Basic training

At the tender age of 8, I was yanked from the idyllic summer existence of morning cartoons, sugared cereal and swimming pools and sentenced to hard time whacking weeds under the burning, midday sun. I was delivered to the local golf course, handed a heavy metal implement and instructed on how to hold it in an impossibly awkward manner and swing at the ground. Or, in my case, hack. There were other kids there, too, also slashing away, like some sort of demented elementary school chain gang.

The foreman was a tall, white-haired man named “Chet,” with a taste for loud plaids, gold chains and gin. Reeking of cigarettes and “English Leather,” he hovered over the gang, tinkling cocktail glass in hand. “Head down,” he would croak between drags of his Benson & Hedges, my protests of being left-handed and using a right-handed club falling on deaf ears.

And thus began my early, and short-lived, foray into the world of golf. OK, I know there are kids in China dying for a chance to whack the crap out of a little white ball with a big metal stick. But when I heard the word “golf lessons” I had pictured cascading waterfalls, spinning windmills, yard upon yard of glistening Astroturf and giant clown heads with holes for mouths. Instead, I was met with fairways that seemed to drag on forever; a torturous, unwieldy bag that weighed more than I did; rough grass that went up to my knees; and bugs that swarmed to biblical proportions. And as if this wasn’t enough, there was Blanche, a wiry, weathered, drill sergeant of a woman who followed behind nagging us to replace divots and “speed it along.” Just the mere sight of her little white cart cresting the hill struck fear in our hearts and sent our knees knocking in anticipation of the inevitable whiff that would ensue under her discerning glare.

“Pick up your ball and go to the next hole – you’re holding everyone up,” she would bark before whizzing off to terrorize her next victim.

Of course, this was fine with me. In fact, I soon learned that the more I dawdled out there, the sooner I was ordered to the next hole, and thus, the sooner the pain and suffering was over. My plan worked beautifully, and eventually, I was restricted to the putting green only. Not exactly the putt-putt wonderland I had originally envisioned, but a close enough approximation.

Needless to say, it took years – and a collegiate obsession with “Caddyshack” – to rekindle any interest in the game of golf (although I still have a healthy phobia of plaid.)

At any rate, the point of this is not to bash the sport of golf – after all, someone’s got to keep Sansabelt in business. Rather, I am merely trying to illustrate how I arrived at the determination to never, ever, under any circumstances force my own flesh and blood into any sort of sporting endeavor he or she did not willingly want to participate in.

OK, so some may argue that enrolling my 3½-year-old in hockey is a flagrant violation of this philosophy. But to be fair, I did ask him, and he didn’t exactly say “no” – which may have had something to do with the lure of hot chocolate. So it borders on bribery, but what parent can say “no” to a pair of those cute little, size-10 hockey skates? And it’s not as if hockey is pointless like golf, where all you do is chase around a small object with a stick and curse a lot. OK, maybe there are a few similarities – but then again, missing teeth don’t carry quite the prestige at the country club as they do on the ice.

Anyway, I figured I could disregard my own parental advice if I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Thus, we arrived at the rink fashionably late, with about 15 minutes before ice time. Seeing as how I could get suited up in 10 minutes flat, I figured he, being smaller and with smaller gear, would take about half the time. But my laissez-fair attitude was perhaps a little too off the back. For starters, I committed the biggest rookie mom faux pas of all time and forgot his stick, which immediately soured the mood. Then, there was the issue of gear. Apparently, when they give you the list of required gear, you’re expected to show up with all of it and not some half-assed, Bad News Bears attempt. Something about little kids, sharp metal blades and ice, apparently. Needless to say, when I tried to sneak him on the ice in a ski helmet and no elbow pads, I got busted. Luckily, the other parents had taken pity on the poor tyke with the slacker mom and donated gear – gloves here, elbow pads there. Things were looking up until right about the time that the rusty chinstrap broke off his hand-me-down helmet. Suddenly, it was as if I was starring in my own anxiety nightmare. You know the ones: you’ve got a final exam in a class you haven’t attended all semester, or you show up for a powder day and realize your skis don’t have bindings. Fortunately, there’s not much that duct tape can’t fix, and after squandering half of the hourlong session, we were ready. Or at least I was.

Unfortunately, after numeorus trips to and fro, saddled in heavy gear like a midget Michelin Man, my young hockey prodigy had other plans. “I just want to sit on the bench,” he said as I reached for the heavy latch to open the door on what was destined to be the beginning of an illustrious hockey career. And so, instead of pushing him out on the ice with the other kids, we sat down and watched.

“I’m cold,” he decalred after a few moments. I tried to goad him onto the ice one last time by telling him that once he started moving, he’d warm up. But he just shook his head. I guess the Olympics would have to wait, as would Pee Wees, Bantams, Midgets and Squirts.

At his request, I picked up my little mini mite and carried him back to the lobby, convinced I had succeeded in sending him well on his way toward a life as a computer nerd. We sat down and removed the several layers of gear and padding and got him back into his street clothes.

“Do you think you want to try playing hockey again?” I asked once the chaos had subsided.

He looked down and contemplated the huge bag of gear next to him, and then asked, “Mom, can we just go ice skating?”

I breathed a sigh of relief that there was at least a glimmer of hope and I hadn’t inflicted as much damage as previously thought. After all, kids are resilient, and who knows? Maybe one day, he’ll come across an old rerun of “Slap Shot” and gain a whole new appreciation for the sport. And in the meantime, the world needs benchwarmers, too.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows