Wordless Wednesday: this is what winning looks like edition

January 2nd, 2013

Practice and play: the things we love and finding the line

December 3rd, 2012

SB has been invited to attend goalie training in addition to his regular hockey practices. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming: I’ve been keeping track of the number of times SB has been put in the goal on game day and I certainly haven’t failed to notice how very good at it he is for a kid who’s essentially untrained. When I watch SB skate as a field player, I see all the ways he’s improved, I notice the things he’s gotten good at, and I know just how much hard work has gone into that. He’s a good little player, and he comes by it honestly. It’s work, not native talent, that’s gotten him this far.

When I watch SB play as a goalie, I see all the ways he needs to improve, all the training he doesn’t have, all the specific goalie tricks and traits he needs to be taught – but I also see something that I don’t see when he plays forward or defense. I see that thing that can’t be described. I see what TrainerMan must have seen, that potential that made him put SB in the net in the first place. Now and then I see him do something that he should not yet know how to do. I see promise, the kind you never know if a kid will live up to it or not, but the kind that they either have or they don’t.

SB went to his first real goalie training last Monday, in the rain, on the far back rink where I couldn’t see him properly, and he had his first drill where players ring the goalie from four angles and take shots at him and he was good. Oh, he gave up his fair share of goals, believe me – I’m not saying he’s some amazing puck-blocking machine. But – there was something. Something about the way he stood, about the way he reset his body position so quickly, about the way he came forward, maybe about the way he wasn’t afraid, I don’t know exactly what it was. Something.

If you had asked me a year ago, when SB first started going in the net, what position I wanted SB to play, I would have said I wanted him to be a defenseman. He’s good at defense, he knows where to be and when to be there and I love watching him play. I would not have said goalie. In fact, I would have said I actively hope he doesn’t end up as a goalie. Now, though. Now I’d say something different.

Now I watch him play on the field and I watch him play in the net and I see this: I see goalie as the choice that carries the greater risk, but the potential for much greater reward. I think SB will always be a fine skater, he’ll do just fine, for quite a few years still, on the field. He’ll never be the best kid on the team, and he’ll never bring down the house. But he’ll be fine. He’ll have to work for every minute of ice time, but he’ll be okay. He likes to work at hockey. As goalie though. It might not work out, but it’s also the one position where I could see him end up being something truly special. I’d like that for him. It’s not that I want him to be a goalie, per se, it’s that I want him him to have faith in that something inside of him to follow where it leads.

It’s a great deal to ask of a seven year old, and I’m certainly not asking it of him right now. I’m keeping all this to myself and simply driving him to goalie practice and to regular practice and telling him time and again that he’s got two and a half seasons before he needs to really decide anything. To just get the goalie training and see how it goes. I don’t want to push too hard, I don’t want to scare him off, and I don’t want to turn hockey into a chore.

And yet. If it’s true, if he’s really got that something and this isn’t just a mother’s self-delusion – and I try very hard to be clear-eyed about my children and I’m fairly certain I’m not being delusional – then I want him to go for it, and going for it means turning the thing he loves – hockey – into a lot of hard work at a very young age. It’s a fine calibration, how much pressure is enough, how much is too much and most of all how much is too little. How hard to push, when to back off, when to listen to TrainerMan and when to listen to my child and when to listen to my heart.

It’s not that I want him to be great; I’m not hoping he’ll “make it.” It’s that I want him to believe he could be great, I want him to believe he could be the kid who “makes it.” It’s not that I want to raise a goalie, it’s that I want to raise a kid who chases his dream. I mean really chases it, with all the hard work and bruised shins and rainy day practices that entails. I’m keeping all this to myself right now, because I know SB and he’s a complicated kid who needs a light hand and because he’s seven and this is all too much for a seven year old.

But he might have something. And if he does, in my secret mom heart I want him to walk the harder road. I’m starting to believe it’s the right road for him. The risky road. How do I help him be brave enough to choose it?

More new beginnings

September 14th, 2012

I should have started with this, of course, after a month-long hiatus: the Boychen started Kindergarten, and SB is in second grade. Second grade. I have a second grader. And a Kindergartener.

I’m curious how Kindergarten will go for Boychen. In some ways, he’s ahead of the game for a Kindergartner. He insists on doing what his brother is doing – when SB’s 7 and 8 year old friends come over to play, there’s Boychen right in the mix not even realizing that he’s small. When SB does his homework, Boychen has to have homework too. I started out by giving him coloring books, or simple “my first get ready for kindergarten” books but Boychen was having none of that. If SB was doing math, then Boychen wanted to do math too and as a result he can do first grade math. If SB had writing practice, then Boychen wanted writing practice too. Yeah, I know. Double-edged sword but you come over here and try telling the Boychen that he can’t do something because he’s too young or too small. No, really. I dare you.

But on the other hand, there are many ways in which Boychen is still clearly four and a half. He’s extremely impatient, and a sore loser (which is really fun when he plays hockey in the garage with his older more experienced brother), and easily frustrated. All pretty normal four and five year old stuff, and exactly the areas Swiss Kindergarten concentrates on. Kindergarten here is all about play and socialization. They don’t learn to read or write or do math. They do art projects, and play, and learn songs and rhymes and have stories read to them. But they are not, not in school. (I’ve written about Swiss Kindergarten and first grade in more detail here.) It’s all about social competence in Kindergarten, and that’s exactly what Boychen needs right about now.

SB started second grade, which means a musical instrument has been thrown into the mix one day a week. SB is playing the recorder (Flöte in German) and on top of school homework he now has to practice the Flöte, too. So far he’s been good about it, though I’ve learned that if we don’t do it right after he finishes his school work there will be a drama when I tell him to do it later. Basically, SB has to do his homework right after lunch before he can go do anything, and I’m drilling it into him now that homework must must MUST be finished before hockey practice. Because hockey practice is only going to get crazier as SB gets older, and I need to drill this rule into him but good.

Hockey. Yes, we’re back in hockey. SB has been in on-ice training since the first week of August and has already had his first games. For that it’s only September, he’s been spending (or is scheduled to spend) a lot of time in the goal. He was goalie for the first tournament – 3 games in one morning – and is scheduled to be in the goal on the 9th and the 16th. TrainerMan clearly has ideas about this kid. And who can blame him, look at my little goalie (in the black jersey in the near goal):

Nice butterfly position, no?

These boys. How they keep growing, finding their way.

This is why

September 10th, 2012

It’s dark when I wake on Sunday morning, dark when I slip into the shower, keeping it short before the sound of the water wakes Boychen. It’s dark when SB stage-whispers “Hello, Mama” to let me know that he is awake even before I need to wake him. It’s dark when I make coffee in the kitchen behind the closed door and tip-toe around the stove scrambling eggs for the Small Boy, hoping we don’t wake anybody. It’s just turning light as I pour black tea into my thermos, hand SB a piece of bread for the car ride, grab my to-go cup of coffee. It’s 6:35 on Sunday morning when we get in the car, the Small Boy and I, shutting our doors softly.

Sonnenaufgang, sunrise.

Hockey today, eight 21-minute games starting at 7:45. The players need to be in the locker room by seven. We’re lucky this time, the tournament is in a neighboring town. We can sleep in a bit, take the time to scramble eggs and eat at the table rather than eating peanut-butter roll-ups in the car.

I do this, bleary eyed, joke-complaining with the other parents in the stadium restaurant at 7:05, because when Small Boy gets on the ice he is ten feet tall. He’s not the best player on the team, he’s not one of those stand-out kids who you can’t help but watch, shaking your head in a kind of wonder (although he’s turning into a mighty impressive goalie). He’s right where he needs to be, safely slotted in the upper-middle, better at some things than at others. But this boy, when he plays hockey, this boy of mine makes me shake my head in a kind of wonder. I can’t get over it, I love to watch him play, watch him discover himself.

This boy of mine, at sunrise.

Losing is hard (oh, so hard sometimes) but it’s not unfair

April 20th, 2012

So. Our local professional hockey team’s season came to a heartbreaking end on Tuesday when the ZSC Lions (the team from Zürich) scored the winning goal with 2.5 seconds left to play in game seven of a seven game final series. I know, it’s an almost unbelievable scenario, yet there it was. SCB had gone up three games to one in the series and then lost three games in a row. Twice at home: once in overtime and then game seven with 2.5 seconds left in regulation play. The Small Boy was at both of those games and although the Small Boy was crushed on both occasions – he plays, after all, in the SCB youth program and knows a few of the players so his loyalty to the team runs deep – he didn’t cry.

A year ago, I’m pretty sure he would have cried. But Small Boy spent the winter on the ice, part of a team, sometimes winning and sometimes losing himself, and he’s learned how these things go. I don’t think he could quite articulate it yet, but I think he understands that you can play your best hockey, you can leave it all on the ice, and still lose. My mother-in-law calls it the “ungerechtigkeit” of sport – unfairness, or injustice (more translations and examples here) but I challenge her on that word. Maybe I’m missing a subtlety of translation, or maybe I’ve just been around sports a long time, but I don’t think of sports outcomes as unfair and I don’t want the Small Boy to either. There can be unfair situations – biased referees; missed calls (ahem, why yes, Andreas Ambühl was goal-line offsides); players who cheat, shave points, or take performance-enhancing drugs; spectators who interfere with play in a way that’s irreversible – but I don’t think that the cold hard logic of sports itself, which is that for one team to win another team must lose, is unfair. It’s hard. It can be heartbreaking – have you ever watched a 6 foot 2 inch tall, 218 pound professional hockey player cry? It’s heartbreaking. But it’s not unfair.

I am one of those people who believes, for the most part, that sports is a pretty good metaphor for life. There will always be days when you bring your best self to the game and the game crushes you anyway. At Small Boy’s final tournament of the season, his team was up against mostly more experienced teams. Strictly speaking, it was a tournament for the older half of the Bambinis, but our older boys were already at a different tournament that day so TrainerMan – who can be a bit gung-ho about these things sometimes – decided what the heck, we’ll send a team anyway, it’ll be good for them. Well it was. (He’s TrainerMan for a reason, I guess.) Those boys played their best hockey of the year, every last one of them found their best selves, and they never never never stopped trying. We – the parents – were going crazy in the stands, cheering our heads off, and our boys lost most of those games but they knew – you could tell, they just knew – they had played top drawer hockey and I’ll tell you what, a more glorious seventh place team in a field of eight never did exist. And I refuse to call that outcome unfair, or to let the idea of unfairness sneak into Small Boy’s head, because that would be robbing him of understanding this: you play your heart out. Every time. You play your heart out. Let the chips fall where they may, but you lay it all on the line every time, you risk heartbreak every time. And if you give it your best shot, your honest-to-god best shot, and land in seventh place out of eight anyway – or if you play your heart out only to fall in the last 2.5 seconds of game seven – well you let yourself cry a bit. But then you go give it all again tomorrow.

It’s not unfair. It’s sport, in the best sense of the game. It’s life, in the best sense of the word. I think, slowly, in the inarticulate way of a seven year old boy who plays a whole lot of hockey, Small Boy gets that a bit. He is learning – without, perhaps, realizing it – how to risk breaking his own heart for the thing that he loves. It’s the best outcome I could have hoped for that very first time I ever laced up his skates.

What are you willing to break your own heart for? And for any parents reading, how do you feel about putting your kids, or watching your kids put themselves, in a position to get their hearts broken?

Words in the night

February 3rd, 2012

Sunday nights I lie in bed with SB until he falls asleep. Most nights I climb into bed next to him for a while – ten minutes or so – but Sunday is “snuggle night” and I stay in bed with him until he’s asleep. Last Sunday night, I had been in bed with him about five minutes when a line of poetry came to me – not just a line, but a way into a persona I’ve been wondering if I can possibly write convincingly. I sat straight up and whispered “Sorry, I’ll be right back,” and grabbed a piece of blank paper and a pencil (a colored pencil, it turned out, dark red) from SB’s desk and jotted down the line. I climbed back into bed and SB asked me if I had thought of an idea for a poem.

I love that he knows this about me.

“Yes, I thought of something that I had to write before I forgot.”

“What did you write?” he asked, and I told him. It’s a line in the third person, about a “he” figure, and SB asked who “he” was.

“I don’t know yet, I’m still figuring that out. Sometimes things come to me in pieces and I have to put them together like a puzzle.”

“Is the he me?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a grown man remembering being a boy.”

“Okay,” he said and we curled up again.

Five minutes later, another line. The closing line, probably; it felt like a closing line. I jumped out of bed again.

“Another idea?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll be right back.”

I jotted down the line and climbed back into bed. Then SB sat up.

“Wait, sorry, I forgot something,” he said and climbed out of bed. He went to his desk, found a pencil and a scrap of paper, and jotted down some letters. He got back into bed, then said “Oh, wait,” and did it again. Then he came to bed and curled up and slowly fell asleep, my son who seems to understand, a little bit, what it is that I do.