As I sit here with tears rolling down my cheeks and a huge ache in my heart you would think that the world was ending. For those of you that have experienced the end of your child’s minor hockey career you will understand.
Who would have thought that when my 10 year old son bounded in the door one day after school and announced that he wanted to try hockey that in that moment our lives would change forever. Three years ago amid many tears I survived the end of his minor hockey career as he moved on to university. Of course he had a younger sister that wanted to do everything her big brother did. When he started hockey she wanted to start too. Ballet, majorettes and gymnastics could suck it! Year one was the CanSkate program at age 6 before moving on to hockey the following year in novice.
Hockey started out being about figuring out where all the equipment goes on (when the bag was empty I felt triumphant!), watching your kid learn how to stay on two feet while moving forward, and then of course buying her a slushie after the game or practice. Arena slushies are just a big heavenly mess of ice and simulated fruit flavours of sugary delight. A staple really when you become a part of the minor hockey world. The ultimate prize for a young player.
Your local arena becomes like a second home and you feel that sense of hometown pride and comfort just stepping into the rink. The smells and sights and familiar faces are welcoming and warm like extended family. (It is still her favorite rink ever.) The zamboni driver is your neighbour’s nephew, the girl at the snack bar is also your babysitter and the smoker hanging around the front door is somebody’s grandpa.
Then you start to travel around to other arenas in your local area. Then your child’s team starts to go to tournaments where hotel stays are involved. As the years pass these are often outside of the province or even the country. Miles and miles are added to your vehicle. Driving several hours to a game or practice becomes no big deal. You just do it. Your life revolves around those times. A two hour practice gives you time to zip out of the rink and do some speed-shopping for groceries but still watch enough of the practice that you can semi-fake it when your kid asks you, “Mom did you see when I ….” It goes without saying that the amount of groceries purchased on your great escape is limited by trunk space less the number of hockey bags to be crammed into it. When you need a new vehicle you first examine how many kids and hockey bags can fit into it. That and gas mileage are top vehicle requirements.
Team fees start to increase as your child gets older and the level of hockey becomes more competitive.The cost of equipment rises too but you just keep paying. Somehow the money comes from somewhere but you just don’t take too much time to think about it or you might suffer heart failure. When a stick breaks during a game a little part of you dies inside as the other parents look at you with a pitiful "better you than me" glance in your direction. Don't worry it will all work out in the end. Hockey weekends away become your “vacation” because you don’t have the time or money for anything else. But it’s okay because you love it. Anything for hockey. People outside the hockey world think you are crazy. This is especially true when you parade around in your team colours in the form of a felt ruffle scarf and a cowbell in your hand. Oh and you start to miss work. Days and days of it over the years. You know what I’m saying folks and seriously could we all not write the best excuse book ever? Completely foolproof.
Those hotel stays were just the best vacations weren’t they? Especially if you were the parent on lifeguard duty at the stifling hot pool area. But the kids love the hotel part of away weekends! They could run around the hotel with pretty much no adult supervision and get into all kinds of shenanigans while the parents were doing the same thing. Mini-stick hockey was all the rage in the hallways. Tough luck for the regular guests that may have been mixed in amongst us in the hallway from hell. Now that we are at the end of it all nobody remembers the wins and the losses on those weekends but everyone remembers the time hotel security had to be called because the Moms were getting out of control in Sudbury. Or the time the Dads were lucky to not get deported from Vermont for their crazy high jinks. Or the many times the Captain’s Cup challenge sailed into port and became overly boisterous. Or the time when we discovered two of the quiet Moms were actually closet shooter girls. Oh yeah and the Detroit Hard Rock Café will never be the same.
And oh the shopping we have done! Well the first few years anyway. Until we all finally realized that the malls were sucking about as much money from us as the team fees. Better to just enjoy the delights of the hotel rather than shop every single weekend. No room in the trunk what with all the hockey bags, beer coolers and kids. But we know the malls from North Bay to Mississauga to Rochester to Beantown and back. We could attack those malls between games like no other shoppers. And we had the packing down to a fine art with every nook and cranny carefully filled with all of our crap. Sometimes you might be with one of your hockey wives which increased the shopping bags exponentially. Sometimes it was a blur of hotels and roadside stops with your own husband or someone else’s husband. Ahhh the relationships we have had.
Soon there were summer camps and spring hockey teams and all sorts of other hockey-related training. It became all-consuming but we never really noticed because it was what we did. We lived and breathed hockey quite literally. That unique hockey smell that we all know and love will forever be burned into our nostrils and our vehicles and certain corners of our homes and garages. The spring/summer hockey days when equipment could be dumped outside to dry and bake in the warm sunshine were simply magical.
The memories and stories of our minor hockey years are to be cherished and embellished over time. There were wins and losses to be sure and there were tears of joy and heartache along the way. Friendships were made and yes some girls were lost to other sports, jobs, boyfriends or school itself (gasp). Team mates become best friends and sisters. Our eyes were opened to all sorts of human behaviour including the good, the bad and the ugly. Countless volunteer hours from parents, coaches, trainers, statisticians, managers, website updaters, referees, time clockers, tournament organizers and all manner of things in between have been offered up and accepted gratefully by parents and players alike. Siblings have spent hours being dragged around arenas from coast to coast. What fun we have all had! And now it seems for us it has come to an end.
Although this is the end of minor hockey for us, it is the beginning of the next chapter. My heart is sad but also overjoyed that for the next four years we will still be able to watch her play NCAA division 1 university hockey. So we can still hang on for a while longer. Bittersweet times for us parents. Life as we have known it is taking a dramatic turn. Whatever will we do with all that extra time and money?! Curling? Darts? Perhaps a vacation? Someone said to me recently that now we can have our life back. What does that even mean? This IS our life.
I will always and forever see her seven year old face lit up with excitement for an early morning practice or game, completely ready to go at least an hour before it was necessary to be, yelling at the entire house that we had better get up and be ready to go! All because she just couldn’t wait to step on the ice. The love of the game is part of her. I believe that little girl will always be there, leading her grown-up self on to new adventures as she heads off to university. We wouldn’t want it any other way and will always be right there by her side cheering her on. When she looks up at us in the stands with a smile on her face we will know that all is right with the world and our hearts will rest easy filled with pride and love at this wonderful hockey life.
My daughter played her last minor hockey games yesterday. She scored three goals and got two penalties. Not a bad way to wrap it all up. The last thing I always say to her before each and every game is to work hard and have fun. And she always does. I have been telling her that with a kiss on the cheek before every game since she was seven years old and I told her again yesterday. She is 18 now and I know that as always, she did work hard and she did have fun. So for that, when she gets home from her road trip today, I know exactly what I am going to do. I am going to take her to the local arena and buy her a slushie. Because it was always about the slushies.
I sure hope they have slushies at Boston University…