Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments about the last post; I felt pounds lighter once I hit “publish”, although sadly, I didn’t look any different. It’s time for another hockey post, as this year’s season is a horse of a different colour indeed. After the sorry fiasco of last year’s tryouts, with the boys unable to do pretty much anything more complicated than skate in a straight line in a forwards direction, they were all geared up for this season’s weekend of intense torture. Benjamin was staying in Atom as a second-year, while Christopher was moving to Peewee as a first year. Two whole weekends written off, just like that. There was a last-ditch attempt at “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to playing soccer?” but ’twas all to no avail. The ice is in their blood now.
Benjamin kicked off first, and Michael brought him out to the Friday night practice of drills. The following morning was my turn to suffer, so I stood in the viewing area and watched the drills proper. They were exactly the same as last year; it was almost hypnotic watching him weave the same patterns on the ice. Comforting, also, to see that he could actually do them this time, and do them well. Christopher stood beside me, filleting every swish of the blade with forensic precision. “He should have done x here, y there”. The afternoon was the scrimmage session; they donned their allocated jerseys and faced off against each other, determined to impress the coaches lining the rink. There were lots of solo runs and fancy footwork. The rink was packed with anxious parents; no parents allowed rink-side (too many batshit crazy ones) and no shouting at your kid, whether in encouragement or criticism. The balcony was strangely silent; we stood and willed them on. The two rinks were packed all day; the Atom kids were divided into three groups, each group following the other at hour and a half intervals. I watched everyone watching the ice, and had a quick probe at my stress levels. Alarmingly, I realised that yes, I was a bit stressed. He so badly wanted to be in Tier 2 this year, and I so badly wanted him to get what he wanted. “Great”, I thought morosely. “I’m turning into a parent that cares what Tier their kid gets into. It’s all downhill from here.” Benjamin came off the ice and we headed home. “Hey Mom, guess what?” said Christopher. “When we were walking into the rink this morning, two of the coaches stopped us and said they remembered us from last year! Isn’t that awesome, eh?” “Well, that depends if your definition of awesome is remembering you both as the kids that spent most of tryouts sitting on their arses on the ice, eh?” Sunday kicked off with the final scrimmage, the last chance to shine. He survived without making any huge blunders, and we went home to wait. Teams are picked on the Thursday evening, and players generally hear on the Friday where they’ve been placed.
I woke up the next morning to an email from the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association. Benjamin had been put into a “bubble game” on Tuesday evening. A Tier 1/Tier 2 bubble game. A phone call to one of our hockey friends explained it all. The kids who were neither a definite Tier 3 or a definite Tier 1 get to hit the ice again – because Benjamin was in the Tier 1/2 game, that meant he was definitely not going to be in Tier 3. So yes, there was rejoicing. And relief, because we couldn’t bear to listen to him otherwise. The Tuesday night game came and went.
I discovered Modern Family while staying with my sisters in July. I watched the first episode in fits of laughter, and started to binge-watch it with Michael when we got back. Binge-watching is possibly the greatest invention ever. Ever. We’d watch one episode after another, cursing when we realised that it was after midnight. The episodes are addictively short; sure it’s only another twenty minutes, let’s have a last one. We were chortling away in bed on the Thursday night, stuck to the laptop, when the phone rang. “Who is that at this hour of the night??” said Michael (accident, death, something tragic). I picked it up tentatively, and said a cautious hello. “Hi there!”, boomed a definite Canadian voice. “Nobody’s dead”, I mouthed at Michael. Well, nobody in Ireland, anyway. “This is Benjamin’s new coach, Jason! He’ll be on the Renegade Lightning team!” “Oh…em, great?” I said, wondering whether I was supposed to deduce something from the name. “That’s a Tier 1 team”, he moved on, “and I’m delighted to have him on board”. I started pointing one finger at Michael, who was looking increasingly confused. “Tier 1!” I hissed at him. Jaw dropped. “So, is it true that your boys only played hockey for the first time last year?” he asked. “Yes, yes”, I said, dying to go in and jump all over Benjamin in the bed. “AWESOME!” he bellowed. “See you at the parents’ meeting next week. I’ll email you!” I hung up, gently, and sat on the side of the bed. “Tier 1”, said Michael, astonished. “I know. Do you think we’re ready to be Tier 1 parents?” We absorbed the heavy responsibility of that thought for a moment. And then woke Benjamin. Who shrieked and then couldn’t sleep all night. All. Night. Christopher woke up to the news in the morning, and instantly descended into a swither of stress. Tryouts starting that day and his little brother in Tier 1. The pressure was on.
The fact that both of them woke up with sore throats that morning didn’t help matters much. Isabel and Nicholas headed off to school, while the rest of us sat through the hell of the walk-in clinic’s waiting room. Eventually we made it to the inner sanctum, to discover that they both had viral infections. “He has tryouts this evening”, I said, pointing at a wan-looking Christopher. “No problem!” beamed the doctor (young, male, sporty-looking). “He’ll be fine. Good luck, eh?” Fist-bump on the way out the door and we were good to go. Peewee has completely different drills to Atom, so Friday night was spent practicing those, and then the real thing was evaluated the next morning.
Christopher faded fast as the day went on, until eventually the afternoon scrimmages were over, and he came off the ice, sweating and wheezy. “I don’t like the look of you”, I declared, and carted him back to the walk-in clinic. I started preparing him for the fact that he wouldn’t be going to try-outs the next day. “But I have to!” he howled. “If you don’t go to tryouts, you’re automatically in Tier 3!” “I know, sweetie-pie, and that’s just terrible, but look at you!” We were called in eventually, to be met by one of the nicest doctors in this clinic. However, he’s a former Olympian athlete, so the conversation didn’t quite go to plan. He examined my wretched-looking son, and gave his verdict. Chest infection – in need of antibiotics, liquid steroids and an inhaler. I was horrified. “So, he has tryouts tomorrow; do I just need to contact the coaches and let them know that he can’t make it? Do I need a note from you?” “No, no, not at all, he’ll be able to do the session.” SERIOUSLY? Is there actually a doctor alive in Canada that would advise skipping a hockey tryout? Or does that only happen if your legs have fallen off? Christopher wheezed his way back out to the car, the Tier 2 dream still alive (Peewee has two tiers, 3 and 2, and then a whole separate league called Citywide, for the top kids in the city). I rang one of the coaches to fill him in and ask him to keep an eye on him on the bench. He struggled through the session, admitting defeat about 15 minutes from the end, and went home full of the woes of a bad tryout. This whole hockey thing was getting way too stressful for me and Michael, and we still had four days to go before the teams were picked.
Monday morning brought news of a Tier 2/3 bubble game, and so he hauled his coughing and spluttering ass onto the ice again, while I stood on the bloody balcony and mentally recited the Rosary. Some of the lads on the ice were huge, towering over me in their skates as they lined up waiting to get onto the rink. An hour and a half later, we were done, and the only thing left to do was wait. Or, in Christopher’s case, over-analyse every wrong move and failed attempt at goal and then descend further into miserable anticipation. On Thursday evening, we were all settled into the sitting room in front of the television, when the call came. Tier 2, thank God, and staggering relief all around. How do parents do this every year? It was definitely easier the first time around, when we had no idea what tryouts involved and even less of an idea about how seriously they’re taken.
Parents’ meeting were next. Last year, this was a casual, 10-minute affair in the dressing room before a practice. This year, not so much. Benjamin’s meeting kicked off with introductions all round, and then descended into a technical conversation that left me clueless at my end of the room. “So, Coach, what’s your three-minute policy?” “What about the penalty kill line?” “The power play?” There was talk of out-of-town tournaments, teams fees, 7am skates on Tuesday mornings, 9am skating outdoors on Sunday mornings. I left the room with very little idea of what had happened and what the upcoming season entailed. “We are definitely not ready to be Tier 1 parents”, I announced to Michael when we got home. “What’s a penalty kill line?” Blank look from him, and eye-rolls from the boys, who started complicated explanations of various rules until Michael and I tuned them out.
Christopher’s parents’ meeting ran along much the same lines. It began, however, with the announcement from the coach that he doesn’t “do crazy parents”. A wise way to start, I think, given some of the stories I’ve heard about how insane some parents allow themselves to get. There was more talk of tournaments, fees, 7am skates etc., and the realisation on my part that I was going to need a Mom calendar with gigantic spaces for each day. And so it transpired. My calendar for Fall looked like someone vomited on it in multi-coloured ink. Two completely different hockey schedules for Christopher and Benjamin. Early mornings and late evenings on the ice. Swimming lessons for Nicholas and Rebecca. Trampolining classes for Isabel and Nicholas. Science Saturdays at the University for Nicholas. Junior Zumba for Rebecca and Girl Guides for Isabel. Oh, and school. Michael arrived home for lunch every day to be issued his instructions for the evening. He would go in one direction with x amount of children, and I would drive around the ice rinks with the other pair. Or vice versa. The fact that neither Christopher nor Benjamin could remember all of their gear all of the time added to the lunacy, with repeated return trips across the city bearing jerseys, gloves, helmets etc. and a clip around the ear for the forgetful eejit. We had the occasional evening off, where we hid in the house and prayed that we wouldn’t get a last-minute email gleefully announcing the procurement of extra ice. Ice-time is a rare and precious commodity here; not enough rinks and a constant scramble to pounce on any sessions that might become available outside of the assigned schedule.
Rebecca moved from being a Salamander to a Crocodile to a Whale in swimming lessons, and Nicholas swam his way to Level 5; there are so many levels of swimming proficiency in Canada that I’m destined to spend an evening a week at the pool for all eternity. Spring sports beckon, with Isabel and Nicholas still dithering over the myriad options available, and Christopher and Benjamin signed up to be goaltenders in lacrosse (another mysterious sport that we know nothing about). Lacrosse is rumoured to be even rougher than hockey, with the goalies being in the most vulnerable position, so it should be an interesting couple of months. Rebecca has opted for soccer, so we shall be back to swarm-of-bees mode, with lots of little ones frantically chasing the ball en masse. Spring is coming, no matter what the weather outside thinks.