Hockey Moms

My 10 year old son comes out of the ice arena, swaggering despite the heavy hockey bag that he carries like a giant backpack. His hockey stick and waterbottle he wields before him like a rod and staff.  I’m sitting on a picnic table in the sun and, yes, I am facebooking on my iPhone. His cheeks are flushed, his bright ginger hair is damp-dark with sweat.  He has an announcement to make.

“I’ve got everyone but one kid on my team to be in favor of same-sex marriage.  AND two of the coaches.”

He beams at me. I can feel my jaw as it drops.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible hockey mom.  I hate almost everything about the sport.  I’ve got two sons who play, so I did put a decent amount of effort into learning the basic rules and terminology.  I know what a “hat trick” is; I understand what it means when the refs call “icing” (and even the circumstances under which you would want to ice the puck).  But hockey is like an onion – and not just because the pungent smell of the hockey gear makes your eyes water. As you peel back the layers of hockey, you find kids shunted into the penalty box for obscure rules and quotes from Herb Brooks’  Miracle on Ice speech.

My biggest problem is that I grew up in the Deep South, so my natural impulse when winter strikes is to hibernate.  The whole concept of driving – in the cold – to sit – in the cold – to watch a sport played – on ice, in the cold – boggles my mind.  People always talk about the crazy ice times, but that has not been our experience so far. Checking is not allowed yet, and fighting is against the rules. Besides the expense, though, my biggest annoyance has been the hockey moms.

Let me be clear – I LIKE the hockey moms on my sons’ teams.  They are all urban Minneapolis moms like me who yell “Good job!” and “Nice try!” and “Better luck next time!”  My only problem with them is that they look more stylish than me in their cold weather attire, as I tend to focus more on function over style when it comes to winter.  It is the other teams’ hockey moms that bug me when, dressed from head to toe in team gear, they are yelling things like “Take him out!” and “Kill him!” or  applauding a player who sneaks in an illegal check. I see them almost always wrapped in team logo polarfleece blankets with one or more little shivering siblings clinging to them, each with their own garishly custom spray-painted cap that says “I don’t have a life! My brother plays hockey.”

Going inside to watch hockey on a cold winter day is one thing.  Going inside to watch hockey on a beautiful summer day is completely inconceivable to me.  But here in Minnesota, hockey is a year round sport.  Serious players play AAA from April to September and, unlike the regular season, players are not required to play where they live.  There are kids on my 10 year old’s team from throughout the Twin Cities Metro and  (more of the onion that is hockey culture) some kids who travel here for the weekend practices and games from Wisconsin (which isn’t so crazy) and Florida and Texas (which is absolutely nuts!)

But my two sons are way, way into hockey.  They LOVE this sport!  I respect that, so I suck it up and wash their stinky gear and drive them to the rink.

From Mini-Mites up until last winter, I went into the locker room when I took my boys to hockey – even though I have been banned from years from tying their skates because I “don’t do it right.”  I stopped when my oldest son moved up to PeeWees  – after the unfortunate incident when I burst into the locker room, my 6 year old daughter (with her pink jacket and sparkle ballet flats) in tow, only to find a gaggle of 12 year-olds in their underwear listening to loud music and talking trash.   “Mom!” my son hissed, “I’m good.”

I accidentally wandered into the locker room once this summer.  I was only there a moment, but I heard at least 6 of the 10 year old Squirts claim credit for the same goal.  Who needs that level of testosterone in their lives?

Given my locker room abdication, I was completely floored to hear that the hockey team was having a discussion about same-sex marriage. Here is the story, from the perspective of my 10 year old:  “One kid brought it up. He said it was gross, a man with a man or a woman with a woman.”  I said,

 “ARE YOU CRAZY?  That’s their choice who they love. It doesn’t affect you. Why does it matter to you? No one can tell you who to love.”

That launched the discussion which later led to the purported locker room conversions.  It is a timely discussion in Minnesota, where there is a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot:  “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Minnesota?”   VOTE NO signs have sprouted throughout our neighborhood; they line the roads on the way to the hockey rink.

To be clear, there is already a Minnesota state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  Most of the lesbian and gay couples that we know have to go down to Iowa or another state that recognizes same-sex marriage if they want to get married.  But a law can be changed, hence the purported necessity of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Simon had been late getting to practice (my fault – more evidence for the Worst Hockey Mom title). A coach came in to hurry along the stragglers and Simon asked, “You’re voting no on the marriage amendment, right?”  “I don’t know yet,” he admitted.  Simon laid out his arguments again, to which the coach said, “You make a good point.  I think I probably will vote No.  Now get out on the ice.”

My son can be like a dog with a bone, so he brought it up again at the next practice.  This time he was on time and so when he brought it up in the locker room when everyone was there.  One kid, a player who Simon describes as a “tough guy” got really upset when the other kid described same-sex marriage as “gross”.  He stood up, half his gear on, and said,
“That’s my family you are talking about! I have two moms and they are married.  It hurts my feelings when you say that my family is gross!”
Well, that sure got the team’s attention. According to Simon, he was too emotional to say much more but Simon was able to pick up where he left off.
See?  He’s got two moms.  So what? Why should his family be treated any differently than yours?

Turns out that my 10 year old son is way smarter than I am.  It is all about having the conversation.  According to Minnesotans United for Families, sixty-seven percent of people with gay and lesbian friends VOTE NO if we talk to them about marriage.

This means that the single most important action you can take to defeat this hurtful amendment is to start conversations about the freedom to marry with your friends, family, and the people you see every day.

So maybe it is time that I reassess my thinking on hockey.  Maybe I should admit that I don’t know a thing about those other hockey moms. Maybe I should spend a little less time blogging during hockey practice

or running laps before hockey games while the other moms sit around and talk.

Maybe it is time that I dispense with my arrogance, overcome my disdain.  Maybe I need to step outside of my comfort zone and start engaging other parents in conversation.

I know there are at least a couple of hockey moms in the ice arena who would probably appreciate it if their marriage were legally recognized in the state of Minnesota.

If You Build It …

Conventional wisdom holds that to survive in Minnesota,  you must embrace winter.  Perhaps that explains the view from my kitchen:

In case you are wondering: that is a hockey rink. That’s right – a backyard rink.  This winter, we decided to build a hockey rink in our backyard.

You might ask why anyone in their right mind would turn their entire backyard into a hockey rink?  Well, we’ve got a couple of reasons:

The rationale for the backyard rink is that the kids will be able to just go right out the back door and skate anytime.  Fresh air is better than screentime and all that.  Ten minutes of skating is better than fighting with your brother, yada yada yada.  We thought it might be nice to have a project that the family could work on together over winter break.  Kind of like Swiss Family Robinson but with fewer pirates and more cocoa.

But what about the grass, you ask?  Well, we aren’t fancy here.  We’ve never really bonded with our “Freedom Lawn” of broadleaf and dandelions.  We don’t, frankly, have a very good record on lawncare.  This was the view from our front porch last summer:

By now, you are probably on pins and needles, waiting to hear about the logistics of  building a backyard rink.  You can buy a rink-in-a-box or you can google “how to build your own rink”, which is what we did. Here is how we (and by “we”, I mean my husband) built ours.

First, you build the boards. (Allow extra time for extra trips to Home Depot.)

Next you cover your backyard with a giant sheet of plastic.  This one was custom-made to fit  our backyard from the patio to the apple tree. Yes, there are companies that specialize in this sort of thing.  AND they survived the recession!

Then you add water. Freeze.

Add more water. Freeze.

Then you wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Are we crazy?  No, definitely not. If we were crazy, we would also be building one of these suckers:

Instead, we’ve got one of these:

It is customary in Minnesota to greet people in the winter with a cheerful: “Cold enough for ya?”  But it has been unseasonably warm this year and all the people who claim to “just LOVE the change of seasons!” are freaking out.  The record-breaking warmth has also thrown a meteorological monkeywrench into our backyard rink plans.   The whole “water freezing” part has not been working so well in 40 degree weather.

Now that we’ve got our backyard rink built, we believe that Old Man Winter will come. The low tonight is predicted to be in the single digits.  Promising signs this morning that he is on his way:



I’m hopeful that very soon – maybe even by the time you read this – the view from my kitchen window will be my kids and their friends, skating around in our own backyard rink.  I’ll be inside, making the cocoa.