I walked into the hockey rink at 6:30 am on a Saturday. Now, school didn’t even start until 8:00 am, so 6:30 was not a time I was normally awake, nor was it a time I wanted to be awake. The coach had promised to bring coffee, but I didn’t see anything resembling coffee anywhere and the concession stand was closed because the people who ran concessions were home in bed—where all good people belonged at 6:30 am on a Saturday. I hadn’t intended on becoming a hockey mother.
Unlike when I signed my first-born up for travel baseball, I knew exactly what I was getting into when I signed Tiny Pants up for hockey. My ex-husband’s nephew played hockey, and I knew all about the crack of dawn practices, out of town tournaments, exorbitant fees, and let me say once again, practices at the bloody crack of dawn. So how had I wound up at a rink at 6:30 on a Saturday?
My youngest son was an extraordinarily happy baby—above and beyond normal baby happiness—but all that ended when he started Kindergarten. He was so excited to finally go school with his brother—they were two years and three grades apart, so he had been waiting for what was felt like forever.
I accompanied my youngest son to the school’s first day of kindergarten program where all the parents took pictures, heard a story, and walked out of the room to the sound of our children—including my son—sobbing. The school should have known better—it is easier for young children to leave their parents than to watch their parents leave them.
After my youngest child’s heart was broken by watching his mother abandon him, he quickly learned that kindergarteners and third graders don’t intersect in the halls at all—like, never. My first-born was on the second floor; kindergarten was on the first. They didn’t see each other except in the pick-up line after school, and maybe once or twice in the halls in passing. He was all alone. And someone made fun of his lunchbox.
Everyday we’d pull into the drop off line at school, and every day my child cried and my heart broke into a thousand mama-shards.We made it through kindergarten and first grade with no improvement. I scheduled play dates with kids from school. I volunteered in his classroom once a week—something I was not a huge fan of, but felt was important to his happiness. When I entered the class, a bunch of small people came running at me and hugged my knees, while my own beloved small person sat quietly in his seat. “We’re not supposed to run around the classroom, Mama,” he told me in explanation.
I offered to sign him up for any after school club he was interested in. He picked a creative writing class and wrote heartbreakingly sad poems. Now, one of those poems won honorable mention in a national contest, but I’d rather a happy child than any prize—even one for literary merit. I had to do something to save this kid. I asked him of all the possible activities in the word that he could sign up for, what he thought would make him the happiest. He chose hockey. I was slightly less than enthusiastic.
“We have to save that kid. If he wants to play hockey, let him play hockey,” my fiancé said. I called the local rink, and learned that although it was only November I was several months too late to sign up for hockey. I called the rink in the adjoining suburb, and learned their practices were inconvenient—Daddy would have to take him Mondays, and I’d take him Saturdays. I started to tell the nice woman that it was unlikely that he could make regular practices on Mondays as his father lived a half hour from the rink. She interrupted my “thanks, anyway!” attempt to escape my fate with the words, “we will make it work. We want every child who wants to play hockey to be able to play.”
I had no remaining excuses. The kid already knew how to skate, thanks to two sessions of lessons and a neighbor who installed an ice rink in his back yard. My ex-husband even reluctantly agreed that it was in the best interest of the child. I unenthusiastically went to the store and bought a full set of slightly used hockey equipment.
Now everything comes easy to my first son: school, baseball, science fair, math team, guitar, mock trial. Even though my youngest learned to crawl, use a fork, and tie his shoes at an earlier age than his brother, that two-and-a-half age gap meant that my first-born was more than competent almost everything by the time my baby was youngest to participate—except when it came to hockey. For the first time, my youngest son has something that he was clearly better at than his brother, and he needed that win as much as he needed a team and new friends and something that brought him joy. He even stopped crying in the car line at school.
I may never be a good sports mom—I never played team sports and don’t altogether understand the rules. But I’ve made new hockey-mom friends, learned to keep a warm blanket in the car at all times for cold ice rinks, and I have even rung a cowbell in the stands during a tournament.I’ve learned to air out equipment promptly and not to cringe when my kid gets checked by someone bigger.
He no longer needs me to help him get dressed though I still strap his pads on his legs most of the time. This will be the last year of this, I think to myself as I help him transform from a sweet, skinny boy into some sort of armadillo creature. Pretty soon, it will be no moms allowedin the locker room. Pretty soon, he will be impatient with my helping. Hockey gave my son something he desperately needed and wasn’t getting anywhere else—the ability to play hard, make friends, and succeed at something he loved, and I try to remember that at 6:30 am practices.