the boy who cried hockey

Just when you think you have them alllll figured out...

First, he wanted to play hockey. His very first thought each morning was to pull out the knee hockey nets. He didn't even care if anyone played with him. He posed for photos wearing tiny hockey equipment. He couldn't wait. He took slap shots all the live long day and we could barely pry the stick from his hand to go to bed at night. I swear he even said, "five hole," in his sleep.

Then, he wanted to do anything BUT play hockey. We could not convince him to join the other newbies on the ice for learn to hockey. After several failed tearful attempts and far too much energy from any adult in the vicinity to talk him into it, we abandoned the idea. He skated once with a couple buddies, but was adamantly opposed to any formal learn to anything involving ice and skates, with friends or not.

For awhile he taunted us telling us he would skate only with us and only on the pond. "That's it!" Then the hockey guys hit the scene and he spent more and more time with them. He started paying more attention to the Bruins games, really watching. Bedtime got occasionally pushed up to catch part of the first period. He asked more questions, thoughtful ones. He got more interested, but still he refused to talk about playing himself, now or in any future tense.

All the while he kept attending Caroline's sessions as a spectator and slowly the story started coming out. He was afraid of the Zamboni he said, to which I laughed out loud because he is obsessed with Zambonis. He told me he was too little and he would not be able to get off the ice in time to get out of the way. This is where I had a little Scooby Doo style flashback to the ride in the car on our way to his first learn to hockey session when his caring sister nicely told him, "don't worry, I will make sure you get off the ice before the Zamboni comes." EUREKA! He had interpreted this not as a helpful big sister comment, but a warning. "You are going to get run over by a Zamboni."

I had some quiet discussion with him while Steve got Caroline prepped for the next session and we watched the Zamboni clean the ice. I was careful to point out how the driver checked the ice and made sure ALL the kids were safely off before starting. He observed. He understood.

Then he hit us with, "but I just want to do it with Daddy." No problem, I thought. I told him that Daddy had gone out with Caroline too when she was little and helped her get started, but she didn't need him anymore. I was sure he would do the same for Connor if he asked him. So he did, and Daddy of course said, "Anytime."

Now. He gestures madly at the ice from the scary old wooden stands during her Sunday sessions. He crosses his arms and pouts. He holds his head in his hands and whines without reason. I couldn't figure it out for awhile, but eventually, "I want to play out there!" So, now Mr. Fickle wants to play. He wants Daddy to bring him out next week. Seriously, kid? What do I even say to him? We aren't sure if we should capitalize on this moment and get him out there (with Daddy) or if this is a time to say "you had your chance, you need to wait until Fall." I told him we would talk to the coaches, we did afterall pay for an entire session he refused to participate in. Every morning since: "Did Daddy talk to the coach?!"

Seems like BOTH our kids like to do things in their own time, their own way and this, this is why I have so many grey hairs.

training wheels

At this point, I have told you many times that Caroline does things when Caroline is ready. We really thought last year would be the year we took the training wheels off her bike, but she never seemed ready, was completely not interested or motivated to take them off, and when we brought it up she panicked. This was going to be ONE OF THOSE THINGS. She believed she couldn't do it and there was no talking her out of it.

With Spring technically upon us, though snow still covers much of our yard, the kids asked for their bikes this weekend. Having dealt many times with a girl as lethally stubborn as her father and mother combined, I jumped at the opportunity to get those trainers off the bike. I knew taking them off before she could hop on, ride away, and decide she absolutely couldn't do it without them would be the key because as I said, we have experience with Caroline doing things on Caroline's time. I didn't want to give her a chance to get comfortable with those training wheels again and make room for fear of failing.

I didn't ask her, I simply got the tools and handed them to Steve and we took them off. There was no conversation, just "today is the day." She wasn't nervous, she was impatient, "when will you be DONE?" Mommy seems to be learning a bit too along the way here.

It was a very rocky start. She couldn't balance at all, her body control was completely absent and each time I released her seat, she immediately turned toward her right until she fell over. Every time. She realized she was on her own, that I had let go, and panicked. She cried. She screamed. She repeatedly said, "OHHH, Ratsadoodley!" (what?) She wanted the training wheels back. We knew we couldn't give in.

I gave her a few pep talks, we talked about having strong arms to keep the wheel straight, and we said some affirmations aloud. "I can do anything!" I told her not to just say it, but to really believe it. Steve and I stood at opposite ends of the street so she could ride between us; see a goal and reach it.

Reach it, she did. This was the end of that hour long session.




On Sunday, she was begging to get back out there on her bike. She wasn't afraid, just frustrated when she hit the curb, or fell over, or ended up with her handlebar digging into her shoulder or stomach. There was more of that "ratsadoodlely" business. She got a few cuts and scrapes and I told her that I spent entire summers with skinned knees and elbows and that was how I knew I had been having fun. It was bound to happen, don't be afraid of it, cuts and scrapes heal and we have Princess Band-Aids in the cabinet. She kept at it, she started getting braver, feeling more confident, and by the end of that hour, she was riding and turning and falling far less.

It's going to be a wonderful spring/summer. How long until little brother asks for his wheels to go away too?

Did you hear her tell Steve "I should be on America's Funniest Videos."  HA!!



the only ponytail

Sunday morning was Caroline's first tryout of any kind. We didn't call it a tryout. We knew that would elicit the kind of panic and anxiety that might result in her absolute refusal to get out of the car. We told her this was just a different kind of hockey practice, with some new kids and new drills. I gave her a simple pep talk on our ride to the rink, stressing that it was "no big deal, have fun, do your best, be a good listener." This was a required tryout for Mites, the lowest level of organized youth hockey. They were picking for the full ice team. Everyone else would be put on a cross ice team. It's a smaller space with fewer players and this new method of play has helped them to develop the kids' skills in a way that full ice play cannot. (That's the kool aid they fed me anyway) We snagged her gold numbered pinnie at the door, good ol' number 2, and as she looked around while we helped get her dressed, I could see the dread start building on her face.

The kids were bigger, they skated faster, stronger, and there was just one other girl out there. She started crying and telling us she didn't want to go out. Normally, when things elevate with her she is better in Steve's hands than mine. This was not one of those times. We were in very different places in that moment. Steve wanted her to power on out there and I wanted her to calm down, breathe, relax. She told me "I can't stop my tears." (my mama bear fur was up) I knew if we pushed her out there like that she would not recover and as far as we have come with her on this, I wasn't going to force her to do anything. Both Steve and I knew she could hold her own, that this would be a good experience for her, but I didn't want it to be damaging in anyway.

A friend, the only other girl who had been in the cross ice program this year, came over to her to offer support. Caroline was in an entirely different space and couldn't even make eye contact. I walked her away from the ice, I held her close and over my shoulder I watched those boys skate. I'll admit I had a pit in my stomach and I wasn't even going out there. This was mites, not the Olympics, everyone was going to make a team. It didn't feel that way. I think it is more than fair to say that Steve and I have no hopes of her making the full ice team, but we wanted her to have a good experience, not one that left her in tears or made her feel bad about herself.

I gave her a minute to stop crying and wiped her tears off through the holes in her helmet. I told her to take a deep breath and go for it. I reminded her I would be right there with her, watching every second, making sure she was ok. The coaches, who she had never met, helped her get onto the ice, walked her through the first drill. They instructed the goalie to let her score on her first time through. In the moment, I was happy about that. In reflection I am not so sure.

She did fine, she did better than fine because she stayed out there. We followed her through the three stations and her confidence never reached a good spot that I felt I could let out the breath I had been holding this whole time. They brought the kids all to center ice and broke them up into white and gold by pinnie and they went flying to the benches. Everyone went flying, except Caroline. She watched these boys hurl their bodies over the boards and onto the benches like lemmings. She didn't know how to do that and we could see her fall apart. This is when the tears started again and it took every fiber of my being not to find some way to reach her over there, to tell her it was okay, and even leave if she wanted to. They were about to play a full ice game and she had never done that and I couldn't even imagine how she was feeling. We watched across the ice as a coach calmed her down, offered assurances and sent her out for the next shift. Again, they helped and brought her out to center to do the face off on her turn. At the time, I smiled. Now I am not so sure.

We found refuge with another group of parents whose kids were in way over their heads too. I felt an instant relief because for the last 30 minutes I had been questioning if we were even in the right place. Was this really the mites session? They had been questioning it too. One had a son who had only worn equipment four other times and the other had completed his first learn to hockey program just a couple weeks ago. All three held their own and before long we noticed something; she was smiling. She was serious, determined, following man to man a kid taking the puck around the net and meeting him on the other side. She even asked if they "needed her to stay out" and her endurance rivaled even the most seasoned of the kids out there. We made car pool plans with our newfound Mite Cross Ice friends and breathed easier in knowing that she wasn't scared out there anymore.

Afterwards, rosy cheeked and exhausted, she announced she would rather not go to her usual Learn to Hockey program that night. The same coach who had rallied her into the game from the bench came over to her and told her what a great job she had done, that she had been fierce, that the best player on his team is a girl, that girls are taller and sometimes smarter than the boys. I mouthed thank you to him, touched at his generosity and support of her, the only ponytail on the ice.

Later, when Steve and I were debating in code about that night's hockey session, I took her into her room for a chat. She relayed how scary it had been to be out there, that she didn't want to play with the boys. Seeking inspiration or answers, I looked across her room towards her desk where she has those cutouts from the women's game we attended and the signed photo of BC's Olympic Women and I asked her to look at them. I reminded her that all of them had to play with boys when they were her age, that teams for girls didn't really exist the way they do now, and how brave they had to be to get through that. I didn't want her to feel like we were forcing her to go to that night's hockey, but I also didn't want her exhaustion from the day to make her lazy or her attention to wander because she had enough hockey today. Wouldn't that just have been the cherry on the whole day. I reassured her the only way I could, I promised her I would do anything in my power to get her on a girls team. I told perhaps more importantly, that even if she HAD to play with the boys, she proved to them today she was just as tough.

It's hard. So. Hard. I was emotionally spent from the day and when we talked about it later, I started to almost resent that special attention she had gotten, the kudos afterwards even. "Did they mean it or do they just want a ponytail out there?" I asked. Steve wasn't sure.

I knew he understood when he sent me this video:

http://screen.yahoo.com/journey-to-sochi/hilary-knight-playing-boys-going-181621188.html

We watched it together as a family tonight after dinner. The message was a little over her head, but she seemed to get that these girls had played with boys and she could too.

I'm not sure I want her involved in something where she gets credit just for being the girl. I want her to feel as fierce as those boys because I know she is. Part of me thinks the best thing in the world would be for her to play with the boys and part of me wants to shelter her from spending three hours a week with them. I'm not sure yet how this will work out, but it was eye opening, difficult, amazing, and boy, was she courageous. These are life lessons, not just hockey, and as she gets older it is tougher to muddle through.

sports guys

Ever since the sports guys hit the scene, Connor has laser focus on his guys. The tiny plastic snap together hockey boards are a permanent fixture in the family room. I occasionally pull the "rink" up to wipe it clean, but otherwise it sits at the ready for the next game. When football was in season, the green field was set up permanently beside the television and Connor would go between watching the game with Daddy, to setting up the offense for another touchdown. We apparently watch a lot of hockey right now because hockey is on permanent display and watching the Bruins happens from his odd vantage point beside the fireplace. At this very moment, the hockey game is in an intermission and the football guys are getting organized for a practice.

Practice occurs upstairs on the sofa. All pillows are removed and the couch is smoothed clean with both a brush and then a lint roller before practice can even begin. Connor still has many Neil cleaning tendencies. The cleaning cart is NEVER far away. He sets up intricate arrangements of players circled up perhaps strategizing, he pairs them up for face offs, and skates them carefully and deliberately through their practice drills. Here is a recent weekend practice session. Football guys were circled up in the middle, hockey guys skating around them. How cute are these pjs?

After practice concludes, he packs them ALL up and walks them downstairs to the appropriate field for the main event. The skaters line up on the far ends of the ice for "the song" and he announces to everyone in the room that BC is once again playing the Huskies. (voice in my head: "great.") He sends some players out, sets up the goals and goalies, and puts the rest to the other side of the boards to cheer for their friends. He moves them purposely, two at a time, moving with the huge enormous (thank god, we haven't lost it yet) puck. If you listen carefully, you can hear the play by play and let me assure you it is extremely adorable and alarmingly accurate. Penalties are given for hitting the puck too high and we suggest high sticking instead. Then at some undetermined time, everyone exits the ice and he lines everyone up around the outside to watch the Northeastern Toy Zamboni that used to be in the Man Cave circle the ice in the correct pattern (!) before another period of hockey begins. Somehow BC always ends up winning, but he always makes it a close game or a tie, even though I can tell he wants to make BC win 6-0 or something else equally embarrassing.

Beyond just being completely adorable, this guy thing illustrates how different our kids are. Caroline is not nearly as independent as he is. She will play alone, but prefers someone's company. Connor would be happy playing alone like this for HOURS if we let him. He will even pack the guys back up for another practice upstairs and just head there on his own. Caroline panics if you ask her to go back downstairs to retrieve her backpack or suggest she get herself a juice box. He gets upset when practice gets cut short by dinner and if we get caught up in something and there isn't time for a game before bed, wow, hell hath no fury like a hockey player deprived of a game.

His affection for his sports guys is endearing and clearly, we will be picking these up ASAP because opening days looms!!

hustle

We have found ourselves at another hockey crossroads. Having just slapped down a rather healthy deposit for Caroline to skate a tryout for Cross Ice Mites or a Girls Under 10 team in town next year, I am beginning to accept that it is a near certainty that I will be organizing a three times a week hockey schedule for her in the fall. Now before you say it, I know, we did this to ourselves, willingly. She has been doing great; skating well, fighting harder for the puck, pushing herself. I'm her mother, of course I think she is wonderful, but she has really turned it on this year.



The days of pushing her out of the ice and avoiding direct eye contact are long behind us now. Her questions about how much time is left have stopped completely and have been replaced with a wide smile or a look of incredible determination. Her only tears are from not winning a puck drill. (wonder where that competitive streak came from?) I still can't quite believe it sometimes. Our girly princess loving doll caretaker is a hockey player? It has been challenging to her to get past the "be nice to your friends" approach and actually cut in front, catch an edge tighter than the other kid, and fight for the puck during drills. She always seems to be paired up with this one kid whose parents tape his ankles (Steve comments on this EVERY week) and initially, she wouldn't get in there. She is now often fist pumping after scoring, beating him solidly most times.

She has also somehow caught the eye of one of the coaches who runs the program and he can really lay into her. She misunderstood a drill once and he kept her out there again and she was so upset that he had yelled at her when she forgot about the "second puck" that she needed a minute off the ice. We understand it is to make her better, we tell her this, but another parent confirmed my worry. "If he did that to my daughter, there is no way she would want to come next week." It's hard to keep quiet and walk away when that happens. He always catches her afterwards to tell her she "did well out there today, Caroline."

She followed the women's hockey in Sochi and we had the games on as often as we could realistically catch them. She was thrilled to see all the girls out there. We fulfilled our promise to her and brought her to the last home game of the year for the BC Women's team.


Can we please acknowledge how EMPTY it is there? They don't even charge admission for these games. This was BC vs. BU and still just a smattering of people. It is disheartening in a way, to encourage her to pursue this, knowing that even at a Division 1 program, no one seems to care. I'm in no way saying I'm expecting her to play at this level, but if these are the superstars and this is the support they get, it's really sad for kids her age to see. She is holding the face of one of the graduating seniors. Her mother gave the kids the signs and she was pleased as punch to point her out to us on the ice. Caroline cheered for "my girl" the whole game. We may have been the only people there who were not friends and family. Let that marinate. They played well, even without some of their standouts who were over in Russia competing. Caroline got to meet them at a Men's game she attended with Kiki and Papa while we were away last week. They signed an autograph card for her with their photo and she can still name them all, like they are besties or something. "That's Alex, Molly,and Kelli."

We asked her about the game when we returned home and she shared all the details. "They really turned it on and hustled." She sits with Steve now and watches the Bruins, something she never had any interest in before. She asks questions, she can see the penalties. I don't even usually see the penalties and I watch hockey way more often than she does. She cheers when they score, cries whent they lose. Daddy is very proud.

Strawberries and Cream

Most of the time when Caroline brings assignments home I spend a larger than should be reality amount of time scratching my head and trying to make sense of "new math." She responsibly draws thought bubbles to show her work and meanders her way through the page while I look over her shoulder HORRIFIED because as a 35 year-old woman with a Master's degree, I cannot follow what is happening.

I.cannot.follow.first.grade.math.

I often spend the time dinner is cooking (and I should be making lunches for the following day) reviewing "ABC papers" which have NOTHING to do with ABCs and everything to do words with similar letter sounds and other random things she has worked on recently.

This one goes all the way back to MLK. This draft has sadly been sitting over here for THAT long. I'm working on it, but failing nonetheless. Caroline was really into MLK this year, she had a book about his life and she shocked her teacher by remembering the year of his birth. This was not something they had covered in class, just information she had retained from reading. (!!!!) She might just be a non-fiction fan. I'm usually not that impressed with the way schools cover this topic for kids her age. They sort of gloss over it in a way, offer praise for him standing up to oppression and move right on into decorating Valentines. This year I was brought to a screeching pause over spaghetti and meatballs when this paper drifted under my nose, hidden in her folder.


I think my WOW moment is justified here. In my head I screamed, "FINALLY!" Every time my daughter reaches for the peach "skin colored" crayon I have to bite my lip and remind her gently that it is PEACH, not skin, that her skin might be that color, but that is not "skin color." I love everything about this worksheet. I love that they all had pasted on different swatches and they could lay these worksheets out in a big pile and literally see the diversity within their group. I love that she had them NAME their skin tone, not black, not white, but a REAL name.

Finally.