Complaints of a Hockey Mom

ice-hockey-puck-players-gameby Kathy P. Behan

“You have a game at what time,” I incredulously ask Cullen, my 13-year-old son.

“Six — but the rink’s a half-hour away, and the coach says we need to be there at least 30 minutes before game time,” Cullen calmly replies. “I’ll set Dad’s alarm for 4:30.”

The 6 and 4:30 hours we’re talking about here are not reasonable, civilized, evening times, oh no — they’re freezing, pitch-black, world’s-asleep a.m. hours.

Welcome to hockey.

This sport has been the bane of my existence ever since my eldest child starting playing. I should have known better. I should never have let him try it. After all, his father was a hockey player who still has the scars and the early-morning affinity to prove it.

Cullen was hooked from the moment his wobbly little ankles could support him on skates. When he started to play, we used to secretly call him “The Cruiser,” because he didn’t know how to stop, and would frequently cruise by all the action. By the time he’d be able to turn around, the puck would be on the other side of the ice.

He was determined though. Over the years, he’s worked hard to improve his skills, and it has paid off. Even though he’s a defenseman, he’s the third highest scorer on his team. No one works harder at practices or digs deeper during games.

Cullen’s not fazed by the crazy hours or the fact that he sometimes has to play two or even three games in a day. Besides being perpetually sleep-deprived, my son has also had to deal with a drastically hampered social life. He has missed out on countless sleepovers, evenings at the teen center or just hanging out with buddies because of his schedule.

He never complains though, and neither does his father. They know this is the price you pay to play.

It’s been a much harder adjustment for me. I resent the toll that hockey has taken on our family time. Practices and games frequently claim all the prime weekend hours, and tournaments are invariably scheduled for school vacations.

The time, in a way, is the least of it. Now that my son is older, he’s part of the wild world of checking. Players are taught the most effective ways of hitting and taking an opponent out of the play. To watch my priceless child being smashed into the boards, hooked from behind, or sent careening onto the ice is heart-stopping for me. Worry and dread are my companions during every game.

I’m also constantly astounded — and embarrassed — by the behavior of hockey parents. This is not the supportive and genteel group you tend to find on the sidelines of say, a tennis match. This crowd is loud, testosterone-driven and rabid. The worst part is that I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the frenzy too. I don’t know what it is about this sport that brings out the axe murderer in us all.

Despite all its considerable drawbacks, I have to admit that hockey really is exciting to watch. It’s fast, furious and skilled. And even though it’s an extremely aggressive sport, it also teaches kids discipline. Players learn to check not only their opponents but their tempers as well. They have to take a hit, and not react in mindless anger.

Cullen and my husband love this game, and every now and then I get caught up in the fever too — especially when I watch my son score on a breakaway.

Ultimately, if Cullen ever makes it to the pros, he certainly won’t have me to thank. Even though I enjoy watching him play, I’ve been trying to talk him out of this potentially dangerous, “inconvenience on ice” ever since he started.

At the awards banquet, he should express a lot of gratitude toward his father — his main chauffeur, coach and biggest fan.

Oh I’ll be there all right, in the background, still grumbling about the crowd, the brutes on the other team, and why we had to get up so early.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in family and health issues. 

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