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The End of an Era

Hockey

My little boy turned fifteen at the end of March. He isn’t so little anymore. A fact that he reminds me of several times a day, as he is now much taller that I am.

When we were younger, I say we because I know every parent uttered the same words to their children, “Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. It goes by in the blink of an eye”. Naturally, we didn’t listen. It isn’t something you have a sense of when you’re young. You live in the moment, just as you should as a kid.

In the blink of an eye

Then at some point, you realize they were right and you wonder how it went by so fast. I don’t think the reality of it hit me until my kids were born. Just yesterday they were babies. I still remember how sweet their little heads smelled and how soft their skin was. How innocent and gentle and silly and impressionable they were “just yesterday”.

I remember when Andrew was four. I put him on ice skates for the first time. Honestly thinking he’d hate being so constricted in all the gear, but feeling it was my duty as a New Englander to make sure he knew how to skate. He got out there padded from head to toe, grabbed his little milk crate to help him stay upright and off he went. Right on his butt. He was so awkward. He spent more time sitting on the ice than skating on it, even with the help of the crate. I knew when he came off that would probably be the last time he would want to go the rink. But he got off the ice and let us know how much fun he had and couldn’t wait until the next lesson.

That was the end of any free time we had. From then on it was lessons, practices, tryouts, games. It didn’t matter if he had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to get out on the ice. He’d sleep in his skates, if we’d have let him. He never complained. He loved the sport.

When he was ten, he developed arthritis. I know, right? Arthritis? It affected several joints, but his ankle was the most painful. It was so swollen that he couldn’t bend it at all. Putting pressure on it was agonizing. But he would wake up even earlier than normal so I could massage his foot enough to get it into the skate boot. Sometimes the pain of just getting on his skates would bring him to tears, but that never stopped him. Sometimes he’d get sick from the pain, but he’d keep going. Clean it up and get back out there. The heart of a hockey player if I ever saw one.

Throughout his illness, he was fortunate to have had amazing coaches. They always encouraged him. They pushed him when they could and knew when to pull back when he’d had enough. His teammates were always there to help him out, make him laugh or give him a hard time like boys will do. They were tight.

Fortunately he healed and, knock on wood, it has not returned. But I will never forget how special our hockey family was. We ate together, laughed together, cried together. We were together early in the morning and late at night. These coaches and teammates and their families became our family.

I can’t imagine our time with them is done. But after a devastating 3-1 loss in the second round of the playoffs, it is. I walked out of the rink without saying goodbye to anyone, it was too hard. I know I’ll see them again soon.

Andrew won’t be playing in that league next year, he’ll play only high school hockey. His coach will not be coaching again and the other boys will be playing elsewhere as well. Everyone is moving on. We say we’ll keep in touch. I hope that’s true, but isn’t that what everyone says? You’ve got to make the effort, like anything. It’s hard to think that it was just a blip in time. That we could just blink and it would be gone and these people would not play any more part in our lives.

Every hockey family knows this feeling. Actually any team that spends this much time together knows it. Most would say they wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m going to agree. Every awful smelling car ride, injury, win and loss was worth the precious time that was spent with these special people in the early morning hours and the super late nights, the Turkey Tournaments and team dinners.

Although we won’t miss the actual chore of carting these kids around, the time spent in the car with the kids will certainly be missed. When you have a captive audience, there are many opportunities for serious conversations and you never know what you might learn. There were some pretty great moments that took place en route to all those practices and games that may never have if we hadn’t been forced into the car with each other so often.

We may not have hockey anymore, but we have those memories and friendships that we were fortunate to have built during many frozen hours.

Enjoy every moment.

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