Wordless Wednesday: Waiting To Play Edition

March 21st, 2012

“Everybody was expecting you” (My Swiss Life, post 2)

February 6th, 2012

(These “My Swiss Life” post are not, strictly speaking, chronological, but for anybody interested, post one can be found here.)

SB had a hockey tournament yesterday, in the blinding cold, that I had to miss. I was at the Geneva Writers’ Conference (more about that in another post). It’s only the second match I’ve ever had to miss – the only other one I missed was when SB got his concussionso I was feeling a bit superstitious about missing this, but the conference ran most of the day on Sunday; it’s only held every two years and is far too good an opportunity for an English-language writer in Switzerland to pass up, so there I was in Geneva while SB was playing in Bern.

Earlier in the week, it looked like the tournament might have to be cancelled. We, as the home team for this set of games, were responsible for coming up with two time-keepers and two referees and as of Thursday evening we were short one referee (or Schiri in Swiss – pronounced “she-ree” and short for Schiedsrichter and one of my favorite Swiss words). Thursday night we parents received a scathing e-mail from the program head – not SB’s coach, who stayed diplomatically above the fray, but the head of the program, whose job it is to make a fray when a fray must be made – that somebody better step up and volunteer to be the second Schiri or the tournament would have to be cancelled and that would be a shame for the kids and a true embarrassment for the prestigious SCB Future program. Surely not all of you have some other obligation on Sunday, right??

I would have stepped up – I teach in the hockey school, after all, and can certainly handle reffing a Bambini match and I really do want to do my part – but I had the conference and I headed off to Geneva hoping somebody would volunteer. I didn’t receive any angry emails canceling the tournament for Sunday, so I assumed the match was on – in spite of temperatures hovering at minus 15 Celcius – but on Sunday I sent off a quick SMS to R asking “So SB’s tourney is on? Tell him mama says good luck” and received this in reply:

“They are doing warmup now and will start soon. Having coffee with the others. Everybody was expecting you.”

I smiled – everybody had been expecting me. That’s where I’ve finally gotten to in my Swiss life. I have people expecting me. I’ve written before about how most of these people probably will not become friends outside of the hockey context – though possibly two or three families might – but that’s also okay. I remember my mother and the other hockey moms, winter friends, stadium friends, the way they sat together and drank their bad coffee from styrofoam cups and I think: this is good too, this locational fellowship, this contextual friendship. When I show up at SB’s practices and games, I’m welcomed, I have people to sit with and chat with, I am part of the crowd – no longer hovering around the edges – and when I don’t show up, people ask where I am. That feels like a huge thing. It’s a good thing in my life, and if it is bound my the time and space of hockey seasons and ice stadiums that’s fine. I think we all have contextual friends – work colleagues we enjoy but somehow never socialize with outside of the office, the people in our yoga or boxing classes we see every week but rarely if ever meet for lunch. And those people occupy important places in our lives, they anchor us, they make us feel as though we belong. They add texture and dimension to our lives and I’d been missing that for a long time and now, thanks to the Small Boy and his love of all things hockey (which is, at heart, thanks to me for enrolling him in the first place all those years ago), I’ve got it. And when I’m not there, people notice.

It’s a little thing, being expected. Except that it’s not really so little at all is it?

(And if you’re wondering, SB’s team won all three games and SB scored three goals.)

Sometimes, the hockey rink is like a time machine

January 13th, 2012

So one thing that’s interesting about spending all this time around hockey rinks is that in the coming and going with Small Boy and Boychen we cross paths with most of the other age groups. SB plays Bambini hockey – officially Bambinis have 2004 and 2003 birth dates though SB is one of seven kids one his team who are younger than that. After this season, he can legally play another two seasons of Bambini hockey before he ages into the next group, the Piccolos. Then he’ll get two seasons in that age group before he ages up to the Moskitos. The “Mosi’s” practice right after SB on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we see them running drills as we’re leaving. It’s hard to believe they’re twelve and thirteen; a handful of them are just one helping of steak and potatoes away from being as tall as their coach. I suppose right about twelve and thirteen is when the testosterone starts kicking in and they start shooting up and filling out, getting real muscles and broad shoulders; but before practice I can see  them screwing around, throwing snowballs at each other and stealing each other’s hats and they’re still very much boys. Just bigger.

Thursday nights the hockey school practices in the arena where the pro team plays, and hockey school overlaps with practice for the Junior Elites – the last step before a kid tries to make it in professional hockey. They’re 17, 18, 19 year old boys – men – and while I’m on the ice with the little kids the Elites are running their warm ups in the stadium. They run the stairs, playing a game of follow the leader where the first boy in line sets the drill: sometimes they run up as fast as they can touching every step with the balls of their feet, sometimes they jump up two steps then back down one then up two again, sometimes they run up on every other stair, sometimes they hop up on one leg. However they do it, it’s full gas to the top, then they jog over to the next aisle and down to get back in line to run the stairs again. These boys aren’t kids anymore, even if they are seventeen – if a kid is still in the SCB program by the time he ages into the Junior Elite level, he’s hands-down one of the best youth hockey players in the country. Those boys aren’t kidding around anymore, they’re looking to play professional hockey. Period.

I see these guys around the rinks, various versions of the future Small Boy – SB at twelve, SB at fifteen, SB at eighteen – and it’s disconcerting and exciting and mildly terrifying to imagine SB morphing into a big boy and then a man. It’s not the hockey I’m talking about here, I’m not imagining SB playing Junior Elite hockey, it’s just the vision of him tall and broad and muscular that’s hard to reconcile with my long stretched out boy of tendon and bone and high child’s voice. Somehow seeing these hockey players on a regular basis, and seeing them in their stair-step age groups, makes them more real to me than the fifth graders I see around town or the teenagers who take the train to school and work in the city. I know exactly how old those hockey boys are – the kids who take the ice Tuesday after SB have 1999 – 2002 birth dates – and I know exactly how far away SB is from looking like those boys. If I squint my eyes and tilt my head when the Mosis drill, it’s like seeing a vision of the future.

It’s like this, the now and the then in the same frame, and the staircase between them suddenly so unbearably short:

Leaving my desk

January 6th, 2012

I came across a comment on Twitter that I’m never going to find again and thus will never be able to quote accurately or properly attribute, but basically it said: The poetry world would be a lot more pleasant if all poets took up a non-poetry related hobby. (If any of you recognize that tweet, please by all means let me know the source in the comments.)

This is my dilemma again and again about how to use my limited child-free time. There are other things I should be doing (maybe actually moving my body sometimes) and want to be doing (more with the garden, photography, getting back on the bike, learning to knit), but every hour I spend doing something that’s not writing is one less hour I have for writing. And yet I know that I’m happier, more interesting, and a better writer when I actually do more than write.

The hockey school turned out to be a great decision and it’s hard to believe now that I had stomachache-inducing angst about it. I have, for the first time since I quit teaching before I even got pregnant with Small Boy, work friends. Sometimes, after the Thursday night training, we go upstairs to the stadium restaurant and have a drink. Parents recognize me and the kids, even the ones who I’ve never worked with because they already knew how to skate, say hi; this afternoon at Small Boy’s Bambini training The World’s Cutest Hockey Player sought me out three times to say hello (her older brother is on SB’s team). (And I’m not joking, this girl is THE WORLD’S CUTEST HOCKEY PLAYER EVER!) All the other trainers, and the vast majority of the parents, are Swiss and it feels like I have a Swiss life for the first time. It only took me ten years. And because it’s my job – seriously, they even put money in my bank account – I have to do it and I have to be there and it forces me to do something other than hole up and write.

Holing up and writing is great, and I excel at the holing up aspect of it, but when you sit in the same place all the time you always have the same view; I mean that literally and metaphorically. I think most writers can relate to the feeling that there is not enough time in the day – and there is never enough time in the day – and the temptation to chain ourselves to our desks is powerful. Certainly if there is a deadline looming we have to chain ourselves to our desks, especially if there is a paycheck involved, but most days I think I would be better off if I did the counter-intuitive and left my desk behind for a bit. Most days I don’t do that; I think “I should go for a walk” but never get up or I think “I should try to meet up with a friend one Monday” and then never schedule it. This is why the hockey school has been so good. Twice a week I go do something radically different, mildly physical (it’s not so strenuous down at my end of the rink), highly social, and all mine. And non-poetry related.

And that last aspect of it is turning out to be the most interesting of all. Hockey school ends the last day of February (the unpredictable playoff schedule of our professional team makes scheduling practices in the Arena nearly impossible, and the outdoor rink closes mid-March, so we use March 1 as an easy end date) and I’m going to need to find something else to do. Something physical and preferably outdoors. Writers, what are your non-writing passions? How important are your non-work related hobbies to you?


December 13th, 2011

So, here’s an SMS you never want to get from your husband who you know has taken your son to the ER after a really hard (illegal, unnecessary, infuriating) hit in a hockey game: “SB’s pupils are normally the same size aren’t they?”

“As far as I know. Never noticed otherwise.” you message back. “Why? Are they not the same size now????”

“Nope.” comes the reply “one is larger – the left one – but could just be the light.”

At which point the only thing you can manage to type back is “What the FUCK?”

* * *

One of the small blessings of living right next door to R’s parents is that when this series of messages flew two weekends ago, my mother-in-law was able to walk across the driveway to take over putting The Boychen to bed and I packed a bag with some stuff for R and some stuff for SB – who was clearly going to be held overnight for observation – and drove to the hospital.

* * *

I’ll cut to the chase and say now that SB is okay. It was “just” a concussion; in spite of the most thorough opthalmological exam I’ve ever witnessed and a head MRI, no reason was ever found for SB’s unequal pupils. Here’s another thing you don’t really want, by the way: to watch over the technician’s shoulders as picture after picture of your son’s brain comes up on the screen. Pictures that you can’t read, and so you watch the tech’s body language instead, waiting for the widened eye, the sudden tilt of the head. It doesn’t come, but that doesn’t really make you feel any better until your kid is pulled out of the machine.

* * *

I’ve tried to write this a few times, it’s always a mess, brief paragraphs are the best I can do. Not even seven, a concussion, and though I know hockey players who have played for years and never gotten concussions, I find myself thinking “his first concussion” as if I expect more.

* * *

These recent articles in The New York Times about Derek Boogaard have not made me feel any better.

* * *

Trying to enforce a Sport-Verbot on a nearly seven year old physical boy used to playing hockey three times a week is not easy my friends. Not easy at all. SB has hated missing practice, hated being kept out of gym class at school, hates that I won’t let him play hockey in the driveway. The idea of being calm, and quiet and restful – it sort of makes him break out in hives I think and as a result his behavior at home has been … challenging.

This past Sunday was the Christmas party for SB’s team: a kids v. parents hockey tournament and then an early dinner. It was two weeks after the concussion, the earliest the doctors said he could start back with sports, and we thought it would be a good time to see how he feels – the tournament would be friendly and I would be right there on the ice to keep an eye on him. He played all three games and said he felt okay, but at bedtime he had a headache. He’s back on Injured Reserve and skipping training this week.

I played on the moms’ team and had the best time. I’ve been skating these past couple of years, but not playing hockey and this was hockey, with the full equipment, and even though it was a friendly match against the kids don’t be fooled: seven and eight year old boys play for keeps. They ran us hard. I still skate well, and I’ve got some game sense, but no puck handling skills at all; but I had so much fun that if I could somehow manufacture an additional twelve hours a week (stop laughing) I would run right out and join an adults’ recreational league because I had that much fun.

* * *

This is my new favoritest picture ever of me and the Small Boy. Look at that smile, do you think he was happy to be on the ice again? For all that hockey is a hard, physical, capricious and sometimes violent sport, anything that makes my boy smile like that has a place in this family. At least for now.

The things we let get away from us

November 23rd, 2011

I’ve been spending a lot of time in and around ice rinks lately: on the ice twice a week as a trainer, on the ice on weekends skating around with the boys, in the stands twice a week (or more) as a hockey-mom, and in the stands as a fan when the Big Boys play, and I’ve been thinking about the things we allow to get away from us. When we “grow up.” When we get busy. When we put other people’s needs – often our kids’ – first.

I grew up around hockey, we were a hockey family. My brother and I played (though I quit after a season and a half – back in the day being the only girl my age in the entire suburban league wasn’t so fun – my brother played on until he left for college); my dad was a coach and the president of the local hockey association; my mother was secretary or treasurer and sometimes both. When I was old enough, I worked as a time-keeper and kept statistics on goals for and against, minutes played, penalty minutes served. I grew up skating. Winter afternoons were spent at the local rink skating laps and giggling with my girlfriends under the lights. Hot chocolate in the warming house, watching the boys play pick-up hockey, skate-a-thons to raise money for the hockey club and threading a season pass through the laces of my skates. Always a season pass – growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 70s, if you didn’t skate in the winters you didn’t see much of your friends, because for sure they all skated.

Slowly, in high school I guess, I started leaving it all behind. My brother went to college, so I didn’t tag along to his games anymore and I was busy trying to find my thing in high school – it couldn’t be hockey, high-school girls didn’t play hockey back then and anyway although I still skated I had given up on hockey. I went to college and found cycling and after I graduated – I don’t know, I just sort of forgot about hockey and skating. I forgot about it for a long time, until a few years ago when we put SB in the hockey school and slowly, slowly, I started skating again.

But it’s been this year, between SB practicing or playing matches three times a week and my getting on the ice as a trainer in the hockey school, that’s put me right back in the middle of Hockey World – I’m at rinks three or four times a week and I’m having a blast. Oh, I’ll grumble about the logistics of it all because really it’s quite something some weeks – I’ve already decided that we need to be one of those families with the family calendar with a column for each family member – and my carbon footprint is GINORMOUS, but I’m having a blast. I’m having a blast on the ice and I find I’m happier off it – I’ve got a Thing. A hobby (though technically it’s also a job), a place to be. A whole other life. It’s chaos sometimes, and I’m not a big fan of chaos and time-pressure, but I’m having a great time.

And I’m wondering why I let skating slip away from me for so many years, wondering why we allow ourselves to drop our little hobbies and interests along the way. All the years I was in Switzerland before the boys were born, I never went skating – why did it take the boys getting into hockey for me to get back on the ice? Every winter of my childhood was spent in and around ice-rinks and then, somehow, I stopped. Now I find myself in them again and I’m realizing how much I missed it.

Is there something you loved to do when you were younger that’s fallen by the wayside? I challenge you to remember it, and try it out again.

A day in the life

November 4th, 2011

Apparently, it doesn’t take much for me to go from being busy to feeling over-extended. Apparently, it takes about 4 hours a week. I very carefully chose the phrase “feeling over-extended” because I know I am not, in fact, over-extended; I am, however, a person who stumbles over transitions (please, do not try to talk to me about anything requiring a decision for the first ten minutes after I have walked in the door and for the love of god do not catch me in the driveway as I am stepping out of the car and try to talk to me about anything) and who needs a five-minute cushion – getting someplace in the nick of time stresses me out more than actually being late.

So the fall schedule of Small Boy’s Bambini hockey, the Boychen’s hockey school hockey, and my training at the hockey school has knocked me sideways far more than I ever would have guessed a four-hour a week job would. It’s not the four hours, so much as the craziness of those exact four hours.

Here, for example, is how Thursdays afternoons run around here: at 3:45 Small Boy and I need to leave for his Bambini hockey practice. It’s almost always possible for Boychen to stay with his grandparents, which is a relief because Small Boy and I drive to Hockey Rink 1 where he takes the ice at 4:45 for practice that runs to 6:10. At 5:00 I leave Small Boy at Hockey Rink 1 and drive to Hockey Rink 2, where I teach with the hockey school from 6:00 to 7:00. (Boychen doesn’t attend the Thursday session because it’s too late at night for him.) At some point between 6:00 and 6:30 I get a message from R confirming that he made it to Hockey Rink 1 and is taking Small Boy home. So far, R has always made it on time but we’ve worked out a Plan B for Small Boy to follow (basically go to the restaurant, order a plate of french fries and wait for Dada to show up) in the eventuality that he doesn’t get there on time. Which is totally going to happen one of these days.

About every other Saturday, Small Boy has a hockey game at Hockey Rink 3 or, heaven forbid in a whole other town, while Boychen and I have hockey school at Hockey Rink 1. Boychen and I go to hockey school, Small Boy and R go to the match, and when hockey school is over Boychen and I cut across town to catch the end of the match.

It’s kind of chaos; and now I understand why Fellow Hockey Family worked so hard to get their younger son into Bambinis with his older brother. Have any of you seen that Suburu commercial with the hockey mom to triplets? I laugh at the hockey mom of triplets, because her kids are all on the same team. Honey, I could do that in my sleep. The real challenge is having kids 3 years apart who will never end up on the same team and you have to be in two different places at the exact same time.

Once I’m there, though, and take a few deep breaths, and put on my skates and my trainer’s suit – yes, I have an Outfit – and get on the ice with the kids, it’s pretty good. In two weeks, Boy Who Can’t Even Stand On The Ice has been transformed into Boy Who Can Make It From One Side of the Rink to the Other. Last night, Boy Who Cried became Boy Who Played Pickup Hockey With Me. It’s good. I’m friendly with my fellow trainers and last night I had a drink with them after training. (Iced tea, because of all the driving.) Parents will wave me over and ask a question and I’ll tell you what: watching a kid let go of the supports and take four steps towards me, because I told him I knew he could do it, and because he believed me, is pretty awesome.

So life looks kind of like this right about now:

When’s March?


August 28th, 2011

Small Boy scored his first goal in a proper hockey tournament today; he tipped in a nice rebound after the opposing goalie deflected a shot (though Small Boy’s team still lost the game and ended up third out of four teams in the tournament). The tournament was fun, and gave me an opportunity to continue this strange new friend-making adventure I seem to be embarking upon, but my favorite part (aside from the Small Boy’s goal, of course) was this:

The parents were only allowed to help kids tie their skates. Everything else, the players had to do themselves. This is already strongly encouraged at training, but something about it being Game Day made the kids take it more seriously. I hung out in a corner of the locker room until it was time to lace up Small Boy’s skates, then went out into the hallway. Shortly before the trainers closed the door to the locker room, I went to take a peek to see what jersey number Small Boy was wearing (they don’t have numbers at practice but rather train in practice jerseys) and the kids were just putting on their jerseys. It can be tricky for a little kid to pull a jersey on over their shoulder pads, and then the jerseys often cling to the velcro straps on the elbow pads (and sometimes pull them open again), and I usually help Small Boy with this. How was he going to do this, I wondered, and then saw that kids had buddied up and were helping each other with their jerseys. Small Boy was straightening the jersey of Pro Defenseman’s Kid, so I turned and went back into the hall. They clearly had it covered.

They know what they’re doing, these coaches. They’re developing the whole player, not just the bits on the ice. Evidence that it’s working: after we got clobbered 18-2 in the first game, the team surrounded the goalie and everybody patted him on the head, the shoulder, encouraging taps to the shin pads with their sticks, and they all lined up together to shake hands with the winning team. Then they huddled around the coach and got ready for the next game.