or so-and-so’s new "girlfriend". Clearly, as an adult and a mother, I am "out of touch", they say.
"She’s only a friend, you know, like a female friend, nothing more."
But his friends rat him out: "Oh yeah? Then why are you still texting her, like, a hundred times an hour?"
"We’re just friends!"
"Right, right, right," they laugh at him, and I can’t help but to join in, too.
Because I know that he will be joining the clamor of the rest of them, wanting to go back again tomorrow night, and the next night that it’s open, and then again if there are afternoon hours....
It’s this pull that the rink holds over them all.
And I think to myself how lucky we are here in Brattleboro to have this little gem of a place. This social education stuff: it’s going to happen somewhere. It’s one of those passages of life.
It’s just one more step in that relentless push towards independence. And here in Brattleboro, it’s all helped along with the presence of the rink.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the boards for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board (elementary schools).