My 6-year-old hesitantly teeters onto the ice, his new hockey gear nearly doubling the size of his scrawny body. Surrounded by other boys whizzing by, easily handling their hockey sticks and gear, he falls down immediately. He hasn't been on skates since spring, and I immediately curse myself for not thinking to take him skating a few times in preparation for his first day of practice. He gets up and skates a few feet, and then falls again. Again. Again.
I have to tear my eyes away and I look around the rink, everything as foreign to me as it is to him. I knew there would be other kids in his league who had played hockey before, but I did not expect that out of the 50 or so kids skating around the rink, at least 45 of them would show up with league jerseys already emblazoned with their names. How has every six year old in the city other than mine already been playing hockey? Didn't they all just barely learn to skate? To walk, really?
I check in to see how he's doing. The coaches skate indifferently around the rink, watching but not helping. As the other boys pass to each other as they easily weave back and forth, my son wobbles and falls. Again. Again. Again. He's out there all by himself, and my heart tightens in my chest. I want to skate out there and help him, or at least find a coach to help him. My mind races to predict the first thing he'll say when he finally comes off the ice, discouraged and downtrodden. Everyone is better than me. I kept falling down. I don't want to go back.
The tears spring to my eyes and I can't watch him struggle. He's still skating and falling, skating and falling. Again. Again. He can't stop quickly on his skates and the other boys can. Why didn't we take him to the rink this summer and teach him to stop like that? Why didn't I think of that? I lean against an outer wall and text a friend: This is one of the hardest moments of my parenting career. I can't watch this. I know that to the other moms, watching intently from the bleachers, I look uninvolved and disinterested, but if I watch him fall down one more time, I will cry. I check my watch. Ten minutes down. Fifty to go.
My daughters want to play outside, and even though I brought them to support their brother in his first practice, I jump at the chance to leave my husband in there to watch alone. I enjoy some rare fall sunshine, I take deep breaths. We can all do this. My son loves sports with every fiber of his being - this will be our life now. If not hockey, something else. There will be more (many more) moments of heartache, watching him struggle and not being able to help. It'll just be my job to encourage him, take him for some extra practice skate sessions, and cheer my heart out for him.
We head back inside. He has his feet under him a little better now, and they're in small groups of about 8 doing drills. He glides slowly but confidently between the cones. There is nothing about his body language to suggest that he is discouraged or defeated.
They end with a game of Sharks and Minnows, and even though he's been on the ice for 57 minutes now, he is still skating as fast as he can, giving it his best. Our school nurse, who is one of the coaches, is screaming his name, encouraging him along, and my younger daughter keeps giving him a beaming, proud, thumbs-up. Tears prick my eyes again. I'm a little emotional.
When he comes off the ice and takes off his gear, I hurry to meet him. What is he going to say? Everyone but me had a jersey from last season. They all know how to play and I don't. I fell down so many times. I don't want to go back. I hesitantly round the corner to where my husband is helping him change back from hulk child to regular child. He is nothing but smiles. And sweat. His hair sticks straight up, and his eyes are bright. "I love hockey!" he crows. I exhale.
Later that night he snuggled me happily. "Thank you for paying for me to do sports," he told me. "I love hockey so much." "I'm so glad. I loved watching you play," I
That night he is an example to me. It doesn't matter to him that literally every single one of the 50 kids out there was better than him, because he was doing what he loved and wanted to learn. He wasn't discouraged that he kept falling down - he didn't even mention it. He had to have fallen over a hundred times, and it was like he didn't even notice. My son is determined. He doesn't care about what the other kids were doing. He was confident. Joyful. He knows he will improve and I know it too. And in the meantime, I'm going to try harder to be more like my kid.