Hockey Hugs

The bunny team scores to go ahead 2-1 over the domino team!

It’s been a rough few days.  As I mentioned in my last post, we lost a very good friend on Wednesday.  While coping with my loss and sadness, I have been maintaining contact with his family, forwarding dozens of messages of condolence, setting up a memorial gathering at the rink, and lots of other little things.

One of my tasks was to find grief counsellors to come talk to CP’s current team of eleven-year-olds.  Let me just say – HOLY COW were these women amazing!  They are the people who go into schools when there has been a traumatic loss – when a student has overdosed or committed suicide or otherwise died suddenly – and they sure know what they are doing.  I was utterly astonished at how they were able to get the kids talking – and pre-pubescent boys are not a population known to be particularly communicative – and to help them express their concerns in a fairly short amount of time.  The counsellors also spoke with the parents in a way that was kind and compassionate while advocating strongly for the boys and their needs  during this difficult time.  I was thoroughly impressed, and immensely grateful.

And now I am thoroughly and immensely drained.  Watching these boys process their grief, cry openly, support each other, and talk about their confusion and regret was undoubtedly one of the most painful experiences of my life.

I have an ambivalent relationship with youth sports.  I view the competitive nature of the endeavor as a necessary evil or revolting, depending on the day.  The parents can be mean, pushy, heartless, unreasonable, overprotective, manipulative, and on occasion even violent.  Of course they are not all like that, not even most of them, but unfortunately a few bad apples…you know.  It can be exhausting, frustrating, disheartening, and occasionally sickening.

But yesterday I was reminded of one of the positives.  These kids are put onto a team, and they may not necessarily like each other or have much in common, but they learn to tolerate each other’s differences and value each other’s strengths and respect each other in the service of a larger goal.  Seeing them passing the tissues, offering supportive pats and hugs, and being vulnerable together in their shared grief for their lost friend was a powerful reminder of this.

Harry loves hockey.  He watches the games with rapt attention and loves to play at home.  His current favorite version is the bunny team playing against the domino team.  Basically, he sets up the bunnies and the dominoes on the floor, they score and celebrate, and then they leave the ice so the Zamboni can come out.  I think it is funny that he sees the game in this way, since scoring is such an infrequent – though admittedly exciting – occurrence.

But recently I’ve noticed that it’s not just the scoring, but the celebrating that really appeals to Harry.   He loves when all the players on the ice share a hug after a goal is scored rather than the goal-scorer pumping his fist in personal glory.  Instead of calling for “group hugs” in our family, he gathers us together for “hockey hugs”.  The team element of the game, the shared experience, is what really captures his imagination.  I am grateful to Harry, and to CP’s players, for helping me to see the importance of community this week.

Now, if only he could get hockey parents to see it that way…