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Claire recalls a day of many “firsts”

Waiting for the bus was stressful, maybe in part because it was so new this time. Throughout elementary school at Bank Street, I had never taken the bus, and I most certainly didn’t go alone. I always went with my brother Eric and my mom in the subway or in a taxi, New York City family that we are. This time was different, however. I was on my own, sort of, with only my dad waiting with me, ready to head to Chelsea Piers for an ice-skating camp from our home on the Upper West Side a few miles north. I was definitely excited to learn how to skate, and just to go to camp in general. I was eight, a third-grader who could barely type, and here I was, waiting near a church for the bus. I thought to myself, You can do it. It’s just camp, over and over again, just waiting and waiting.

The bus finally pulled in after five boring minutes of waiting and fiddling my fingers. It was one of those typical yellow school buses with a black stripe down the middle, and it wasn’t as big as a regular school bus— maybe half the size. The ride was long and slow, a half hour, and I sat with some kid I didn’t know (and still don’t know because all she did on the bus was read).

I, a shy third-grader, didn’t talk to anyone. I just sat there staring out the window watching cars pass by. This was all new for me; no one had told me that it was loud and noisy on the bus, and sometimes it would take forever for the bus to get to school because of traffic and how slow it went. Yet I still thought it was thrilling, this first ride. Later, I liked how the bus was just a little place where kids got to talk or to hang out, and I often made new friends this way.

Snip Snip Snip

Once the bus finally arrived, a counselor made us line up in a single-file line and state the name of our camp. This counselor had a dark-brown baseball hat and was wearing shorts and a purple T-shirt with cartoon characters on it. He also had two nose piercings. My first impression of him was that he talked way too loud. So I made a snap decision then and there not to like him. Shy-kid me took ten seconds just to say the three words “ice-skating camp.”

The counselor took me, along with all of us ice-skating campers, out to the rink, and let me say this: the rink was freezing cold, and I did not like the cold one bit. So I started to run toward the place where we had to lace up our skates. Yet someone pointed out that I had to check in, so I waited in line, shivering. The kid in front of me was taking forever. He was listing his allergies, and he had tons of them. I remember pollen, nuts, and milk, but there were more! When it was my turn, I just said my name, Claire, and that I had no allergies. Nothing else. That was it. The person behind me got lucky.

Once I got inside the lacing area, I was so relieved to notice there was a heater there. I quickly put on my helmet, jacket, and gloves, but the rental skates were a challenge. It took nearly five minutes to jab my right foot into one of them, and the left took twice as long. The reason it took so long was because the ice skates were shaped like weird pears, and it was hard getting my feet to fit. Eventually I gave up and asked a counselor to help. I didn’t know this at the time, but rather than me doing it myself, the counselors were actually supposed to help. If I had known this, I could’ve saved ten minutes and a lot of frustration.

The rink wasn’t open yet, but I wanted to go on it right away. The ice was so smooth and clean, and I was the little devil who chaotically wanted to ruin it. Once they opened the gates—and I do not exaggerate— it was a stampede of kids running out the door like wild animals being released from captivity. I was eventually pushed onto the rink, along with several others, by the most eager children. I clung to the walls because I was nervous, but also because I couldn’t balance myself. A lot of other kids did the same, since we were tentative and scared. You could say it looked like a conga line, but instead, we were a bunch of anxious children, not a line of dancers at a party!

After a few minutes of this messy beginning, all of the kids on the walls got picked up by a teacher and assigned to a class with other kids. There were eight different groups based on level of experience. Of course, I got set up into a class called “Basic One,” the easiest of all the groups. The teacher was an optimist and saw the bright side to everything, including a bunch of kids falling down every five minutes. Yet she was friendly and always said “Smile!” It was a bit weird and annoying because we would be learning how to walk on ice and she would say “Smile,” and that would throw the whole class off track.

She taught us a bunch of nonsense, like if your face comes in contact with skates, you should not touch your face, and go straight to a counselor instead since they had first-aid kits. We were also taught how to get up when you fall, and how to “step one at a time.” It personally felt more like walking than ice skating to me, because I didn’t glide at all during that first session.

The ice was so smooth and clean, and I was the little devil who chaotically wanted to ruin it.

After class, you had free time to do whatever you wanted out there on the rink, and I really liked that part, and this is where I learned the most. As for the other kids who were so much faster than me, they were just zooming around and having tons of fun. During this time, I also saw a lot of kids scraping up ice with their hands. They picked up the scraped-powdery ice and put it in their mouths. I didn’t know why they were doing that, but it was disgusting. I bet there were a lot of sick kids and angry parents after that first week.

Soon after the actual skating part, we were all sent to different parts of Chelsea Piers to play soccer or do other activities, like gymnastics or basketball. That first day, I remember we were sent to the fieldhouse to play soccer, and I also remember not liking it much, so I just sat there and watched. It just felt boring, kicking a ball around and hoping to score. Soccer has never been my thing, and it certainly wasn’t going to be my thing on this day. After that, we ate an unsurprisingly mediocre lunch, which was pizza and French fries, and neither seemed fresh. I sat with people I barely knew because the tables in the cafeteria were randomly arranged.

With lunch behind us, we were going to skate again. I didn’t know we would skate two times a day, but we did, so I skated. It was slightly better than before, because I knew how to skate better. And then, as before, it was free time again. I stepped around the rink like a lunatic until the workers at the rink screamed, “Bus kids!” ridiculously loud.

The “bus kids,” myself included, got escorted to the place where we’d put on our skates to pack up. I packed up, and then we were off. The buses were numbered buses, and I remember being on one of the last buses. At the front desk they offered us packed ice creams, which was bizarre because we’d been in the cold all day. Still, we could pick which ones we wanted, such as popsicles or ice cream sandwiches, and I picked the latter. Then it was time to be sent home in buses, since we were bus kids, after all.

That was that—although I do remember saying “Hi” to the “my head is stuck in this book for the remainder of this bus time” girl, and she actually said hi back to me this time. I was proud that I actually managed to say a single word—me, that shy kid. There must have been something about that day that gave me a little more courage.

Claire Pan
Claire Pan, 11
New York, NY

Astrid Young, 11
Brookline, MA