Wanna play?

June 23rd, 2011

The parking lot was full, the street parking around the arena where Small Boy has summer hockey training packed. I had left home early, knowing that there was a fair at the convention center and fair grounds next to the hockey stadium (and we had been informed by the head trainer that the fair would be no excuse for being late for practice), but I was still circling, looking for parking. I didn’t want to go too far afield – we had a bag full of hockey equipment and a stick, and even if the bag does have wheels it’s a drag to haul it five city blocks and the longer the walk from the car to the rink, the later we’d be. So I pulled over in front of the stadium and let Small Boy out of the car. I gave him the bag, his stick, and pointed him down to the stadium.

“Once you get to the stadium, you know how to get in. Go ahead and get started putting on your equipment, I’ll find a place to park.”

“But how will I do everything?”

“Honey, you already put on everything yourself except for tying your skates, and I’ll be there in time to help with your skates. Don’t panic, you’ve got plenty of time, just change into your stuff like always.”

“Okay.”┬áHe tipped his stick over his shoulder, grabbed his bag, and marched off towards the stadium as confident as can be.

I found parking several blocks away, near the Swiss Pentagon (which is actually built in the shape of the Swiss cross, and the fact that I’m tooling around the Pentagon parking lot on a Tuesday night looking for parking says a lot about Switzerland and deserves a post of its own), and trotted to the stadium, down to the locker room in the basement where I found Small Boy in his long underwear (it’s cotton stuff, needed to protect the skin from chafing under all the velcro holding the equipment in place), shin guards, cup, and starting on his elbow pads. He told me a woman had helped him carry the equipment bag down the stairs – I had overlooked that, when I sent him off to the stadium, that the locker rooms are down a flight of stairs – and that the zipper on his bag had stuck and a man helped him get it all the way open. He pointed out the woman who carried his bag, and I thanked her, and she said she had done the same thing, sent her son off early while she looked for parking, and somebody had helped him carry his bag down the stairs, so it all gets passed around. Small Boy finished putting on his equipment, and I laced up his skates, the last thing he can’t do by himself. (And have you laced up hockey skates lately? I can’t always get them tight enough on the first try.)

The hockey is good for Small Boy. The confidence to do that, to march off to the stadium without me, go into the locker room alone, that’s new and it comes from his experiences with the hockey program. He knows some of the kids, but more importantly he knows how to be one of the kids, to say hi to everybody when he walks into the locker room and to shake the trainers’ hands (that’s very Swiss, and very important), to maybe chat to whoever is sitting next to him. And he’s familiar with the stadium, having trained in it all last winter and now these summer in-line trainings. It’s his world, hockey world, and he knows how to negotiate it.

Last winter, in addition to practice, we went skating a lot because it was a fun thing for the boys and I to do in the afternoon. All the different rinks we checked out had a section blocked off and dedicated for kids to play pick-up hockey, and no matter how old the kids were in there, Small Boy dove right in and started to play. Look at this:

That little green-coated boy in the goal is my Small Boy, in there with the big boys and not backing down for a second in the goal. Hockey has given him that. He doesn’t even know those kids, and those are much older boys, they’re just the ones who happened to be there with sticks. When we ran into a friend now and then from the hockey school Small Boy was always very happy about that, but it didn’t matter to him one bit whether or not he knew any of the kids playing hockey. He had his stick. He was good to go.

All these things on the margins, the ways I see hockey being good for Small Boy in areas that have nothing to do with hockey, are why I’m happy to stick with this even if the scheduling is challenging (which it is, and if he survives the cut in this particular program it will only get more challenging with each age group he moves through). I’ll do that for him, I’ll schlepp him hither and yon if it means he’ll be the boy who marches off to the stadium without me, who walks up to a bunch of kids he doesn’t know and says “Hey, wanna play?”