Hockey mom

“What time do you have ice skating tonight?” my mother asked nonchalantly.

Of course, she was referring to my not-so illustrious hockey career. Unbeknownst to her, she had scheduled her trip to visit the grandkids the same week as my hockey play-offs, which, despite my wildest pessimism, had found my team in the semi-finals.

“You mean hockey,” I curtly answered – thinly veiling my contempt for the fact that she had stooped so low as to lump me in the same category as little girls in pigtails and sequins – “and it’s at 10:30.”

I figured this would be the end of the conversation. After all, 10:30 p.m. was going to be a stretch for me, let alone my mother from Minnesota, which was a full hour ahead of us. The game may as well have been at 3 a.m. for all she cared – or at least I thought.

“I want to go,” she said much to my surprise, before launching into her next line of questioning. “Is it cold in there?”

So, for the next 30 minutes, I set about outfitting my mother in puffy down jacket, mittens, hat and wool socks in preparation for braving the freon-laced, late-night air. And I must admit, it felt a little strange. See, I sort of consider hockey to be my manifestation of a mid-life crisis. Some people buy sports cars and get Botox. Me, I decided that swatting at a small puck with a stick was the answer – not that different from golf, when you think about it, but with more padding. So, three years ago, at the age of 33, I laced up my pair of black Bauers for the first time. And although the persistent bruises, strains and contusions tell me otherwise, for the most part it has kept me feeling young, or at least safely away from Pampered Chef parties and scrapbooking.

But having my mother in the stands seemed a bit excessive in my quest for youthfulness. Suddenly, I flashed back to little league soccer in the fourth grade – about the last time I officially participated in team sports. Somehow, the ball had come to rest at my feet with no opponents around for what seemed like miles. Being one of the gangliest 10-year-olds to ever step two left feet on a soccer field, I was a bit nervous. But the crowd went wild, and soon I found myself kicking the ball as fast as I could downfield. Without looking up, I kept my eyes glued on that ball, crossing center field, then midfield – ticking away yard marks like Pelé himself. The goal was mine for the taking. Like a horse with blinders, I kept running as fast as my knobby knees would take me. By the time I clued into the hushed horror that had fallen over the crowd in realization of what I was about to do, it was too late. The goal line passed beneath my feet – I had run myself and the ball right past off the playing field. Score: Me – 0; Total Humiliation – 1.

Now normally, this would be the part where I say that afterwards, my mom patted me on the back and said, “It’s OK. C’mon, let’s go get a Coke.” But to be honest, I don’t really remember much, except quickly losing interest in the game. And it has taken me several long years to face those demons and get back out there in recreational team sports again. I figured hockey was a safe bet because the boards would stop me from repeating such an egregious error twice.

But as we faced off at center ice, all those old feelings resurfaced. There was an overwhelming need for redemption, to prove that I had come a long way from that embarrassing, lanky adolescent who streaked off the field in an uncontested break-away.

And as the game got under way, my mother took a viewing post, safely behind the plexi-glass in our defensive end. But when I looked up to check on her between the first and second periods, she was gone. Possibly the boredom of C-level hockey combined with frozen appendages had caused her to step inside the lobby to warm up. But when I skated to the bench, I was shocked to find her directly at the end of it, her head craning past the plexi-glass for a better view.

“Mom! You can’t stand there, you’ll get a puck in the face,” I proclaimed.

“But I can’t see from all the way back there,” she protested.

Too tired to argue, I ordered all 5 feet 3 inches of her to stand on the bench, figuring that way, an errant puck was more likely to find her knees than nose. “If a puck comes your way, duck!”

And there she stood, unwavering for the next period, coming down from her perch only during breaks to offer encouragement as we fell behind. But sometime during the third period, a transformation took place. Maybe it was a full moon, but by the time we took our final time-out, my unassuming, mild-mannered mother had become a seething, certified hockey groupie. “You girls need to skate!” she screamed, teeth and fist clenched as she forced her small, stocking-capped head into the middle of the huddle. “Get out there and beat those buffoons!”

Of course, this is a sanitized version – it was hockey, after all.

I suddenly became very afraid that my mother would become Durango city rec league’s first case of sideline rage. I could see the headlines now: “Enraged mother storms ice, breaks bifocals in hockey melee.”

But in the end, she went peacefully, despite the fact that we lost by more than a little. As for my redemption, it would have to wait – my one open shot on goal landed on top of the net instead of in it. And all I left the ice with that night was a bruised ego and a fresh groin injury to serve as a pleasant reminder for weeks to come.

Defeat hung thick in the midnight air as we left the dark rink, my gear bag weighing especially heavy on my back.

“You’re still a good ice skater,” she said as I hobbled to the car. “C’mon, let’s go get a beer.”

– Missy Votel