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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A Musical Gutting

I stuck out.

My transparent green sweater and high heeled boots are not what I normally wear to rehearsal. The sweeping beams of the newly remodeled sanctuary in the Methodist church glared at me as I took my place in the front row. They creaked and whispered, “Who does she think she is?”

For now, I am a just one singer ready to rehearse my part.

The next hour was spent in the arms of the glorious harmonies and Latin of Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living”. My soul soothed, I crept out early and headed to Westland for an entirely different musical experience.

And I stuck out.

The sea of black shirts, jeans, piercings and fishnet stockings greeted this middle-aged mom with a dismissive, “Who does she think she is?”

I don’t always attend my husband’s shows, but I didn’t want to miss this one. He had been talking for weeks about opening for Pain of Salvation, and I knew it would be a good show. As I sit here two days later surrounded by people on their computers and the heavy scent of Starbucks coffee, I realize I had no idea what I was really in for.

I love live music. It’s the only way to really experience it. Few things rival the high you get from watching musicians do their thing in the most immediate of ways. Whether marveling at the skill of singers performing a Mozart opera or jazz musicians inventing art in front of your eyes, there is something so miraculous about being right there.

To me, there are few things more human than watching musicians perform. But then again, I am a musician, and I know what it does for me.

All that being said, there are plenty of times when I have been to performances that are so banal or contrite that the raw humanness is simply absent. There is a difference between people who are playing with pitches and rhythms and those who use it as true expression.

My expectations for the Pain of Salvation show were along the lines of a fun night out with some good music. The two previous times I had been to their shows I enjoyed myself, but for various unrelated reasons, I was unable to actually take in the show. On Sunday night, my experience was completely different and it has left me reeling.

What I witnessed was a group of musicians with unbridled talent completely gut themselves in front of the crowd. As much as I love rock music, it rarely touches me in the way I am with the works of Beethoven or Mozart. I was utterly unprepared for how moved I was by their performance.

Here I am two days later, and I find myself wanting to relive that feeling. I have been obsessively listening to their album – like an addict trying to recreate that high.

Add to all of this the knowledge that these group of musicians are genuinely wonderful human beings, and here I am wanting to hop in the car and drive to their next show, just to be around them again.

Well done, Guys. You have a new super fan.

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The Most Horrible Time of the Year

Hockey Mom Blog #3: This post is the third 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. 

As the days lengthen and temperatures become milder, hockey teams all across the country are battling it out in league playoffs.  Pregame cocktails flow to calm the nerves of over-anxious parents as music blares from underneath locker room doors and the kids get pumped up.

Hockey with something tangible at stake is quite an exciting thing.

But if I’m being truthful, it isn’t the excitement of league championships that is really in the air this time of year. Something far worse preys on the hearts of dedicated parents and the kids that love the sport.

This is the time of year when parents lose sleep with worry about what the next step will be for their precious baby. It’s the time of year that unbelievable amounts of posturing and behind the scenes backstabbing occurs that puts any late night housewife drama to shame.

The tension building up to these weeks has been weighing on me quite a bit, so my writing notebook is filled with all kinds of sage advice on how to handle it all. If I shared this advice with you and then you actually looked at me in real life, you would laugh hysterically – because I’m not handling it well at all.

It is especially challenging to be the parent of a kid who doesn’t have any skin in the behind the scenes game.  My husband doesn’t coach. I don’t coach.We aren’t entrenched in the close-knit network of hockey people. Our kid just loves to play.

So when teams implode or explode, our son is one of the ones left floundering to find a place to play. And the drama makes my head spin.

Since I need to calm-the-hell down, I will skip offering advice and instead write some reminders that I can refer back to when needed.

  • First and foremost, my kid loves to play. Whatever happens going forward, we need to find someplace for him that will grow that love, not kill it.
  • He is going to be looking at us to set an example on how to conduct himself in adverse and stressful situations. We can’t let our emotions lead us to act in a way that is counter to the kind of person we would want him to be.
  • Gossip never improves a situation. Patience will. These things will all play out in some dramatic and unsightly fashion. We need to remember to let it happen without jumping in, and when the dust settles, we can make a decision on what would be best for our son.
  • Life isn’t fair. The best kid doesn’t always get picked for the team. Our job is to guide our son through those particular disappointments and build him up to move forward.
  • God has got this. We haven’t been led down a path yet that wasn’t important in some way. We need to have faith that this will all work out.

My son’s hockey years have flown by, and time is only speeding up. Anyone who has ever had a child play a competitive sport knows how all-consuming these things can be. I need to remember to have some perspective.

Besides, twenty years from now, this is how I am going to remember my little hockey player anyway:

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What’s Your Angle?

Hockey Mom Blog #2: This post is the second 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. 

If there is one thing that 41 years on this planet has brought me, it is the certainty that just about everyone has an angle. The people who don’t are simply floating through life, lost in all the things that happen to them. Most of us have a plan, and as parents, a plan for our kids.

Unfortunately, sometimes that plan causes adults to lose perspective, and to do things that ultimately thwart the plan they so carefully laid. These plans can also cause harm to others around them – often unintentionally, but in some cases, very purposely.

Nobody knows this better than a sports parent, or in my case, a hockey parent.

I truly believe that all of the diabolical things I have seen over the years come from a place of good – an honest desire to do what is best for the young people they love so dearly – but become so warped that it is extremely difficult to see the good behind it.

MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR

With the exception of the time spent playing instructional hockey, I don’t believe my son has ever been on a team that hasn’t had at least one person who worked to manipulate the overall environment of the team in favor of their child. At its worst, there were several people doing this simultaneously, and that was a complete disaster.

Back when I was young and started to enter a phase of my musical development that involved competition, my mom gave me some sage advice. At the time, I don’t think she found herself to be wise, I think she was just horrified at the cut-throat nature of flute auditions and the invariable trash talk (I know, I know, it’s not hockey…). Still, she told me: “Keep your mouth shut and prove yourself. Do what you do, and do it well.”

If there is one thing a hockey parent can’t do, it’s keep their mouth shut.

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Still, this is something I have tried to remember and pass on to my son. It’s not my job to talk him up and tear other kids down just so he may be given an opportunity. It’s his job to prove himself. Unfortunately, in the hockey world, everyone knows everyone and by the time you are twelve years old, you have a reputation. (Crazy, right?)

Much of this reputation is based on what other parents say – parents who, rightfully so, have a biased opinion. Some of these parents have postured and manipulated situations for years, both vocally and financially, to benefit their own kid. I’ve felt for a long time that the greatest deficit my kid had was not having a parent who was a coach. The coach’s kid doesn’t carry the burden of worrying about making a team or being cut – and when your kid gets to an age where this really matters to them, this is a huge source of anxiety.

This is a hard thing for me to take as a parent, because it does really matter to my kid. I’ve reached a point in my time as a hockey parent, that I am so tired of the manipulation game that I wish he loved something else besides the sport.

But here I am – and most times you can find me in the parking lot with a beer in my hand.

YOU’RE NOT DOING YOUR KID ANY FAVORS

I know these parents think they are doing the right thing. I know this because I believe in the basic goodness of people. But the sad truth is, when you manipulate an environment to favor your child, you are ultimately handicapping them. Adversity makes them strong. Proving themselves makes them strong. Navigating the small challenge right now helps prepare them to bust through the big one later on.

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Trash-talking another kid to other adults and manipulating a team climate to better favor your kid may work in the short-term, but in the long-run, you will find that it is a game that you will have a difficult time keeping up with. The stakes will get higher, and your manipulation may backfire on you.

STOP CHASING JERSEYS

There are two universal truths in all of this: It feels amazing to have your kid be really good at something, and as parents we want them to achieve at the highest level possible.

Hooray for your kid being good! However, that won’t always look the way you think it should. Jerseys are a nice accessory, but they don’t tell the whole story. If your kid is playing for a high level team, but doesn’t see the ice, how is that benefiting them?

Perspective is lost when we as parents ignore the long game in favor of the short game. Well, if my kid makes this team this year, then next year he can make this team, and it’s only a matter of time before the college scouts see him and then on to the NHL.

That’s such crazy bullshit, I could barely stand to type it.

A long term plan is good, but be sure it is your kid’s long term plan. If it is, I guarantee you that it will include copious amounts of mini-stick games and team sleepovers. It will not include countless camps, grueling tryouts and intense teams where they leave crying instead of begging to go back out on the ice.

MY ROLE IN ALL THIS

Parents definitely have a very important role in all of this. We are major stakeholders in our kid’s success. I wish some of the coaches that have coached my son believed this. Unfortunately, some of them have been jaded by crazy parents who have blinders on and forget that coaches are human beings as well.

The part that I should play is actually pretty simple. I need to raise my kid to be respectful to all adults, not just the ones I personally like. Even if an adult wrongs my kid, they have to understand that acting respectfully is more of a reflection on them as a human being than whether or not the person deserved to be treated respectfully.

I should be an advocate for my child. This doesn’t mean beating a coach over the head with how much playing time my son should be getting. It means having an open line of communication in regards to the things that make my kid tick. A coach should be made aware of the best way to get results out of my kid. In this particular communication, it would be a good thing to model the kind of respectful behavior you expect from your kid.

I need to really look into a team’s environment before signing my kid up. What is the coaching philosophy? What are the parents like? What are the kids like? While being a part of a good team is nice, I think it is more important for my kid to be on a team of great kids who support each other. It is more important for him to have coaches who believe in him, trust him and like him. Probably most importantly, for him to have coaches that won’t give up on him when he makes the mistakes that kids do as they are trying to become good human beings.

My role is not to take down other kids for the benefit of mine. It is not to manipulate a coach or parents to make a team what I want it to be for my kid. It is not to force my kid onto a team that makes me look like an awesome hockey mom, while driving the love of the sport right out of him.

Being a hockey mom is a tough gig. Word on the street is, my kid is at an age where it is only going to get harder.

Say some prayers for me, Friends.

P.S. Here is one of my favorite articles of Rules for Hockey Parents.

Sticks and Stones

Dark has fallen on Julie Drive. The lights are dim and my fingers are flying across the keyboard.

They tend to do that when I’m fired up.

In the depths of my memory, a childlike chant floats: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

The voice I hear is mine, and the words are stuck on repeat – endlessly rolling with the hope that the Bolero-like redundancy will make them true.

Inside the symphony of childhood memories, other rhythms and sing-song melodies struggle to be heard: Has anyone ever told you that you’re ugly? Girls like you never win. Are you going to wear that? What are you going to be, a musician?

All of these things made me cry. All of these words are burned in my brain. All of these things are with me still, because words do hurt.

Would it surprise you to know that some of the people who said those things to me are people who are now an important part of my life?

Today, my son and I had a tense conversation. You see, he is so much like me. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He cries at emotional scenes on TV. He gives hugs and literally jumps up and down when he’s excited. But he also gets destroyed by the smallest things.

He’s smart, so he wants to figure out why he feels the way he does. When someone asks him,  “Why did you do that?” he feels like he needs to have an answer – and what comes out of his mouth sounds more like that of a studied psychiatrist than a ten year old who still struggles to remember to change his underwear.

We had to talk about how he handles things that don’t go the way he likes – about how he handles things when his feelings get hurt. It was an ugly conversation.

When you ask him, the reason he will give you for why he pushed the kid on the playground will rip your heart out. It’s the kind of thing that after-school specials are made of, and well-meaning campaigns are begun from.

But it’s complete bullshit.

The fact of the matter is, he just got pissed. Like I do. Like we all do.

But in this day and age, people can’t get pissed anymore. They can’t push someone on the playground without it being considered a marker of some deep-seated problem. They can’t say something insensitive or offensive out of emotional bad judgment without it being used against them forever and ever, amen.

Quite frankly, I’m sick of it all. Every little thing doesn’t have to be a big thing. Sometimes little things are, wait for it…. actually little things. 

So here we sit, finding that the words he used to try to justify his anger did more damage than the shove did.

Back in the days when I struggled with the words thrown in my direction, my parents had a choice. They could either run after every little bastard who hurt my feelings and ruin their lives, or they could teach me to weather the storm.

Thank God they bought me an extra thick raincoat and boots to match.

I may carry the scars of those words around with me forever, but because my parents taught me how to handle my emotions and be strong even when things hurt, I am a much better person today. The kind of person who knows enough about the world to understand that sometimes the words that hurt us aren’t meant to, and on more occasions than we realize, actually have very little to do with us at all.

The challenge I face now, is how to do the same thing for my son in a much different world than I grew up in.

So here I am, tucked under my covers on an absolutely freezing night on Julie Drive, praying that the words I gave him were enough.