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.

Stop Yelling at My Kid (To Pass the Puck)

Hockey Mom Blog #1: This post is the first 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. 

Right around the time my son was 8, hockey started to actually look like a game. Gone were the days of puck movement that resembled migratory bird flight patterns, and in came the kind of play that look like it was on purpose.

Hockey started to be really fun to watch. That was, for about half a second.

Somewhere right around that time, parents shifted from the my-baby-looks-so-cute-in-all-his-gear type oooing and ahing, to the blood-curdling screaming from the stands that can be found in any rink on any given day.

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The vast majority of the yellers are good people. Hockey people just are in general. But there is also a dark side to all of this – the side that looks like what happens in the movie “Gremlins” when you feed the cute fuzzy thing after midnight.

With all that gear covering their baby faces, it is easy for the adults to forget that the players are still kids. Kids who are not too many years removed from crapping their pants. They not only have a lot to learn about playing hockey, they are just starting to scratch the surface of learning how to be a decent human being. You wouldn’t know this, though, if you listened to the kinds of things being said about these children and being barked at them through the netting.

Let me tell you something: your kid can’t hear you.

Neither can the kid who you are screaming at to pass the puck and calling selfish. But someone who loves that kid can. So can the parent who doesn’t have the right perspective on the whole thing. A few more shouts later and a culture develops where it is okay to yell at a certain kid (or talk behind his back) about what a selfish player he/she is.

The next part is the worst part. Eventually, your kid hears what you have to say and they start looking at their teammate differently. When the team experiences a losing streak (as all teams do), guess who becomes the scapegoat?

A little kid.

I’ve loved hockey as long as I can remember. To have a son who plays, means that I spend even more time watching it than I already did. It’s awesome. But what I see – or think I see – is rarely what actually happened.

Let me explain.

Not too long ago, my son played a game against a team he had previously played for. He knows many of the kids and we are friends with many of the parents. The game was a tough game, and as these things go, it got aggressive.

From my perspective in the stands, it looked crazy. So, when my kid cross-checked (to my horror) another kid who we knew, I was mortified. I was convinced that the parents would think the worst of my son and question our parenting skills. I thought this kid would never talk to my son again.

When the game ended, I was waiting for my son to come out of the locker room, and as it happened, the boy he cross-checked came out of his room at the same time.

I called out to him, “Hey, Noah! Good game.”

He turned around and looked at me and my son. A big smile spread across his face, “Hey, Matt!”

Still stinging from embarrassment I said, “Matt, is there anything you want to say to Noah?” A symphony of looks moved across Matt’s face: confusion, understanding and then embarrassment. He practically whispered, “Sorry, Noah.”

Noah shrugged his shoulders, “Eh – that’s okay. I was being a jerk anyway.”

At that moment I realized that I had projected my feelings about what had happened onto two boys who felt very differently about it all. Worse than that, as I was still reeling from embarrassment, they were so over it they almost had a tough time following what I was talking about.

Now, back to the yelling.

Not only is it about as likely as a fart escaping a pair of hockey pants that anyone besides the other people in the stands can hear you, the truth is, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

What we see as spectators is far from the entire picture. Everything that happens on the ice – the talk, the strategy, the feel of the game, are all the private property of the players and coaches.

We are simply there to watch.

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I know that people need to emote during games. I get it – it’s intense. But seriously, stop yelling at my kid to pass the puck.

If the coaches are worth anything, they’re already on it.

And here’s a tip for the next game: When you drop your kid off at the door with all their stuff (that they should carry in) come look for the team flag in the parking lot and have a beer with me before the game.

We will both enjoy it more that way.

Calm Down and Get to Work

It’s been quite a week.

My head has been spinning with all that has transpired in the last 10 days, and as usual, I can’t stop the words from coming. So while I normally don’t write this many blog posts in a month, here I am writing my third one in just over a week.

I had hoped that the hysterics would stop after a few days. That doomsday predictions and wild proclamations would dissolve into grumblings and kicked stones.

Well, that hasn’t happened. And it doesn’t look like it will be happening anytime soon.

It seems to me that no matter who had won the presidency in this election cycle, there would be doomsdayers. Those people would dominate conversations at otherwise civil get-togethers and flood their social media pages with dire predictions, maybe even throw in a few conspiracy theories in for good measure.

But what would they achieve?

Maybe they would gain a few more doomsdayer friends, a few virtual high-fives and some personal satisfaction.

But what would they achieve?

Frankly, I’m tired of the rhetoric. I’m tired of the yelling, and most of all I’m tired of the lack of faith in humanity. There needs to be some serious self-reflection on the part of people who are being utterly hysterical about this election.

As any student of history knows, the business of government is an ugly thing. Every election is fraught with demagoguery and emotional manipulation, that’s how politicians get you off of your butt to go vote. However, at some point, cooler heads must prevail in order for anything to get done.

Don’t think for one second that all of those politicians who were saying the most horrible things about each other during the campaign won’t be eating dinner together and shaking each other’s hands behind closed doors. Or the ones who pretended they were best friends, won’t be stabbing each other in the back to the first sympathetic ear.

This is the game, and in any game someone will come out on top. It is our job as citizens to make sure that our friends and families aren’t discarded pawns in the power plays of this game. The body count will be much higher if you succumb to the hysterics of it all and alienate people who truly are your friends.

The answer is not to continue to be hysterical and feed the feelings that will ultimately cause you to hate. The answer is to get your emotions under control and determine how best to make the world a better place around you.

I’d invite you all over for a bonfire and rousing beer-fueled singing of “Kumbaya” but I don’t have the space.

Maybe next time.