Saturday, August 17, 2013

A face more than a mother could love.

This has been a tough week to be an irreverent hockey mom.

Let’s face it. This has been a tough week to be a parent.

I don’t even have the heart to fight with my editor on whether “peckerhead” is an acceptable word, or if it will be watered down to “jerk” or “poopoo head” when I’m not looking.

And this week, I’m finding it hard to care.

With my own child away at a QMJHL camp, I’ve been one sip over the limit-away from jumping in the car and driving to Quebec, several times – just so I could give my smelly beanpole a hug.   

Ask any mother who has said goodbye to a kid this summer. To camp. To Canada Games. University. Europe. The little bastards you’ve been dying to get rid of, turn and walk toward their dream, leaving you blubbering in the airport parking lot.

Or in my case, drowning my sorrows with a Chickenburger dipped in gravy.

Then, Monday morning brought every mother’s worst fucking nightmare – and “the face” was everywhere.

The serious hockey photo face.

Jordan Boyd’s face.

“Why don’t you smile?” I’ve asked my kid year after year, when the annual hockey photo appears. "You've just made your dream team, yet you look like my passport photo."

“You’re not supposed to smile.” He replied.

“Who the hell says?” I asked, blondely. 

“I dunno.” He said, mouth full of a post-game sub.

As the hockey community and beyond now know, 16-year old Jordan Boyd died suddenly – doing exactly what I’d like to be doing when I die.

Fulfilling a dream.

Climbing Kilimanjaro. Necking with Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Cradling a great-grandchild.

So, what – if anything – can we gain from such a heart-wrenching loss?

Mandated heart screening for athletes? The NHL screens only its top 100 draft picks. I can’t see it happening across lower levels.

But I think I know what can be learned from Jordan Boyd.

This otherwise unknown, yet talented young hockey prospect is now a nationwide hero.

#JB17 is trending on helmets and Twitter feeds, and “the face” is front-page news for all of the wrong reasons.

Jordan is celebrated as a ‘gentle boy’. A best friend. A fine, fine young man.

Had Jordan cracked the roster of the Acadie Bathurst Titan, he would have also been a "rookie". With that accomplishment comes the inevitable bumps on the road from minor hockey – to the business of major junior hockey.

Suddenly a public figure and 'fair game' – strangers lurking in rink corners may have called Jordan a ‘pylon’. Soft. Afraid to go into the corners. They of course, know jack shit.

Cyber bullies hiding behind web handles like  “Banjoboy” or “Habs4ever” would sit in stained tighty whities, chirping with like-minded underachievers on one of the many “fan” websites deemed as hockey forums.

Despite never seeing the child play, these knuckle draggers may have labeled Jordan ‘a disappointment’. A waste of a draft pick. Or, worse.

And when Acadie Bathurst rolled into Halifax, die-hard Moosehead fans might have yelled, “pussy!” if Jordan backed down from a fight to avoid a stupid penalty – never stopping to think that beneath the helmet was a ‘gentle boy’. Someone’s pride and joy.

If there’s anything we should take from this soul-numbing tragedy it’s this:

Young hockey players are children – not commodities – and not targets for your own failed hopes and dreams.

Every kid – elite athlete or otherwise – deserves the outpouring of love and respect that the entire country is feeling for Jordan Boyd.

If there’s anything we can take from this week, maybe it’s the next time you’re at a hockey game – instead of hollering,  “Hey, peckerhead, you afraid to fight?” ­– say nothing.

Or yell something like, “You’re awesome, gentle boy”.

I bet his mom – sitting two rows down – would really appreciate that.

A slightly oatmealed version of this appears in the Chronicle Herald.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

And another thing.

My kid wasn’t strapped in to a safety certified high chair. He was just sitting on the floor eating a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich.

A guest at our home asked me what he was eating.

“He’s not supposed to have peanut butter!” she shrieked, “And honey is toxic to babies!”

Thank Christ she wasn't around the week before, when the Little Bastard had a mouthful of kibble.

My point is this, and it applies to hockey as well as life: Stop.

Stop hovering and maneuvering and worrying. It doesn’t change the outcome.

Here’s a little advice.

Nothing you say will make your child feel better after a crappy game or performance. Just shut up and head to the nearest Dairy Queen. The coach has already said what your kid needs to hear. A double-stuff Blizzard will take it from there.

If your doctor says your kid needs a puffer, ask yourself how you ever survived driving in the backseat of your parent’s station wagon while they puffed merrily with the windows rolled up. Today, when the coach yells for a puffer – half the parents run frantically to the dressing room.

If another parent criticizes your child during a game, do not confront them. Walk away. Show them you are a better person. Go out to the parking lot and look at the stars. Then slash the tires on their fucking minivan.

Be there. I don’t know how many times people said to me “Can’t someone else take him?” Yes, someone else could take him – but is anything you have to do more important than being in the stands when your kid looks up? In 2008, I missed the Quebec International Peewee tournament because I thought I couldn’t afford to go. I regret that. Find a way.

If your kid says he wants to play summer hockey – take a deep breath, and be thankful he doesn’t want to build a bomb in the basement. You can golf when you retire.

Never, ever, cut up your kid’s favourite hockey t-shirts and make them into a quilt. Bad idea.

Keep score. The no-score policy rampant in youth soccer is another attempt to raise children who are ill prepared for the real world. Life isn’t fair. Equal work doesn’t always mean equal pay. Sports teach kids how to win with grace – and more important – how to lose with grace. It’s hard to do that without a scoreboard. And you can bet your ass, every child and every parent is keeping score anyway.

Oh, and if your kid does one of those knuckle dragging celebrations in front of the other team’s bench, they will soon be saying things like “for the boys” and wearing a flat-brimmed hat to grandma’s house for dinner. Beat that shit out of them early.

And finally, know when to push and when to not to push. My kid stopped eating corn when he was five – shortly after I forced him to try creamed corn. Gagging ensued. And he hasn’t eaten a vegetable since.

In his book the “The Gold Mine Effect”, athletic advisor Rasmus Ankersen says, “The parents who criticize the idea of pushing children hard […] are often the same parents who go to wine tasting on Tuesday and yoga class on Thursday while their children are engaged in other activities.”  

Be there. Push. Love.

That’s my advice to have with your weekend coffee. Do with it as you will. 

All I know is, my kid survived. He is a kind, happy, 6’7” young man who has a peanut butter sandwich before every workout.

I must have done something right.

This appeared in the Chronicle Herald, minus a few "naughty" words.