Last weekend my son and I spent the weekend at a hockey tournament. It started out well with their first win against a solid team. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel swimming, napping, watching movies. For lunch we ordered pizza and everyone brought something to share. We broke bread like a family should.
As hockey parents, we spend so much time together taking our children to practice, watching games, letting them skate and getting them together on holidays and weekends, that these people become an inner circle of friends. In the midst of all this time and settling in, I forgot about the importance of pursuing my own work and letting my son pursue his. I watched my life shrink slightly with friendships drifting away and incredibly busy friends tending to their growing families. Instead of pursuing new friendships and concentrating on the important ones I still had left, I unconsciously started living my life as if my son were the only part of my life. I essentially forgot who I was–a writer.
So instead of spending time writing poetry, reading novels, studying for the PMP exam that my job depends upon, I spent time talking with parents at the arena. Chatting about nothing in particular. Falling into a sense that it was okay to air my frustration that my son made a team with many challenges–challenges that ranged from boys who couldn’t skate, to the aggressiveness of a boy who lacked a mind/body connection and lashed out with his stick at almost every chance he could get. My son had tried out as goalie and ended up having to skate as a player as the other goalie can’t skate out and there were not enough players on the team. This team was like the Bad News Bears.
And so the season progressed and the boys improved. Barely at first but significantly at the end where even the opportunity to win a game came into play and land in tournament that allowed them to sport a trophy. That wasn’t really in the cards for these players at the beginning of the season.
And so my son bragged a little about being the top scorer. He sometimes brags a lot about his talent. It gets on a lot of people’s nerves, even coaches, even parents, and especially the players. He does have some talent. He has a knack for skating the puck down and scoring on break-aways. He was also one of three captains. He stepped up to his position with grace. Pushing his teammates hard during practice, telling them when they did good work and when they needed to work harder. It’s not an easy task to step into that role. The coach encouraged him. Pushed him hard seeing his potential as a leader and a better hockey player. The players gave him a hard time about this. Refused to listen to him until he pushed hard to get them into action. My son wanted to work hard and he wanted his team to follow him. His frustration palpitated the air at times as he would plead with the coach to let him step down.
In the midst of all this, I got too involved. Spoke too much. Let myself get carried away with my own feelings of my son not making the team he wanted to make. My own frustration of him not being able to be coached like he would have been had he made a better team. When you make the A-team, everything is faster, the drills more calculated, the strategy more in-depth, the expectations of all the team mates. My son’s coach spent his time dealing with boys who wouldn’t or couldn’t listen, who would slash his own players as they passed him during drills, and players who just didn’t show up to practice regularly. In the beginning I held out hope–I truly believed the coach could bridge the gap, but even during one of the first practices, the coach had the boys executing a somewhat complicated drill and my son collided hard with another boy not paying attention. They both hit the ice hard and the coach jumped right on top of my son to make sure he didn’t move until it was clear there was no danger. It ended with a trip to the ER to make sure he was okay and it ended future practices focused on only the basics. Not ideal for a player with improvement on his mind.
I was mad. And I voiced my opinion loudly. I didn’t go to the board of directors at that time as I knew there was little that could be done. It was too late in the season to shift him. I didn’t advocate for him. I whined and complained and I sometimes let my son overhear these conversations on accident. But in the midst of car rides home with tears flowing, it was hard to keep silent. I did what I could to support and build my son up. We had many conversations about life in general and how you never know why you are in the place you are in but it is the exact place you need to be. I would give him examples from my own life to help him power through the season. I think when he grows up, he might pull these stories out to help him through difficult times.
I hope my words didn’t fall on deaf ears. Regardless, these conversations meant something to me, especially as I continued to ignore my own needs to serve my son. I wanted people to like me. I talked too much about not enough important topics. I bored even myself. But I didn’t do anything about it. All I did was try harder to engage the other parents–which led to the reason I am even writing this post in the first place. I talked too much and fell into playing small in the world. I gossiped and laughed at other people’s children without even realizing I could be causing pain to their parents, or to the team.
It came to a head after the tournament came to an end. A mother, who I’d known for the last three years, was told by someone else that I was making fun of her son and the pajamas he was wearing. I am so embarrassed even to write this. Another parent and I had been eating breakfast and the parent was laughing about how this boy had come into her room to hang out wearing a cookie monster 1-piece pajama suit. She joked about how she’d called her boyfriend and sent him a picture saying–and he’s a hockey player. I’d thought it was a little weird and a little funny at the same time. I like this boy a lot. He is smart and funny and sweet all at the same time. I would never intentionally hurt him or his mother. This joking with my friend wasn’t meant to be hurtful, it was just me thinking something was cute and laughing about it.
We went and placed third in that tournament. We finished and headed out for the four hour drive home. We were all tired. And I waited in the car until my son finished dressing so we could hit the road. I had no idea the storm brewing inside the arena as gossip spread and rumors flew about this little scene at breakfast. Maybe if I had been aware, been paying attention, I could have addressed it right there. But it was too late for that. I was tired and wanted to leave. As I waited in the car, tempers flared unbeknownst to me and my son.
Without warning, the next night at practice, when I walked into the arena, this player’s mom verbally attacked me. She looked almost like she was joking–wagging her finger at me and yelling, “Shame on you. Shame on you.” And like I do in almost all situations where fear and nervousness take over, I laughed. She took that as an opening to slay a million dragons with her words. She was mean. She called my son a bully. She called me a liar, a fake. Screaming at the top of her lungs and pacing around me wagging her fingers. This mom is my height and weights at least 200 pounds more than me. I was frozen. I couldn’t talk. And my silence made her madder. When I tried to walk away, she moved in front of me so I wasn’t able to move. Not one parent said a word. They watched. And no one intervened. I think the rink manager might have however he was puttering with the Zamboni. I acknowledged her anger and tried to explain what happened. She refused to listen. Screamed louder and proceeded to attack my son and his friendships in horrible ways. Calling him a bully and the cause of the team’s losses. That he was mean and unkind. It felt surreal and I couldn’t get out of it.
I did nothing though. I moved away from her. I gathered my bag and left with my younger son so I could get him home. I felt sick and within a day, came down with the worst head cold I’d had in years. My physical body punishing the emotional one. I talked with the coach and had my son talk with the coach. I didn’t feel safe going back into the arena. I wasn’t sure what she would do. I’ve reworked out many scenarios in my mind on how this could have been different and played out better for both of us. Later that evening, my friend (and fellow hockey mom), called and asked me why I would let someone treat me that way. Why I didn’t slap her and stick up for myself. I wonder that myself. It isn’t how I respond to anger. If I’d yelled back or slapped her, I’m convinced she would have dragged me out of the arena by my hair and beat the crap out of me in the parking lot while parents watched from a distance. I wonder now if I’d been able to move through her anger and find my own compassion, I might have been able to penetrate her crazy rant with a, “I’m so sorry. It wasn’t my intention.” However, I was in fight or flight mode. I felt like when I was 9 playing outside after school and a bunch of kids chased me home. I ran so hard that day and made it into the house just as they were about to get me. I don’t know what would have happened if they’d caught me, if I would have survived that or not. But it has shaped my reaction to anger–I am a flight kind of gal and I will do everything I can to get to safety. And that is what I did. I fled the moment I could from that scene in the arena with my head low and heart aching.
I spent a week fretting over this scene and comforting my son who found out what was said by this parent about him from another friend who happened to have been late to practice and witnessed the entire incident. It kept me up for weeks after the event. Replaying the scene over and over like a skipped record and in the midst of this, I contracted the worst sore throat and head cold that even the ruminating over the scene made my head hurt.
Even today, three years later, I continue to hash it out in my head, like a machete in a corn field. It’s plagued me even after the mom apologized a year later and explained she didn’t even remember what had happened. She’d had a breakdown and ended up in the hospital with complications to diabetes the very next week. What I realize now though is that the only reason I ended up in that situation was that I was not doing my own work. I’d hyper-focused in on my son and crafted his comings and goings into my own life instead of focusing on my own work, my own life. I swerved from the core of who I am and what I need to accomplish. I allowed myself to play small, to believe my life only mattered through what my sons did and accomplished.
It’s been hard to get here. A difficult path that I carved out and caused other people pain, including my son. I just wanted to be liked and I wanted to have fun. I wanted to connect in the worst way possible. I was desperate and I’m sure it was noticed in an irritating way, although no one ever said anything about it to me.
I am here now though. Lessons learned. The very lesson I tried to lecture my son about when he made this team so many years ago. Applying my own philosophy to this situation, I know I was in the right place at the right time for whatever reason. Was it painful, yes. Did I come to understand why I was there, yes. Is there anything I can do to avoid that in the future, yes. I can dig in here where I have been such a stranger and I can recreate myself again by concentrating on what is most important–creating a life that means something. And that is what I will do now. I’m finished licking my wounds and gathering support from others. I’ve put myself in this mother’s feet and have come to understand her complicated medical issues she was facing at the time. I took my lesson to heart the following year and spent less time at the arena, more time walking, reading and writing and spending time with people that understand mistakes are made and that our life’s purpose is to care for each other with compassion even when it is so much easier to judge.