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"that's what hockey is"

I have been going to my children’s sporting events these past weeks a little more heavily than normal. My oldest son decided to play volleyball for the first time and it coincides with my youngest son’s hockey. So, as with many many parents in North America, I find myself spread really thin with time and energy. 

This is a typical experience for most all of the moms and dads that I know. Racing around dropping off and picking up, long periods of sitting and “watching” our children’s sports, rushed meals or worse yet…meals on the go, no time for relaxing or housework or homework or conversation or family meals or walks in nature or anything else. This is a typical story that I have been aware of and participated in, for all of my life. I have been very mindful in my choices of how to spend my time, and when my children were younger…their time. But this experience of “busy” is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the experience of this as a WHOLE. I want to talk about the little ways of choosing and BEing that go largely mindless and habitual.

I found myself yesterday at my son’s early Sunday morning hockey game. I was watching in the stands with all of the other parents and grandparents. We were all doing what is required of us as “parents”…that is to say, got our children to hockey on time, with appropriate gear, with some sort of meal in their bellies and were all there to “support” them. Yet there was something missing for me. Something so obviously missing that it led me to cry, morn and grieve. 

At the 3rd intermission, I could no longer sit in the stands wearing the role of “good” mother. I could no longer sit with all of the other well intentioned parents, having well intentioned idle chit chat, watching our well intentioned children “play”. I went downstairs to the lobby and found a soft leather seat. I sat down and relaxed my body, allowed the feeling and experience of being there to wash over me. I allowed myself to feel all of the unspoken bits of this experience. I allowed the undercurrent of expectations, roles and responsibilities to fully engulf my cells. I allowed the deep grief and shock of it all to roll to the surface in the form of tears. I sat in that leather chair and cried. My partner came to me at some point and so did a friend but neither of them could fully HEAR me. Neither of them were willing to speak to the auto pilot of it all. Neither or them were willing to stand up and try on the absurdity of it all. The cultural coma is thick and I was reminded of this yesterday as I sat there feeling like an alien observing another planets inhabitants, going about their way of “living”. I felt alone, sad and deeply deeply affected by it all. 

I felt bombarded by the artificial lights, loud: horns, buzzers, music, screaming and yelling, disposable nature of the environment and most of all…..the hurt, rage and nastiness of some parents: Parents who are there to “support” their children. Parents who (by my view) are there to support their children to play, have fun, learn new skills, share in community, learn about their bodies and strengthen them, make critical decisions and connect with their friends. This is the opposite of what I experienced. 

What I did experience over and over was this overwhelming drive, this intensity, and win at “all costs” sort of mentality. I heard grown men over and over screaming at their children every time one touched a puck. I heard parents say shaming words at the children, “ what’s wrong with you?” or “get it together.” I experienced parents on edge with an outcome of perfection projected at the children. I watched children miss a puck, fall down, or shoot and miss all together. The response was a heated and collective awe…or worse. I heard parents yell at the coaches and coaches yelling at the officials. I watched children pushing, shoving, and hitting other children ( in a no hitting league). When I gasped and yelled, “hey! That’s not ok!”….I was the outcast. My opinion was naïve and out of line. This is what happens in hockey. 

I remember a long time ago, a friend was expressing her concern for putting their son into hockey. She didn’t like the “violence” and mentality that apparently came with this sport. I remember saying just that….”This is what hockey is.” It’s our Canadian sport. It’s what we “do”. 

Looking back on this conversation, I realize that I was towing the company line. I was fully entrenched in coma and repeating back to her what I needed to in order to keep this illusion in place. I am sorry for these words and not offering a different kind of support to her. I feel sad and grievous that all of us cannot look at this culturally supported violence for what it is and where it impacts. For now, it furthers the story of separation. I am sad that my children are so deeply entrenched in this story and that I feel like an alien around their choices now. 

I feel as though this “coma” of cultural conditioning and I are on a date that I did not ask for. That I do not want. But as the creator of my world…I cannot create for another. My children are choosing for themselves and it feels meaningful for me to support their choices in the ways that they need. I have felt the need to run and push away many times these past weeks. Feeling the lack of choice for myself, but in this moment, I am realizing that I can exist in my own world interacting next to another’s’ and not be pulled into their “orbit”. I can feel my grief and sadness and not have to hide it. These words are my healing.

Mandy Sandbach