Morning Practice

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.

No movement.

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.

Hockey morning.

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.

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Just say thank-you

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I should have just said thank-you.  But I didn’t.

It’s been a while now since I brought the roof down with my big mouth. I really messed up.  Nothing new, my mouth opens and things come out before I have a chance to edit. It happens all the time.  But this time, I really knocked it out of the park. I thought I had something important to say, but really, I didn’t. Not important enough for what it would ultimately cost.  Sure, it’s important to express our feelings and concerns as parents, and it’s definitely crucial to advocate for our children. But, when someone volunteers to coach our child’s sports team, when they give up free time with their own families, and donate that time to us, really the only thing we should ever say to them is thank-you.

But we can’t resist.  We all think we have something important to say don’t we? Here’s the thing, nobody wants to be the crazy sports parent.   And we never think we will be.

But it happens like this:

We listen to the whispers.  We start to believe the gossip. We wonder if our children are being overlooked in their sport.  We question the coaches’ decisions, their motivations, and their loyalties.  We create drama where there doesn’t have to be any.

Sure, there are politics in sports, and yes, our kids will get passed over for others at some point. But it really isn’t any of our business how the coach gets to that decision. And it isn’t the end of the world. And it certainly isn’t up to us as parents to change the outcome on behalf of our child. On that team, our kid’s team, the decisions about what happens on the ice, or the field, are entirely and unequivocally the coach’s decisions. Whatever decision he or she is making. It’s theirs. It always is.  Why?  Because they are the freaking coaches. They are out there. Not us.  Because they are the ones getting up at 5am to coach our kids a sport.  Because they are there for so many kids who’s parents can’t or won’t be there.

The coach is always there.

Hauling bags, raking pitching mounds, tying skates, staying up late to make practice plans, tournament plans, development plans.  They are there for ALL of our children; the wonky ones, the insecure ones, the lonely kids, the kids with no role models, the “crazy” kids, the snot-nosed kid (there’s ALWAYS the booger-nosed kid), the always-late kid, and the missing-one-elbow-pad kid…all of them.

At CRAZY a.m. (that’s a real time), in a freezing cold arena, our coach is willingly out there with that “un-coachable” kid, the “brat” that all the parents in the heated lounge shake their heads at.  And that coach will do everything he can to convince that player he can be a superstar by 7 am.

And that kid?  Well he will remember his coach’s early morning words  FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

It’s real.  A good coach can make a positive, indelible mark on a person’s life. And it may have NOTHING to do with the sport.

At your child’s next practice, watch closely, and whisper “thank-you” into the lid of your mocha latte. Watch what happens when the coach gathers a rag-tag group of sweaty, sleepy hockey players into a circle at the end of practice. The players’ sticks will bang the ice in unison…whipping up courage and strength for the day, strength for a lifetime. That ice banging ritual is a THANK-YOU and a show of respect…from teammates to each other, and to the coaches.

And those coaches, on those mornings, will have an immeasurable impact on our children.

What have I learned since last season?  To be humble.  To be reasonable. To ignore the chatter.  To be thankful. And most importantly, to keep my mouth shut when I want to question the coach. Now I just sip my coffee, watch the game and whisper thank-you.

 

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In the Blink of an Eye

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Here we go!  One more day until the kids are FINALLY back in school and I should be ecstatic.  I had plans this week to spend the whole glorious three days of Labour Day long-weekend getting the house and fam ready for school.

But on Friday, our family was driving home from a long week at hockey camp, hubby had just slept off a night shift and had selflessly pulled his tired butt out of bed to come watch the boys at camp.  We were about 500 metres from our house, when a car with two teenage boys drove in front of us.  I was driving,  I didn’t see them turn, because I was looking down the road, past the front of my van. Before I knew what was happening we had t-boned their vehicle, our air bags deployed and everything in the world stopped.

We are all ok.  My three boys, my husband and the two (extremely lucky) teenagers in the car that cut us off, are all ok.  But for a few moments, nothing was ok.

I was hurt the worst, just some friction burns from the airbags as they hit my wrists and hands.  Everyone else has some aches and pains.  Our van didn’t fair as well.  The lovely, 258,000 km vehicle that has taken us so many places, the vehicle that we brought our twins home from the hospital in eight years ago, our only vehicle, is totalled.

So instead of labelling school supplies and baking loads of muffins for lunches, I am trying my hardest to be functional after such a shocking experience.  A moment that could have been so much worse, but was bad enough to make me want to stay in my jammies, drink wine and call my far-away friends and family.

We were all belted, I was driving the speed limit. We didn’t (for once) have the dog with us, who would have been a 100-pound projectile as the back of the van lifted a foot off the road from the impact. Everyone was sitting properly (which is an ongoing battle with squirrely little boys). We hit the other vehicle at a perfect 90 degree angle, so our bodies weren’t twisted, and our seat-belts did their jobs.  I was even holding the steering wheel in the perfect 2 & 10 position, so that the damage to my arms was minimal.

But had any one of those things been slightly different…I can barely process that.

I had three hours alone in emergency after the accident to think about what had happened. All I could think about were those two teenagers.  The driver, just new to driving, such a huge responsibility.  They came and apologized to me.  Good boys.  Shaking, sore.  I saw their parents arrive in emergency.  My heart broke, knowing that those two Moms were also going over what could have happened.  How much worse it could have been.

It was their fault.  There were so many eye-witnesses, but no need for them because the driver admitted fault. He said he didn’t even see us “there”.  He turned left into oncoming traffic.  He will get a huge fine.  He will have his DL suspended.  His car is totalled too.  His passenger, his friend, I found out, already has two hairline fractures in his vertebrae from a previous accident.  If we had hit going faster, he would have been paralyzed. Or dead. We hit his side of the car.  He didn’t even make the mistake.

I don’t know.  I am thankful we are all ok.  I am thankful that we have the resources and insurance in place so that we will be able to replace our vehicle.  I am thankful that my children now understand how fast accidents happen, how scary and damaging one bad decision can be.  But I would give that lesson up to have our van back, and to just be baking muffins this weekend.

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So Much More Than The Badge

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Salty tears are drying on my cheeks as I write another post inspired by yet another tragedy.

For months now, I have been trying so hard to not react to the news of officer deaths across both Canada and the US.  I decided after my last grieving post about police deaths, I had said my piece.  I wanted to go back to writing about parenting.  I was done with wading into the world of policing, about which I still know very little.  It is really hard work trying to put my feelings about policing and police death into words.

In May, I watched as other blogs and posts on Facebook piled up, as that month proved to be one of the deadliest months EVER for police officers in the United States.  I saw post after post by my fellow police spouses, and by officers themselves, as they mourned so many tragedies.

What struck me as I watched the news, was that each time an officer was killed, there was barely a “blip” on the national media outlets.  Often there is little outside of local coverage.  There was definitely no uprising of angry people, appalled at the news that an officer had been shot while he was sitting in his police car, or having a coffee break. Murdered.

Sure, policing is dangerous, and we police families accept and understand that there will be tragedy in this line of work.  But what is so difficult to stomach, is the frequency of officer deaths on both sides of the border in the past few months, and the nature of these deaths.  These officers are being murdered.

Today, Canadians mourn the loss of another officer shot on duty while issuing a warrant at a home in Edmonton, Alberta.  His name is Daniel Woodall, he was only 35 years old, and has left a young family behind to grieve his loss.

My first thought was not again, my second was, at least he wasn’t shot while he was sitting in his patrol car eating a sandwich, or run-over in a parking lot of a shopping mall on purpose by a “cop-hater”.  At least he was doing what he was called to do when he was killed.  Even then, this is small solace for his wife, I am sure.

Even I am becoming desensitized to the violence. And what difference does it make HOW he was killed?  Our officers who are killed on duty are being murdered.  No matter how it happens, they are murdered.  They are gone.

These deaths, this career, and the collateral emotional damage it brings to officers and their families is very real, and it is very serious.

But what I really want to bring to light today, is that, regardless of the dangers cops face on the street, they also face pressures and threats from the very departments and leadership that should be watching their backs. There are flaws in this system. Some we can see in the news, as bureaucratic issues become public fodder. EVEN STILL,  it usually takes an officer suicide, a public melt-down, or yet another on-duty tragedy, before it gets any attention (and if we are lucky, a tiny revolt) from the general public. But much more often,  it is the hidden, insidious side of professional policing.

I used to think that the system supporting my husband and his colleagues was stalwart and just.   But it’s not.  Not really.  Somewhere, in all the bureaucracy, in the politics,  the very values that policing is built on, fall away.

These values crumble the moment an officer needs them the most. The moment anything happens out of “regular” procedure, these values are tested and sadly, often fail.  If you’ve seen it happen, you will know what I am alluding to.   If you haven’t, and someone you love is in law enforcement, consider yourself lucky.  I have seen it personally, and I have read countless stories of officers who have experienced this value breakdown. Officers who, for example,  have made a mistake while on duty, or who have gone on a medical leave for PTSD, or some other mental or physical illness or injury…whatever the reason for the failure in regular procedure, the officer is most likely the one that will lose. He will lose his confidence, his credibility, and maybe even his job.  He may be ostracized, bullied, pressured or even civilly sued.  It will affect his relationships with his peers, and with his family.   Law enforcement officers are pushed to their limits every day, and when they finally fail, or breakdown, who is there to catch them?

Suddenly, enemies on the street aren’t the biggest danger to these officers, but rather their own administration and leadership becomes the threat.  Bureaucracy, power and ass-covering overrides values.

Honesty is replaced with mistrust

Integrity is replaced with favoritism and self-preservation by leaders

Professionalism is replaced with gossip and self-promotion by leaders and peers

Compassion replaced with judgement

Accountability with blame and scapegoating

Respect is replaced with disdain

Values change toward the “fallen” cop.  And there is no recourse, no media coverage, no one sends loving messages or bakes casseroles for the spouses of officers who have “failed” in the eyes of the force, or who have been destroyed by internal politics.   Our officers now have enemies on all sides:

The criminals (who now out-power them in so many ways it’s terrifying)

The public have disdain for them (“they” pay these officers’ salaries, after all)

Their administration has turned coat on them (because no one wants to go down with a sinking ship)

My heart breaks for these officers – the seen fallen and the unseen fallen.  The guys who maybe only made one tiny procedural mistake and pay with their badge. The officers who finally break down under the weight of all that comes with that badge.  The officers with PTSD.  The ones who are just plain exhausted.  Or scared.  Or cornered – by whatever enemy they face.

Things need to change.  How?  I’m not sure.

I think I speak for families of law enforcement officers everywhere when I say to our police men and women –

We have your back when no one else does.  Your worth is far greater than that badge you wear. When that badge gets too heavy, we will be here to say “It’s okay, take it off, rest for a while”.  Because you are so much more than that badge.

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A Little Lesson on Overcoming – For the Parent of a Teased or Bullied Child

Silly Souls

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Just this morning, my eldest son, who is almost ten, left for school a little early, excited, as usual, to get there. I watched him walk out our back gate in his cool “skinny” jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, thinking how he has grown so much this year.  Before I had a chance to see his little brothers out the gate, my oldest was back (we live really close to school), in a rage, cheeks flushed, head down.  I asked him what was going on.  He told me that two boys in grade five had started teasing him about his clothes the moment he walked onto the school yard.

It’s not the first time this group of older boys has pestered my son, but he is usually pretty resilient and can shake it off.  But it’s June now, and he’s done with it. As I watched my handsome, athletic, and smart…

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Top 5 Summer Reads for Young Boys, and some extras…

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My “almost-ten-year-old” and I have been planning a summer reading list for our Epic, Big, Long, Summer, Road-Trip.  He and I are book lovers, and lately I have been having a blast reading and re-reading books from my youth, as well as new books for young readers.

My oldest son is a really good reader, and has an “old soul”, so he is reading and wanting to read some books that sometimes make me hesitate.  He really wanted to see the first Hunger Games movie, so I told him he wasn’t allowed to see the movie until he had read the book.  I thought this would buy me some time, or deter him altogether, but he blasted through the first book. So, we watched the first movie together. He pointed out to me that “so much was missing in the movie” and that the book was “way better because you could read what Katniss was thinking”.  Can I just say, as a Shakespeare-loving English major, who thinks it sacrosanct that one must always read the book before one sees the movie, as there is nothing better than the book, my heart did a little leap when he said that to me.  He then went on to read the second and third book in the Hunger Games Trilogy.  We talked about each book, so that I could gauge how (or if) the violent and often mature content was affecting him.  What I realized was that he was able to grasp the relationships in the book, the plot, and the ethical and political messages throughout the series just fine.  I was impressed.

It was about this time that I realized I had found a kindred spirit in this family of non-readers.

Lately we have been doing this: I read a book he is interested in first – mostly to screen it, but also so we can talk about it after.  The latest book we read was The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, and it was awesome!  I knew as soon as I read the word sasquatch that my son was going to love it.

We are having so much fun reading through our piles of books that I thought maybe we should share some of our favourites, as well as some of the books we plan on reading over the summer break.  So without further ado:

Top 5 Summer Reads for Young Boys, Ages 8ish-12ish

1. The One and Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate 

Because EVERYONE needs to read this.  Don’t wait until your kids are older, read it out loud to the younger ones, and then ask your older children to re-read it.  It’s the best.

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2. The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

Do I even have to explain? CS Lewis…just read everything he has ever written and you will be a happier, more intelligent and much more interesting person.  But start with Narnia. Books first, movies after, because frankly, the books kick ass on the movies.

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3. The Boundless – Kenneth Oppel

I am really starting to like Kenneth Oppel books.  We read Airborne, which would have made the top 5 summer reading list, if we hadn’t just read The Boundless which eclipsed Airborne for me.  The Boundless really is a fun read.  From the first page I was sucked into Oppel’s world of thrilling adventure, odd creatures and an exciting plot.  This book has it all – the circus, exploration, danger, magic, and even a sasquatch or two!

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4. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

I know you have read it.  You have seen the movie.  But this book is a rite of passage for every kid, and it is a wacky, adventurous, and delicious summer read.  Grab some Curly-Wirlies, your beach blanket, and enter the Chocolate Factory.

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5.  The Hobbit – J.R.R.Tolkien

And last but not AT ALL least, The Hobbit. It’s never too early for a little Tolkien.  The Hobbit is a great starter Tolkien for 10-12 year olds, and just watch as your son enters the Shire for the first time! Pure literary joy. Right here.  Just read it.  Read it out loud, read it together, read it beside each other.  And remember – none of the movies until they read the books first!

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That’s it for the Summer Reading List, but here is my addendum to the list…

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

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This is the book I wish I could have put on the summer reading list but won’t. I never want my sons to use the “N” word, or think that it is ever acceptable to marginalize a person because of their skin colour. There will be a point in their development that they will be able to process the content of this book, but probably not until late high school.  I SO wish there wasn’t such blatant racism in Tom Sawyer.  I have read it, and love it, however i still cringe at the language, even though I understand the context of the time in which it was written.

 If you do decide to add it to your summer reading list, parents, you will definitely want to screen-read this if you are not familiar with Tom Sawyer. Decide for yourself if you and your child are ready to tackle this one.  This book is controversial, and for good reason.  Tom Sawyer was first published in 1876.   There is coarse and derogatory wording in this book, along with racist, outdated and false portrayals of people of different cultures, skin colour and backgrounds.   Up to you on this one – I totally understand if you pass on this one, but I hope you get to it eventually.

Re-reading Tom Sawyer made me wax nostalgic for all of the old, musty books of my youth. So I dug out an my old copy of Pippi Longstocking, which I still find wonderfully entertaining to read.   I have just finished two stories by Jack London: Call of the Wild and The Cruise of the Dazzler.  I would recommend these adventurous and swash-buckling tales to my son when next he is looking for something to read this summer.

Right now, he is reading the Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke.  Tonight when I tucked him in, he asked me to “define the word sinister”.  I said “gladly” to my wonderful reading buddy, as I secretly celebrated the growth of a young boy’s vocabulary and mind!

 Read on! Read often!

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Soften Often

Silly Souls

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I was out watering in our front yard the other day, when a mini van full of little ones went by, with a lovely Mama in the chauffeur’s seat. What caught my eye with this particular van, was that there was a box of donuts riding on the roof. Clearly, in the scramble to get kids in car-seats, and sippy cups handed out, coffee placed in holder and seat-belts on, the donuts were forgotten.

So,as the van climbed the hill in front of my house, donut box clinging for life, I chuckled.   I wondered to myself how long had they been up there, and how long would it take for that busy Mama to realize her donuts were missing.

My heart went out to this Mom.  Because I knew the donuts probably wouldn’t make it all the way to their final destination. Because if they did, she would sit for a moment and flush with…

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