The Behavior is NOT the Child

A little over eleven years ago, I was displaced at my job. After spending ten years teaching middle school and high school music, I was moved to an elementary school. Not just any elementary school, an elementary school that is about in hushed tones through other parts of my school district. It’s an old building with mismatched floor tiles and seventies-style bathrooms. The cinder block walls have been coated with the ever-changing pallets of trendy colors. Every once in awhile, a critter will find its way in and then fail to find its way out, not being discovered until the heat kicks on and a smell announces its presence.

But like King Arthur or Cinderella, you can’t judge a book by its cover. My school is a special place where magic happens – and not just for the kids, but for me.

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When I got the call that I was being moved to a new school, I was devastated. I never planned on teaching below the secondary level. The way I saw it, I was not wired for nose-wiping and shoe-tying, and I don’t do silly kid songs. I hadn’t been trained to teach kids who had just learned how to use the bathroom (sometimes not even that), and all I could think about was how I was going to handle it when they barfed in my class. Because, you know, that’s what little kids do: pick their noses and puke.

It just goes to show you how naive I was.

After ten years of experience in education, I was basically a first year teacher all over again. I had no clue how to teach beginning music. All of my teaching experience had been with students that had the foundation laid down by someone else. I had spent years being the next step in the process, and now I had to figure out how to be the first.

Up until then, all the students I had taught had chosen to take my class. Now, I was responsible for teaching everyone, whether they wanted to be there or not. For the first time in my career, I was teaching students with actual special needs.

Those first few months I drowned. I was overwhelmed and cried a lot. My own children were 1 and 3 at the time, and I was exhausted by life in general. It is often in our most difficult times, those times when we struggle to see purpose and light, that the really blessings come. While I wandered blindly around my classroom, God had my back.

I was offered the opportunity to do some intensive training in working with students with Autism. Looking back, I don’t know that my principal expected me to accept the offer to take the course, and I don’t know that the teachers I did the course with took me seriously – but I was serious. I may not have chosen to do this job, but I wasn’t going to fail at it. I was clearly not equipped to work with students with varied needs, and it was unacceptable to me that I would fail them.

The course ignited a passion in me that I didn’t know existed. I was fascinated by the material, and became obsessed with finding a way to get through to every single student, no matter what they came to me with.

Over the years this passion grew, and I began to see the true nature of the power educators hold. I completely changed my idea of what kids could or could not do, and I became determined to share everything that I had learned with anyone who would listen.

I’m not perfect, but I am proud to say that I work every day to ensure that my classroom is a positive, rich, learning environment where it is believed that all students can learn.

My personal life has paralleled my work in education. I’ve raised two stepsons, and my own sons are now 11 and 13. I’ve been on the stepparent and parent side of the whole school thing and sat where many of you who are reading this have sat. I’ve cried. I’ve worried. I’ve lost faith and found it again.

There used to be a time when the relationship between parents and teachers was sacred – an unspoken bond in the quiet determination to do what was needed to raise another human being. There was trust. Most importantly, when something wasn’t handled perfectly, there was forgiveness, because after all, we are on the same team.

That world doesn’t exist anymore, and not just in education. The faith we used to have in each other is repeatedly under attack by politicians and media types whose superior understanding of the world convinces us of one conspiracy after another, and of how certain groups of people are to be feared and not trusted.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people are worrying for no reason – there are things to worry about. The education system, public and private, is failing. It’s failing because our culture is failing. However, inside of a failing system, there are all the things that have always been there to make it successful, if we just get to the heart of it – and the heart of any system are the people in it.

If we were to treat people like the precious commodity that they are, instead of something to be thrown aside or used for one’s purpose, the way we choose to respond to situations would be drastically different. If you approached every person who had wronged you with the certain knowledge that they were a good person but did a bad thing, your words and actions would be completely different than if you were convinced of their moral decrepitness.

Now, imagine that the person in question is a child. A human being whose brain isn’t fully developed and who depends on you to walk them through the process of understanding behavior that is appropriate. Would you be so quick to assume that they are simply a horrible person that needs to be punished? Punishment is a moderately effective tool for correcting behavior, and on its best day, is simply a bandaid on a gaping wound.

There is one thing that I think any parent or person needs to understand before they manage any behavior with a child. In my opinion, it is the foundation of _everything_, and the first thing we need to remind ourselves of when working with any child.

The behavior is not the child.

The goodness of a child, their heart and soul, is not always, but very frequently, independent of the behaviors they display or choose. Behavior serves a purpose, and an overwhelming majority of the time, a child will use a behavior to get something he or she needs. Like a baby crying when they’re hungry or need their diaper changed.

The brain is an amazingly complex thing, and as anyone who has suffered Depression knows, chemical imbalances will alter perceptions and behaviors. There are definitely children whose chemical makeup makes the whole deciphering of behaviors more challenging. There are many experts who are bettered placed to help with those kinds of needs than I am.

What I am most concerned about in our current society is the trend and tendency to indict and crucify children because of poor behavior, instead of trying to solve the puzzle of how to meet their individual needs. I’m concerned about how the damaged relationship between parents and teachers has impaired our ability to do what is best for the children we are committed to raising. I’m concerned about a world that is so media focused and full of social justice marches that it doesn’t allow the dust to settle and emotions to die down so that a calm, logical response to a problem can take precedence over the blood-thirst of a mob to do something.

Like any mother, I worry about my boys constantly. I know that the world can’t love them as much as I do. I know that they will love me despite my mistakes as their mom. Both of these things are God’s gift to us as people. The thing that keeps me awake at night, though, is the idea that people look at the bad choices my kids make and rather than see it as part of a process of growing into a decent human being, they decide that they are horrible people and need to be taken out of contact with society. If you think that I’m being dramatic, perhaps you are unaware of the constant behind the scenes crusades of some parents that repeatedly demand children be removed from schools so that their children don’t have to be around them. Or perhaps you’ve never been in youth sports, where children are regularly cut from teams at the insistence of other parents.

We have got to do better. We. Have. Got. To. For me, it all comes down to one thing that should be remembered before dealing with any situation:

The behavior is not the child.

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You Are What You Write

It’s no secret that I’m a bit infatuated with words. I’m drawn to them like a food addict to a freshly baked batch of chocolate chip cookies. I spend ridiculous amounts of time bathing in the words of literal virtuosos, reveling in every turn of phrase and each gloriously constructed sentence that reaches inside the deepest parts of one’s psyche.

I’m a dork about it, too. I laugh at coffee mugs that taunt common grammar mistakes and I obsessively take pictures of public signs with misused words. I have a dictionary/thesaurus that is very well-loved.

For the most part, none of this makes me intolerable to be around. At least, I don’t think it does. It is one of those things that my friends roll their eyes at, ask me if I’m done being a nerd and then hand me a beer.

There is, however, a dark side to it all. I am quite judgmental  when it comes to texts and social media posts.

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I’ve thought about seeing a counselor for my problem (no I haven’t) and on more than one occasion, I’ve thrown my phone against the wall after reading a sentence constructed of nothing but “lol”s and “fml” (no I haven’t).

All kidding aside, even if I didn’t love to read and write, I would still be meticulous about the things I write and share. Some of it is my Type A personality, but most of it is the fact that I like to put my best foot forward. That doesn’t mean I haven’t gone to the grocery store in my pajamas, or had a few more cocktails than lends itself to being socially graceful – I’m not perfect. But the vast majority of time, I try to look like I give a damn.

Appearances do matter. Even the people who subscribe to a style that gives off the “I don’t care” vibe, are still subscribing to a style. They want to send the message that they don’t care, and so their personal appearance is planned accordingly. While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (God, there’s some terrible cover art) or its title (nothing about “Outlander” comes close to suggesting the amazing journey within), appearances are often what opens the door to deeper discovery. If you want someone to take you seriously, you don’t speak like Daffy Duck, or pick your nose while listening to them talk.

For some reason, people have not given written language the same consideration. It really doesn’t take much to quickly reread a text before you write it. While I appreciate the ensuing AutoCorrect hilarity, how many doors have been shut because of a misarticulated sentence?

The fact is, your written words are your online voice, and when you can’t even be bothered to type out the word “you”, how do you expect the person reading it to take you seriously? It’s like having a conversation without ever making eye contact and speaking in a voice so low that you are unintelligible. If you’re expecting to be the recipient of someone’s precious time, you should demonstrate that you value that time by writing something that reads like you care whether they understand you.

Now, I know that not everyone is a literary artist. Words don’t always come easily to people. They don’t always come easily to me. But if you want people to have a good impression of you, if you want them to take you seriously and value what you say, you should take the time to use complete words. You should write in a way that makes the reader feel that you are the kind of person they would like to have a conversation with IRL (I couldn’t resist).

Most people would never intentionally post an unflattering picture of themselves, so why would they write something that is an unflattering representation of their brain – especially if they are working to market themselves or their business? If you want people’s attention, give them something to pay attention to. If you want them to ignore you or dismiss you, write in broken English and watch how quickly they scroll past anything you have to say.

What a much more beautiful world social media would be if people not only thought things through before they shared, but if they actually took the time to present it in a way that was comprehensible.

I daydream about that. For realz.

Build Them Up

When elementary school memories come visit me in my dreams, they are always set on the playground. They take place in the overcast days of Autumn, in a magical place where the lack of sun can’t keep the trees from looking like they are on fire. While I am certain that I spent other days, sunny ones and snowy ones, dangling from monkey bars or sliding down metal slides onto concrete, the dream memories always have a backdrop of Michigan in Fall.

Playgrounds are where all the best stuff happens. I say this as a public school teacher with 20 years under my belt. It’s not that what my colleagues and I do doesn’t make a difference, it’s that the dynamic reality of culture plays out on the playground like nowhere else.


Recess has changed a lot since I was a kid in the 80’s. The games vary with each generation, but for the most part, kids were always left to do what kids do. In my youth, there were adults on the playground, but rarely within sight. If you needed one, you knew where to find them, but they weren’t hovering and managing your every move. They didn’t stop you from running on the blacktop, but if you fell and scraped your knee, they would clean you up and assure you that you were not going to lose your leg. Other than that, they let us do our thing, which frequently meant doing the wrong thing.

Yet, with each failed attempt at flipping on the bars, we gained the experience necessary to know how to do it right. With each repetition of Red Rover, we figured out who was most likely to let go, and after a couple of rounds of Dodgeball you knew who was slow enough for you to peg. There was also a learning curve for us slow movers. A “Four-Eyes” since the age of 3, it only took one well-placed toss in the face with a hard rubber ball to make my feet move a whole helluva lot quicker the next time.

Along the way there were kids who sustained more serious injuries. The school roller skating party virtually guaranteed at least one broken arm – but somehow, we all made it out. Not just made it out, we came out stronger for what we had been allowed to navigate on our own.

I was never physically harmed (that I can remember), but I was definitely on the receiving end of some pretty nasty words. When I think back, most of it was a fairly routine matter of growing up. It was mostly kids testing emotional relationships in much the same way they will test a log to see if it will hold their weight. They say things to see how far they can push, and in some cases, whether or not they can break the log and remain unscathed. To their developing brains, most times it is easier to knock someone down and take their place rather than find a place of their own.

I was an easy mark for these kids; you could pretty much guarantee a reaction out of me. It took a long time for me to grow up and understand that even the most direct, unkind words intended to wound me really had nothing to do with me at all. As I tell my kids, happy people simply aren’t mean. It takes a lot of energy to choose to be calculatedly, purposefully unkind to someone, and the vast majority of people won’t make that kind of effort. Most of the crap that gets flung in our direction comes from people that are self-centered and use unkind words out of ignorance or in self-defense.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. This saying always made me mad, because darn it, words do hurt. The thing is, there is more to that sentence: words do hurt,  but only if you let them.

Words only carry the weight that we give them.

Think about that.

While many bloggers and columnists lament that hurt feelings have become such an issue, I’m actually a bit more optimistic about this particular cultural annoyance. I see a world so blessed that there is time to worry about such things. In the not so distant past, people had much more grave things to worry about than being offended. You know, things like Polio and Starvation.

Still, as someone who suffers from anxiety and has an emotional disposition that can sometimes can be crippling, I’m all too cognizant of the fact that words can break someone. In a modern society that wants to pad all its rooms, I’d like to offer a different solution: toughen up.

Toughening up doesn’t come from being beat up until you snap. Toughening up is a process, and it requires a lot of support. In a just world, that support comes from parents. My parents worked hard to build me up. They had my back. They also let me cry, knowing that sometimes the hurt needs to be washed away like mud-spattered boots after a storm. They’d hug me so I never felt alone, and they would tell me how confident they were that things would work out, even if that meant that I didn’t get what I wanted. After all, God has bigger plans.

In all my childhood years, my parents only once met with one of my teachers to give him the what-for. They spent the rest of their energy empowering me to deal with things on my own.

Through all my awkward years of growing up, the only time I felt ugly was at school. At home, my parents looked at me as if I was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. They looked at my brother and sister like that, too. Now that I’m a mom, I understand how that feels. Sometimes I look at the crazy hurricane colic on the back of my son’s head and think that I’ve never seen anything more lovely. This love is a shield unlike any other, and when kids at school called me ugly, it hurt, but it didn’t wound, because deep down I knew they were wrong.

The problem with how we manage things today is that we are trying to pad the world, when what we need to be doing is building people up to live in a world that will hurt them. Empowering them with the ability to make it through things when it’s really bad, and to revel in all the glory of things when they are really good.

I want my kids to live. I know they will appreciate the blessings so much more when they understand that the opposite is possible. I don’t expect them to go it alone; I’ll be there, kissing the boo-boos and reminding them that they aren’t alone, and that things will work out.

Because after all, God has bigger plans.

Writing and Music – Two of my Favorite Things

After weeks of craziness, I finally was able to slow down and write. Thankfully, I had an assigned task in the form of a writing exercise from the Compuserve Books and Writers Community.

I was a bad girl and didn’t follow all of the rules. I completely obliterated the maximum word count on this, but I decided to leave it as is, because this little story made me feel good.

I hope you like it, too.

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Her whole life had been spent inside a glass box.

Outside of the box was everything. There, colors exploded, aromas swirled and life was lived. The sun would touch her; sometimes passionately, sometimes gently.

But Connie was trapped. The world could touch her, but she couldn’t touch it.

Thomas took a spoonful of oatmeal and inserting it into his mouth, looked at Connie. He watched her shake her hands furiously and rock back and forth. He swallowed, then spoke, but not to her.

“We need to talk.”

Annie carried her bowl to the table and sat down. Thomas continued, “We need to start being honest about what has to happen.”

Annie looked up, her eyes warning him not to continue, “Not now, Thomas.” She sat up straight and pulled her hands into a tight ball in her lap. “She’s starting a new therapy today.”

Thomas slammed his hand on the table and both Annie and Connie started. “Dammit!” he said, “When are you going to admit that she’s-”

“Don’t you say it, Thomas.”

“She’s damaged,” he huffed. “She’s not normal and won’t ever be.”

“I can hear you,” Connie said, “I’m right here,” but the words ricocheted off the inside of the glass.

Annie pushed away from the table and walked to the sink, depositing her bowl with enough force to crack the bottom. She gripped the edge of the sink and pushed her anger back so she could speak with an even tone.

“I know she’s not normal, but who is?” She turned to face Thomas again. “I know there’s a way for her to understand. Please. Let’s see how this goes.”

Connie followed Annie down the brightly lit corridor leading to the therapy room. The walls were lined with art in all kinds of bright colors. Connie wanted to tell her mom that they were pretty, but all she did was shake her hands and walk in a zig zag.

They entered a large white room with two chairs, a grand piano and piano bench.  

Seated at the piano was an old man. His long neck supported a head that was bent unnaturally to the keyboard. His gaunt, lengthy fingers hovered above the keys, frozen. He didn’t seem aware that anyone had joined him.

Annie felt uneasy, and Connie didn’t know what to think. They stood in front of their chairs and waited for the old man to notice them.

Without warning, the man’s hands drifted to the keys and began to move. The notes were quiet but purposeful, and they filled the room with an unexpected calm.

Connie stopped shaking her hands and sat down. Annie sat down, too.

After a few measured moments, the old man’s right hand tapped three of the same pitches. In those three notes was every bit of life Connie could imagine. His left hand kept moving, and she felt pulled into each movement of his bony fingers. How could something so beautiful come from such a slight man?

Connie moved her chair closer. Annie didn’t stop her.

The notes rolled like clouds on a hill, kissing the hilltops and drifting on. When the notes stopped, the man sat frozen, then with a deep breath, turned to face his audience.

His deep baritone voice caught them off guard, “It’s Beethoven” he said, “His Moonlight Sonata.”

Connie moved her chair closer, within arm’s length of the keys.

The old man didn’t stop her, instead he turned to Annie and extended his hand.

“Hi, I’m Michael.”

Annie accepted his hand, “Hello, we’re here to see Dr. Dwyer. Is he going to be here soon?”

Michael smiled, “You’re looking at him.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Annie could see Connie reaching for the keys on the piano. “No, Sweetheart. Don’t touch.”

“It’s okay,” Dr. Dwyer said. He reached for Connie’s hand and guided her index finger to the white key nestled in between the first two black keys in the set of three. Gently, he pushed her finger to tap it three times, just as he had done moments earlier.

Annie swallowed hard. Normally, the only people who could touch Connie’s hands without triggering a fit were Annie and Thomas.

Dr. Dwyer repeated the motion. Connie’s heart soared. She wanted to tell Dr. Dwyer how much she loved the sounds and the feel of the keys, but the words were stuck with her behind the glass.

Dr. Dwyer pulled his hand away and set it in his lap. “Now, you try,” he said.

Connie looked at her mother. Fear flooded her limbs.

Annie placed her hand on Connie’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Sweetheart. You can do it.”

Connie turned back to the piano. Her hand remained frozen. She dropped her head and closed her eyes. She needed the other notes. She needed Dr. Dwyer’s hands, too.

“Please play with me,” she said, but once again the words died on her side of the glass.

Annie watched her daughter and her heart ached. She saw Connie’s lips move. They opened and closed like a goldfish in a bag from the county fair, but no sound came out.

Dr. Dwyer waited patiently, in no hurry to end the session or force it forward.

“Puh, puh, luh – ee.” The sounds that escaped Connie were rhythmic. Annie’s hands tightened and Dr. Dwyer leaned forward.

“Puh – luh – ee” Connie grunted. Her finger pushed the key down once. Dr. Dwyer smiled.

“Pluh-eey” Connie squeaked.

Annie’s stomach dropped and her eyes filled with tears.

Dr. Dwyer knew what Connie was asking. He moved his left hand to the keyboard and began caressing the beginning triplets.

At the right time, Connie played her three notes.

“Play,” she said, shattering the glass.

For the first time in 23 years, Annie heard her daughter’s voice, and thought it the most beautiful sound in the world.

 

Dry Hockey Equipment

Hockey Mom Blog #6: This post is the sixth in a series of thoughts and ramblings about my life as a hockey mom. These years are fleeting, and I hope that what I share will be with you on your journey through the world of youth sports. 

We are closing in on two weeks of Tough Love. The hockey equipment has dried, but the tears haven’t.

Being twelve isn’t easy, but being twelve while your world is folding in on you is a hard thing to face with a smile.

We have been taking each day as it comes, starting each morning with a prayer that today will be one of the good ones. When it’s not, I pray that I have the fortitude and love to handle it gracefully.

When we chose to take hockey away from Matt, I was of one mindset – I was going to do whatever it took to get him on track. I was more scared of him failing, and me failing him, than I was about what others thought. Now, as the reality of this decision has taken hold, I realized that my fears were greater than I was admitting to myself.

The day we made the decision to pull him out of hockey, I sobbed all day long. My sinuses were plugged and my head hurt, but more than that, my heart ached. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, but I couldn’t hide it either. I just didn’t have the words to explain it.

I knew Matt would be devastated. All day, I carried with me the knowledge that I was going to go home and absolutely crush my kid. I carried the knowledge that I had failed, and that this was as much my fault as his. Worse than that, I knew that I would have to face a lot of people and admit how I had failed.

THAT terrifies me.

(It terrifies me enough that my blog posts about this are currently password protected – I’m not ready to broadcast my failures yet).

Since forever, most people haven’t liked to admit when they have done something wrong. But the stakes are higher these days. Everyone’s opinion is public, and any misstep opens you up to a kind of ridicule that never existed before. We can thank social media for that.

As much as I want to share this struggle publicly (like I have done with so many other things through my writing), I’m having a hard time letting the world know that I let my son fail at school. A post like that up next to the pictures of someone’s magazine-worthy birthday party for their kid feels like bringing a bag of shit to a pot luck.

But I’m determined to get there, and here’s why:

How can I tell my son that it is okay to fall down, pick yourself up and do better, if I’m not willing to model that? If life is about learning from our mistakes, then the big mistakes have the potential to change us the most. Great struggles come with great rewards, and no matter how many times we do something right, we grow the most from how we handle the one time we did it wrong.

I’m praying fervently that Matt is learning from this. He has been doing better in school, so that’s a start – but it’s not the end. This struggle won’t end when the skates are back on. Life has permanently changed for him because his old normal wasn’t cutting it. 

I’m optimistic that the new normal will yield greater rewards than I ever thought possible.

When the Puck Didn’t Drop

Hockey Mom Blog #5: This post is the fifth in a series of thoughts and ramblings about my life as a hockey mom. These years are fleeting, and I hope that what I share will be with you on your journey through the world of youth sports. 

I shook with anger as I clicked on the next page in the online grade book.

I’d been trying for longer than I am willing to admit to get him to understand the importance of school. I talked, I bribed, I cried, I raged – but in the end, I failed.

I failed him.

I failed to do what I needed to do because it wasn’t just that it would hurt him, it would hurt me, too.

There are many reasons why we, as a family, find ourselves where we are right now. It wasn’t because we were doing unhealthy things knowing they were unhealthy, it was because we convinced ourselves that what we were doing wasn’t so bad. Our heads were screaming at us to see what was right in front of our eyes, but our hearts were leading us astray – as hearts often do.

My love of hockey is rooted in many things, but it starts with my parents. Believe it or not, my mom took my dad to his first hockey game. The sports bug caught, and much of what we enjoyed doing as a family revolved around it. From Michigan Football to Red Wings Hockey, there is rarely a family gathering that doesn’t involve spirited discussions on what one of “our” teams will be doing.

My dad took me to my first Red Wings game. It was in the 80’s. The Red Wings were affectionately referred to as the “Dead Wings” and tickets were cheap, so families like ours could afford to go watch them play.

I loved it all. I middle school crushed on Petr Klima and his hockey flow. I watched Harold Snepps stubbornly refuse to wear a helmet while we all marveled at his fabulous skullet. I cheered as The Bruise Brothers dropped their gloves – causing more than that to drop to the ice.

This love of hockey stayed with me. I was the girl in college who knew all the rules of the game, correcting my male friends who were bandwagon fans when they didn’t understand what was going on.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best way to get a date.

When I met Pete, we bonded over many things, but I think the deal was sealed the time we talked about crying as we watched Stevie Y hoist The Cup in 1997. Our first date was at the Hockeytown Cafe. In June of this year we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.

Right around the time Matt was one year old, we signed my oldest stepson up for instructional hockey. That’s when Matt became a rink rat, and started loving the game for himself. We signed him up for Learn to Skate when he was four, and instructional hockey when he was five.

The rest just kind of happened.

Before we knew it (and it really does feel like that), a large proportion of our family’s resources (time and money) were being dedicated to hockey. And we were loving it. We had Aaron try hockey, too, (since we were there anyway) but realized pretty quickly it wasn’t his thing.

And that was fine.

There is a kind of joy that comes from watching your child do something with passion, and when it is something you love, too, it can be all consuming. So somewhere in there, we got lost.

We got caught up in the culture of fear that can engulf parents when they want their child to be successful at something like a sport. We worried about Matt missing a practice or a game. We worried about what certain people thought about him or us, and we started making unhealthy choices. We made those choices out of fear.

It wasn’t until a greater fear crept into our consciousness that we had to do something drastic. We had to take hockey away from him, and truth be told, from us.

The minute I stopped caring what anyone else thought was the minute I came to my senses and did what I needed to for my son.

I’ve cried more this week than I have over anything in a long time, but I am certain that God has this for Matthew. God gave us the strength to fight an entire sport culture and take back control of our family. He placed the right people in the right places to help us through this.

Someday soon, we will laugh about how such a simple thing was so hard for us.

 

A New Chapter in a Familiar Place

Hockey Mom Blog #4: This post is the fourth in a series of thoughts and ramblings about my life as a hockey mom. These years are fleeting, and I hope that what I share will be with you on your journey through the world of youth sports. 

He was too little to carry his own bag. I hoisted the awkward duffel onto my shoulder and reached down to hold his hand while we walked through the parking lot. We chatted about little things; the kinds of things four year-olds think about: what’s for lunch, what we will do when we get home, his favorite toy.

When we got into the locker room, he started to get undressed. I helped him pull up his shorts over his Star Wars underwear. I added all the pads, attached the socks, pulled his jersey over his head, then tied his skates. When I fastened his helmet, he put on his gloves and grabbed his stick.

His wobbly legs carried him to the door where he anxiously watched the Zamboni.

I put my arm around him and said, “I love you, Buddy. Remember: skate hard, listen to the coach and have fun.”

And so it started.

Here we are nine years later, and I don’t go into the locker room anymore. He carries his own bag, dresses himself and ties his own skates. Most times, when he jumps out of the car, I barely get a chance to tell him I love him before reminding him of those three things that we used to start every hockey day with.

But sometimes, he remembers, and that’s my favorite.

In the beginning, my boy played hockey because we wanted him to. My husband and I are huge fans. A love of hockey was one of the things we connected over – even having dinner at the Hockeytown Cafe for our first date. But at some point, the passion became his, and we’ve never looked back.

There isn’t anything more a parent could ask for than for their child to find something they’re passionate about and go at it with everything they have.

The hard part comes in letting them be the ones to do it. To let go of their hand and encourage them to advocate for themselves. To wipe away their tears when they lose a game without jumping into the emotional hysteria when your parent feathers get ruffled. 

These past two weeks have been brutal. I’ve worried more during this time than I have in a long time, and on more than one occasion I’ve had to remind myself to have some perspective, because after all, it’s just hockey.

Fortunately for us, all the lumps we have taken over the years have taught us a lot about how to guide our son through the craziness of youth sports. It has taught us to calmly advocate for our son and let him do his thing. It has taught us that things have a way of working out and that friends are friends, no matter what jersey they wear.

Most importantly, it has taught us that loving our child is the most important thing we can do for him as he pursues his passion, and that the best question to ask the coaches is “How can I help?”

The rest is up to our son.

I am so relieved that he has found a new hockey team. Especially because it is where I first held his hand and guided him towards the ice, and is really his original hockey home. He’s much bigger (and much stinkier) now, but I am looking forward to seeing him in a Wolves jersey again.

Feel free to come find me in the parking lot and have a beverage to celebrate.

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