We are defined by the labels we give ourselves and in 2003, as I sat in Centennial Arena for the very first time on a cold, early, Saturday morning…I became a hockey mom.
I have a handful of games left. Possibly a few more if we do well in playoffs. Even more if we do so well that we make it to Provincials. Less if he ends up hurt or suspended.
Thirteen years after the very first time I sat in that rink…when I had no idea what I was in for…my days are numbered and it chokes at my heart more than I can possibly begin to explain.
I can’t stop thinking of the early years…the passing of time…the grip that hockey has had on every aspect of our lives.
I have the first years on re-play. The early weekend mornings as he’d pull on his gear before we left the house…his Toronto Maple Leafs pyjamas underneath…the wrinkles of the pillow still on his baby face as he’d buckle his helmet while waiting for his skates to be tied. I recall the moments of sitting with the other moms as we’d watch them moving along the ice in a huddle as if the puck had magnetic powers that pulled them tightly in.
There were practices where my son would lay on the ice and make snow angels.
I remember his first penalty.
The first time I heard (or rather saw) him swear…his lower lip perfectly scratching beneath his upper teeth as his mouth formed the F word when he missed a goal…and my realization that it wasn’t the first time that word had escaped his lips.
I remember coaches through the years…some good, some bad…all having a profound influence on my son.
The tryouts that tore at our hearts. The multiple hours of hitting the “refresh” key on the keyboard as he’d wait for the list to come in. The two mom-talks I’d have prepared in my head…for either scenario. The heart-break of dealing with a broken child who truly believed he’d make the team.
I remember the tournament that brought us to Newfoundland and had him playing the gold medal game against a cousin he barely knew…and the embrace as their teams passed through the lineup to shake hands. The same tournament…that allowed us one final good-bye to my grandmother…who I thought the world of.
I’ve dealt with injuries. The small ones that had me being extra cautious and the big one…where I wanted more than anything to take his pain away as the realization hit him…that his hockey dreams had taken a different road.
I watched him get beaten on the ice…both mentally and physically…including an incident that resulted in three members of the opposite team with lengthy suspensions and my son with a dislocated jaw. I recall the coaches who came to his defence…and the hockey dads who took the time to chat with him…to make sure he was ok.
Including the one who dropped off a bottle of wine to me…to make sure I was ok.
I’ve spent immeasurable numbers of hours at the rink and thousands of dollars on sticks…rolling my eyes as each one broke knowing that I’d be doing without something in order to make sure he had another twig in his hand before the next game.
I’ve been unable to commit to social gatherings before checking the hockey schedule first.
I’ve sewed notes behind his name bar, brought tea to every single game and only threw my cup out after the first period ended because hockey players aren’t the only ones full of superstitions.
There were many times I complained….whether it was about money, being unable to warm up or lack of time. Moments that I was angry over the hockey gear left in the hall or spread out in my living room to dry. There were times I’ve wondered what the point of it all was. Moment’s when I thought it would be best if he just gave it up. Multiple times I wanted a Saturday night where I wasn’t in a rink…a Christmas that I wasn’t at a tournament…a vacation that didn’t involve gear.
There were times I was exhausted from the ridiculousness of it all.
But only once did he want to quit…and only for a moment.
He’s been eager. Anticipating the next game. The next practice. The next goal and the next win.
He’s wanted more than anything to be the best he could be…he’s tried hard.
He’s learned commitment.
He’s held his head high. He’s led.
I’ve been to just about every game and multiple practices on this amazing ride and I’ve been so very proud as I’ve watched him grow. What he’s gained from this sport is so much more than I’d have ever been able to teach him on my own. I’ve learned more about him than I’d ever have known without the time he’s spent on the ice.
He made me who I am…a “hockey mom.”
This next few weeks, I’ll try to keep the tears at bay as it’s coming to an end. For him, hockey will continue. He’ll find a group of players to spend a Friday night at the rink and have a little fun but for me…the days of sitting in the rink and planning my schedule around practices and games are over. The days of picking up my father to grab a cup of tea and sit on our wool blanket in a cold rink…are done. My parenting him through the hockey trials are over. The “vacations” in the various motels and cottages while the parents enjoy one another’s company and the kids play mini-stick and giggle into the night…done.
In a handful of games, I will no longer be a “hockey mom” but in thirteen years of everything this label has given me…I’ve learned this…
I’ve learned that being involved in anything that your child loves…watching them gain new skills, face challenges, grow…it’s the greatest reward of all.
Seeing the smile on that face (even when he’s being escorted to the penalty box), hearing him relay the game in the car, listening to the excitement of an entire hockey team in my house from a sleepover…these are the treasures that being involved has provided. Memories that will last a lifetime for him…and for me. I’ve met wonderful parents from this game who I will dearly miss…some who have been in my life from the time it began and others who’ve come and gone with each new team. I’ve met players…I will never forget.
There’s a part of me who’s grieving the time that’s passed and another who’s scared of what’s ahead. I dread this coming to an end and I’m trying to enjoy these final moments before they’re gone…I’m not sure what will fill the void.
I’ve lived and breathed hockey with this boy…and I’m so very grateful for everything it’s given to him.
Everything it’s given to me.
By being his “hockey mom.”
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