BY KATHY P. BEHAN
Call me a weenie, call me a coward or better yet, call me what I truly am — an overprotective parent. That’s because I was reluctant for my first-grader to take up the sport of hockey.
This reluctance mostly comes from the very real possibility that my son could get creamed. After all, it makes me extremely nervous to think of my precious boy playing a game where most participants are lucky if they’re able to retain more than half of their teeth. I had to be convinced that hockey was indeed a game. I’ve always viewed it more as an excuse for participants to brawl on ice.
Another drawback is that it’s a major time commitment. Being on a hockey team at my son’s level means that he would attend two practices and a game a week. I am not excited by the prospect of spending three hours (or more) a week freezing my toes — and various other body parts — off. This discomfort is heightened by the fact that I would have to attend these sessions with my two younger children in tow. Imagine what fun it is for a 4-year-old and his 17-month-old sister to watch their brother practice.
Because of intense lobbying by my son and former-hockey-playing husband, I caved in and let Cullen join the “Mosquitos,” as they’re so attractively called. (Don’t ask me why, but the teams all seem to be named after particularly annoying insects.) I’ve been alternately angry and pleased about this decision ever since.
For starters, the equipment is unbelievable. Not only do they need tons of it — shoulder, shin and elbow pads, hockey pants, padded gloves, caged helmet, hockey stick and of course, the skates themselves — but it is incredibly expensive.
The other problem with all this equipment is that obviously, you have to put it on. It’s not like soccer where you slip on your shin pads, cleats, and t-shirt and you’re ready to play. Getting ready for hockey is a major investment in time, patience and endurance. Fastening the skates alone is a ten-minute trial.
The good news is that even though this equipment is extremely bulky and unwieldy, it’s also well, very protective. You get the feeling that a kid wearing all this stuff would have to really work at getting hurt. Plus in terms of violence, this hockey bears almost no resemblance to its professional counterpart. Players are not allowed to “check” (smash into your opponents), and even when they do take someone out of a play, most times it’s unintentional. Usually it’s because a skater loses his balance, and brings down other players in the process. It’s a matter of luck as to whether the players he brings down are on his, or the opposing team.
Don’t misunderstand — these kids are actually pretty great. They fall a lot because they try so hard, and they skate so fast. I’m constantly astounded by their excellent level of play.
For his part, Cullen is thoroughly hooked on hockey. He really looks forward to playing, and has informed me that he’d love to practice every day. As for me, in my own fashion, I’ve even gotten into the spirit of things. I offered my son a $5 reward (or more accurately, bribe) for every goal he makes. Of course after he scored twice during his last game, I lowered the ante to a quarter. So aside from sitting in a freezing cold rink, I have to admit that I enjoy watching the games. Seeing these pint-sized people zooming across the ice has been surprisingly entertaining. As for my main compliant, maybe I could ask them to turn up the heat…
Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.