4:30AM. I swing my almost-45-year-old legs over the side of the bed. Coffee. It’s the only thought in my head.
Grind the beans. Add water. Press the “on” button.
I pull on my jeans, that are laying on the floor on route to my toothbrush. Trusty jeans, they are still holding the knee dents from yesterday. I find a T-shirt…it feels like it shrunk. Another layer, plaid flannel. A toque to cover the bed-head. Wool socks. A glance in the mirror. I think I look like Relic from the Beachcombers. Some days I feel like I live in an episode of the Beachcombers. This transplanted prairie girl from the city, living in a small town on Vancouver Island. I am thankful it’s always fashionable to wear a toque at the rink.
Back to the coffee pot. This is the best part of any day, but a necessity on hockey mornings. I grab my favorite mug. It promises me in golden glitter print that “Today is going to be the BEST DAY EVER!” That reassuring swoosh as dark, black liquid gurgles into my mug.
Now comes the hard part. Somewhere under those lumps of stuffed animals and pillows are two sleeping hockey players. A forward and a defense-man.
“Wake up guys!” I say in my gentle first-round voice. “It’s time for practice”.
Cringing slightly, I reassure myself that they wouldn’t want to miss practice.
I’m not worried. I sit down and stare into my coffee. We know this dance. I return to their room, a few sips later, urging them on, a little louder this time. I am half-caffeinated now.
“Come on guys! You’re on the ice in less than an hour!”
That does the trick. Movement. Heads poke out from under blankets.
Sometimes it takes three tries. Sometimes I must remind them of “the deal”. If there is no complaining about practices, Mom will always, always be there for their sports.
My two youngest boys, twin brothers, slowly, silently, make their way to the “hockey room”. It’s really my office, but serves double-duty as “the hockey room” during hockey season.
The room has a familiar scent that perhaps only hockey families know and accept. It’s the smell of excitement, of winter, of hopes, agony, friendships, of sweat, championships and memories. It’s the smell of hockey socks, sock tape, stick wax, metal shavings from sharpened blades, stale water from last weekend’s game dripping slowly from a water-bottle, and today, freshly washed jerseys that I have remembered (thankfully) to grab from the dryer.
I don’t always remember…
The floor is scattered with skates, hockey pants, helmets, spare laces and jocks. The jocks – they always seem to go missing. I wonder to myself – do they go to the same place as socks and Tupperware lids?
The smooth rip of sock tape winding off the roll, and the scratch of Velcro hockey pads being fastened, mixes with the scent of fresh brewed coffee.
And now the kettle is squealing. Hot water for oatmeal is ready. One brother eats like he has been starved for days. The other one, holding his spoonful of oatmeal mid-air, looks like he might do a face-plant into his peaches & cream.
The dog yawns loudly – he knows we will be out the front door in a fluster of wheeled bags, sticks and spilled coffee soon. Someone will forget a water bottle and run back in. A trail of empty tape rolls and forgotten blade covers will be left behind.
We drag equipment bags through the rain out to the drive-way. I brace against the cold. Hear the fog-horn in the distance.
The wham! of a suddenly dropped tailgate wakes the neighborhood dogs, who’s muffled barks can be heard behind house walls. We get in to a crunchy-cold truck and then we all fall silent for the drive to the rink. Into the darkness along the way, we are quiet, savoring the time together, the anticipation. We know we are part of a special thing, this hockey team. And this is our secret time. Early in the morning, while the rest of the world sleeps, we are building memories and friendships and working on dreams.
We pull into the rink. The parking lot is practically empty, except for a few familiar cars.
“Hurry Mom!”, the boys say, breaking the silence. “Coach is already here!”
We walk through the doors to the arena, from winter darkness, into bright arena lights, and a rush of familiar sounds and smells fill our senses.
Sticks on ice, laughter, the creak of the dressing room doors and the metal-on-metal slam of the rink door latch. The smell of crisp ice. A slight hint of propane from the old rink heater, rattling away.
I look around at the happy, yet still-sleepy faces of teammates as they greet each other. I see Dave, the rink maintenance guy, who gets up earlier than all of us to flood the ice and to get the lights (and heaters!) fired up. I look at the other Moms and Dads, swirls of steam coming from coffee cups, as they huddle in groups. Conversations of the slippery drive in, or where the best place to sharpen skates is in town, are exchanged in quiet morning voices.
One Mom frantically searches for her daughter’s missing neck-guard, mumbling under her breath about “this being the third neck guard of the season”. We all nod in mutual understanding. We are dressed like frozen lumberjacks, wrapped in blankets against the bite of the arena air. No fashion statements are being made this morning! I glance up at the pendants hanging around the arena, remembering teams who have come before us. I think about the parents and grandparents who have been there for their kids, just like us, through all those hockey-seasons-past.
All of us part of this secret morning practice world.
Legacies. Dreams. Friendships. Memories etched into hearts.
Some of our friends and family think we are insane. Three boys in hockey. The commitment, the travel, the cost – the early morning practices. They might be a little right. But they don’t know what we do. It’s our hockey-family secret. It is the essence of the thing that keeps us going – the determination, the intricacies of the sport of hockey, of rising to the challenge.
Of growing, learning, digging deep. Perseverance.
It is about opening a world where our kids can aspire. We are committed to each other, a band of “Relics” in our plaid flannel. We know where all the best coffee shops are in every small town on Vancouver Island, and how early each one opens in the morning. We have become friends with skate sharpening techs in each town we visit. We know that a toaster and a blender are all you need in your hotel room to feed breakfast to sixteen hungry boys.
We are very busy, slightly sleep-deprived, usually broke, and always at the gas station or the skate shop.
I warm with quiet pride as my boys walk through the dressing room door, sticks in hand. These little boys come pouring out of the dressing room changed, taller, bigger. Fierce almost. Then, as they take that first-of-the-morning “hop” onto the ice, and skate off to the bench, I imagine what they must feel. This is their time. On freshly cleaned ice, razor-sharp skates, the snap of cold in their lungs, they glide away toward their dreams.
We are at morning practice.