In true Canadian fashion, I have become a hockey mom. It was inevitable, from the moment my son was born, he has been groomed by his father, uncle and grandfather to be a hockey player. He received his first pair of skates for his third birthday, and still wears the Dallas Stars jersey he got at the same time, four years later. I resisted the inevitable as long as possible. I still don’t know how to tie skates or apply a jock, and I do not understand the benefits of composite ($300) versus wood ($19.99) sticks. I’m planning to keep it that way as long as possible.
This year, for the first time, Jack agreed to play house league hockey for our community club. I got a merciful reprieve last year when he didn’t want to play until it was too late to sign up. This year, he was drafted to the 5/6 year old team, even though he will be 7 in a few days, because of the unfortunate timing of his birthday. Lucky for his self esteem, he is a very good player, at least compared to the four year olds on the team. By his count, he has scored 35 goals so far. It doesn’t hurt that every team he plays has a couple of pylons, who are easy to skate around, but he really does seem to know what he’s doing. At this level, there are no real rules, no offsides or refs, no score kept (except by the little boys themselves, and every game is a winner, to hear them tell it). The kids rotate through each position, and he seems to have both an affinity and a talent for net minding.
He was pretty disappointed at the start of the year to have to play with the little kids (yes, there are two four-year-olds on the team, nearly three years younger than he is), but I reminded him he would be the oldest, and he came to the natural conclusion that he would be the best, so he got over it quickly. I, however, was wounded on his behalf, by the obstinate convener of the club, who ended up pulling his own kid to another club’s team, AND coaching it. But I digress. When I mentioned Jack’s distress at not being allowed to play with his peers, one of the other parents commented, “Oh, he’ll have so much fun anyway. And the parents of this team are great!” It never occurred to me that parents would be anything other than great, and it did little to assuage my significant reservations to hear “great parents” listed, as if by necessity, to differentiate these parents from the ones on the other teams, who are not so great, as one of the top two assets of the situation. In any case, it was out of my hands, because Jack was set to play and nothing was stopping him, not even my reluctance to let him (and, inevitably) the whole family become involved in something as distastefully confrontational as organized, competitive sport.
So he’s now been playing for a few months, and the team has really come along. No longer is every contact with the puck followed immediately by full body contact with the ice and the resulting 45-second struggle to return to vertical. Now, the domino effect, where one kid trying to stop takes the feet out from under six or seven at a time, happens maybe once a game, rather than every few minutes. Now, as one colleague and a hockey mom put it, hockey rules. Every weekend, and many weeknights hours are consumed by driving to and from arenas and rinks, dressing in layers, drinking horrid coffee, and cheering all efforts, however comical. And the time commitment involved in being a supporter of one’s child’s athletic efforts is only the half of it; there is also the dispensation of the obligatory “volunteer” portion of the parents’ responsibilities, an oxymoron if ever there was one. I feel the sarcastic finger-quotes around the word “volunteer” every time I utter it, because in reality, there is absolutely nothing voluntary about it. Each family is expected to contribute a certain amount of volunteer time, and there is no option. Our time this weekend was even scheduled for us. We were told where and when to show up. I suppose we could trade or beg off under extraordinary circumstances, but I expect that any excuse short of an actual death in the family would be looked at as slacking. Not that it’s all bad; it’s social contact, and the parents are great, and it is sure passing the winter quickly. It’s just the illusion that the time is voluntary that I resent. I wish they would just call it, say, “mandate” and eliminate the false impression that we have any choice whatsoever.
Having said all that, I must confess that despite my earlier reservations, it has been quite a blast watching Jack play. He’s a respectful player, fast, and apparently skilled, and it’s really fun to watch him accomplish things on the ice. I have no illusions that he will ever play in the NHL (I kissed that retirement fund goodbye long ago), but I can definitely see that the time and money are well spent, so far, at least. He is developing life skills like team play, sportsmanship and responsibility, that will serve him well forever, and even our “volunteer” time is showing him that everyone can make a contribution, even if there is no tangible or personal reward for it. The greater good and all that. Besides, all the activity is keeping him away from some of the less desirable friends, and the physical activity makes him less volatile at home.
As part of the fundraising for the community club, there is a winter carnival with a tournament (most of the games were cancelled due to extreme cold), a pancake breakfast, and a social for the parents. The carnival was this weekend, and I wasn’t planning to go to the social, it being late and not at my house, but I decided I ought to go and fly the family flag, buy a ticket and a couple of drinks, to show my support for the club. Trevor didn’t feel like going, so I called my sister, the anti-Bettman, who neither believes in nor agrees with any sort of organized sport, to be my date. So, last night I found myself out on the rink in my boots in -40C weather playing ball hockey. Those who know me will realize immediately what an absurd prospect this is. Between -40C and sports, this is about as likely for me to do as singing karaoke (another time-passing option last night in which there is not enough alcohol in the world to get me to participate). There was, however, plenty of antifreeze in my blood that I didn’t really even feel the cold. My sister and I got picked for different teams, and although I am proud to say I actually touched the ball and flicked it (okay, hacked it) in the right direction, she was not only on the winning team, she scored a hat trick! Her nephew was quite proud of her this morning. I haven’t heard yet if she is feeling the after-effects of several sprawls on the ice, but I am, even though the flask in my pocket protected me from the worst of it.
Anyway, I am now a hockey mom, for better or for worse, and I expect that my social life for the next ten or twelve years will involve these same “great” parents, cold rinks, early morning games, Budweiser (the only thing marginally worth drinking at the social) and buckets of Tim Horton’s coffee. There’s no time for anything else; as long as Jack loves it as much as he does now, hockey rules.