My son’s world is covered with ice. There’s no doubt about where he really belongs. His happiness and sense of self are tied to his time on ice. Nowhere does he show as much aptitude or love. The cold, the skates, the ice, the wind in his hair, the smile on his face… his place is there, on the frozen water with the containing wooden boards.
There, he’s more. More than the kid who struggles at school. More than the kid who seems to lack so much maturity. More than the kid who argues with his parents and struggles to understand what’s expected of him. On the ice and at the rink he’s more.
His time on the ice is divided but completes a puzzle that as a parent I see as his true self. The child my wife and I raised. Somehow the ice beneath his feet bring out the best in him as if it frees the labour that burdens his days and nights away from it. He’s both the kid in a hoodie flying around the ice at free skating like an elemental unleashed and the hockey player fitted with armour, ready to play a game that’s both beautiful and violent.
Friday nights are for fun. Skating, hanging out, flirting with girls, making friends and socializing. Dropping him off at the local rink and watching his society gather is enlightening. His name drops like candy in a skittles commercial as soon as he hits the floor of the lobby. He stops being my son and becomes something that’s solely his own. He greets, meets, laughs, ties skates, gathers them in groups by accident… and amazes his father with his graciousness.
On the ice, he is both friend and guardian. He moves through the rest of the skaters like a shark but without the threat. Helping up fallen kids, joking with friends, tussling with the skate guards and smiling like his face is going to break from the joy.
Tuesdays & Thursdays are for practice. There’s intensity and friendship. A seriousness that blurs the line between the two until the drill is over. The thrill of success or the disappointment in failure is quickly replaced by the joy of being part of the team and his friendship with the kids who pull the same jersey over their heads. Heads are rubbed, helping hands are extended, encouraging words are offered, team building is a big part of what makes him go. The ice is under his feet and so the best of my son is put forward.
Saturday and Sundays are for games. Cheap shots are not part of his game. He’s taken some and walked away. He’s not an aggressive player but I’ve always told him to not get hit. If someone is going to hit you be the hitter and not the person getting hit. Of all the things I’ve ever told him, this maybe the only thing he’s listened to. Players trying to hit him are in for a big surprise as the hunter quickly turns into the prey. He owns his space like he was magnetized to the ice.
The way he plays the game, his goals and assists, the hits he takes and the checks he gives are by far overshadowed for me by the way he approaches the game. He never talks about his game. He laughs about the jokes they made in the locker room or on the ice. He talks about the teammates who were hurt or angry. He steps in front of angry teammates because he knows he needs them to be on the ice. He’s the first to the goalie when he gives up a goal. 1-1, 9-1, there’s always a pat on the head and a brief conversation to make sure his team is moving forward. He’s always the last to line up because of it but he could care less about the referee’s impatience because things are important and he’s deciding what they are.
His voice echoes in the rink as the team breaks to the start of a new period, all hands in, as a team. The ice is under his feet and he’s at home and I can see all the effort we’ve put in as parents glistening off of that shining surface.