Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Mommy, I play hockey!"

The other day someone said to me, “Oh, our little girl will never play hockey.  Her daddy would never let her do that!”  Now, I know not every little girl will be a hockey player, but to me it was a bit baffling to hear someone completely rule it out as an option before their daughter is even two.  I asked, “But what if she wants to?” The other mom smiled and said, “No, really, her daddy will not let her play hockey.” 

My daughter does play hockey (as have many other daughters for a long time including Lord Stanley's daughters as well as a whole Olympic team of daughters), so this seemed like a strange line to draw.  There are some negatives – rinks are cold places to have to spend hours each week, it’s an aggressive sport with lots of crashing into each other, the gear and fees are not cheap, it’s a huge time commitment once they get to the travel teams (but thankfully my princess is still doing in-house).  But those same things are true for most activities.  Overall, I have learned to love hockey.  I see how much joy it brings my daughter and the ways it has helped her off the ice. 
Our happy little four year old princess loved to skated along the
center the line, back and forth, during free time.
She started skating lessons when she was three because she demanded it (she knows what she likes).  She would pretend to skate everywhere yelling to me, “Mommy, I want to skate!”  She would take whatever she could find and swing at invisible pucks.  “Mommy, I play hockey!”  So we got her in mom-and-tot skating classes which were an absolute joke because I can’t skate to save my life!  As a kid, I dabbled in ballet, gymnastics (very briefly), and modeling (through my teen years).  Yeah, I can’t skate.  When she was four I very happily moved her to the hockey basic skills classes, and she has never looked back.

Me doing what I do best - sitting and smiling
and not participating in sports.
See how serious he was?
Good luck getting him to dance now!
Her daddy’s only fear for her when she started hockey was how damaging the competitive nature of the sport would be.  He grew up in the Soviet Union and was put in competitive ballroom dancing as a kid.  The super strict competitive atmosphere was pretty traumatic.  Less than perfect children were ostracized severely.  When he saw the coaches laughing with Sofi and patting her on the back when she improved, patiently encouraging her when she struggled with a skill, he relaxed and said she could keep going.

I know some parents start choosing sports or activities for their children before they are born, buying cute tiny catcher mitts or ballet shoes, planning lives filled with activities.  When she was born, we weren’t sure our daughter even had any life ahead of her at all.  She was as close to dead as a baby can be.  I didn’t even get to see her in person until she was a day old because they were working so hard just to get her stabilized.  She proved she is a tough cookie by beating the odds and smashing through every obstacle in record time.  We want her to have a great life now that she has worked so hard to have one at all!

At this point, who cares what sports they grow up to play
as long as they get a chance to grow up!

So why do we let our precious pretty-pretty-princess play hockey?  Other than the fact that she loves it and really wants to? 
  • Being in a team sport teaches her to think beyond herself and to see how her actions affect the success of others.  When she works hard and plays her best, her team does well.  When she doesn’t pay attention or turns into “blombie” (her dad’s name for our blond zombie), she doesn’t guard the net and doesn’t pass the puck to her teammates to help them score so her team suffers.
  • Hockey teaches her to accept responsibility for her actions and also gives her new responsibilities similar to ones she will face later in life.  She must keep track of her gear.  If she forgets her stick or water bottle, that’s on her just like if I forget my wallet or phone that’s on me. 
  • She also knows she isn’t alone in her battles.  When things get tough, she has a whole group of guys behind her, watching her back and cheering her on.  When they played against an overly aggressive team and a kid started saying, “girls can’t play hockey,” my daughter’s teammates jumped to her defense and loudly spoke up for her. 
  • She is learning that not everything is easy at first, so sometimes she needs to put in extra effort before she sees results.  A lot of things just come easily for her.  She picks up on stuff pretty quickly.  When she doesn’t, she can get thrown for a loop and get discouraged.  When that happens, we remind her about crossovers, a hockey skill that she struggled with at first but now has no problems doing.  She says, “Oh, yeah, I had to practice and it took a while for me to learn that.”  Taking time to learn things is ok.  Giving up when she isn’t perfect right off the bat is not.  Thankfully none of her coaches or teammates has ever demanded instant perfection.  They all recognize success and identify weak areas as areas to work on in a productive manner.
  • Hockey reinforces the lessons she learns in health class.  If she doesn’t eat enough before hockey, she is hungry and sluggish.  If she doesn’t bring her water bottle and stay hydrated, she feels sick.  She tries to stay in shape year round and eat healthy so she can be the best hockey player during hockey season.  That kind of self discipline will benefit her her whole life!

As I have said before, if we had limited our daughter to things we have experience with or things American society has labeled as girlie, life would be pretty boring.  We love watching our daughter flourish and grow in her chosen sport. We love seeing how it is helping her become a stronger person both physically and mentally.  We love learning all about a new sport and meeting new, interesting people through it.  We don’t know what will happen in the future, but for now we are happy hockey parents.

Playing in the backyard with her little sister (who doesn't skate at all).

Friday, October 4, 2013

“I want Ciacia back!”

“I want Ciacia back!”
“I want Ciacia back.  I want her to come back.  Now.”
Then it clicked in my head.  My tearful six year old was talking about my aunt, my dad’s sister who went by Ciacia.  She had passed away the previous spring after a very long battle with cancer.
“Honey, she can’t come back.  She is in heaven and has to stay there.”
“But I want her back.  She was the nicest, bestest person ever, and I need her to be here right now.”
That’s when I turned into a fish.  I mean, my mouth kept opening and closing, but no words would come out.  I had no idea what to say.  I was completely blindsided.  If this had happened months ago, closer to the death, I would have been more prepared because I would have expected it.  But not that day.  Not on a sunny October afternoon as we walked home from the bus stop.  I looked at my daughter’s genuinely sad eyes and my own welled up, too.
“I know.  I want her back, too.  We all do.  But she has to stay where she is.”
Came across this on our trip to Ukraine.
That's her name and it was a neat reminder
that she is still with us in spirit.
Then I admitted what I do when I am missing her.  Actually, I do it on an almost regular basis and have always been a little scared to admit it because it seems pretty crazy.
“When I miss Ciacia, I talk to things that remind me of her, things we got from her.  She gave us the dryer, you know, and that always reminds me of how much she loved our family.”
So my little girl went into the laundry room, closed the door behind her, and had a private conversation with the dryer.
I know this sounds very odd.  And picturing it, picturing us talking to our dryer, is almost giggle inducing.  But if you knew my aunt you would understand how hard it is to let go of her.

When my grandmother died, my older daughter was pretty shaken.  Even though she was just a preschooler, she and my grandma had a special bond.  She visited Great Marge often, playing simple games with her or just dancing around her room to make her smile.  My grandma had dementia and couldn’t remember most people, but she remembered Margie or The Margaret Baby (my daughter was named Sofia-Margaret after my grandma who liked to forget the Sofia part).  After Great Marge died, my daughter started keeping a picture of her in special places (now it is on the bookshelf next to her prized hockey trophy) and carrying a handkerchief Great Marge had given her.  She says these things help her remember Great Marge and how much she loved her.

She never forgets to visit Great Marge's memorial.  That's the handkerchief in her hand.
It is really hard to help children through loss when we ourselves are wrecks inside.  With my girls, all I can do is be honest with them.  The people aren’t coming back and it hurts and it sucks.  Together, we try to focus on the memories and the lasting legacies.  How are their spirits continuing on?  What projects did they set in motion?  What lessons did they teach us which we can now put into action?  We try to remember how much they loved us and how much we loved them.  We try to honor them by living good lives.  And we hug each other and cry sometimes.  And sometimes we talk to the dryer.