In the interest of complete transparency, I will admit that I have been utterly terrified to pen this reflection. Searching for catharsis, I will be reopening a hole in my heart that is still too fresh. Like thousands of parents of high school senior athletes, I recently crossed the inevitable divide that marked the end of my son’s 12 year journey with a sport “we” have loved and shared for most of his life. He is, was and forever will be a hockey player, but the sport itself is almost irrelevant in this equation. The sport is just the variable that connects all of us found dabbing our eyes and sighing heaving breaths in the corners of gymnasiums, on the backsides of tracks or in some ratty rink lobby waiting for the locker room door to swing open.
I knew the season would end. I knew his journey was over. I knew he had no grandiose delusions or desires to play at a collegiate level. Ours was a healthy, balanced and remarkably pressure-free perspective of which I am proud. I have known for years that his holy grail of hockey stood for decent level varsity play on Friday and Saturday nights in local rinks filled with frenzied fans and friends. Sometimes it’s really fun to be the big fish in that small pond! And yet, I am in a quiet, stoic state of mourning.
I am mourning the loss of a connectivity. There were magical, shared moments. A tie that bound he and I season after season, year after year. Thousands of travel hours that yielded laughs, tears, insights, mutual learning and even some secrets. The latter will remain as heavily guarded as they are cherished. We developed an unspoken language of glances, nods and head tilts from the ice or from the bench to the stands or my spot on the glass. He knew when I needed the look or the signal. His body language is my favorite read. My family and friends have been generous and consoling as they knew this blow was going to hurt. It has been a “good run” and this does mark “the end of and era” and I am eternally grateful that he emerged from this incredibly physical sport in one piece. Let the record show that I will NOT miss trips to the nearest emergency room!
When our child-athletes are young we are hyper-connected to the experience for many practical reasons. Five year olds cannot drive, they have no spending power and, as in our experience, cannot even carry their own massive gear bags! Hockey locker rooms are incredibly crowded spaces until the young players actually learn how to assemble themselves for battle. However, these protocols evolve quickly as they grow. Eventually we begin to drop them at the field or curbside, we agree to meet them at the car after the game and, in a blink of an eye, we are reminding them to text us before they head for home from practice. Looking back on this, it’s a sort of parental squeeze play.
I would give anything to be slushing across a dark, windy parking lot with 25lbs of gear bending one shoulder and his tiny hand balancing my other side just one more time! For him to allow me to give him another “good luck kiss” in public would be priceless. Like so many of you, we rode the trail of youth athletics to its natural end. I know I am not alone as I wallow in the experience that feels much more bitter than sweet at the moment. If ever time was to heal, I hope it passes quickly for us all.
Christine G. is a mother of two and a Westchester County, NY-based high school college counselor. She has often had to step back, take pause and heed her own advice. With one child out of college and the next one set to graduate with the Class of 2017, Christine has been elbow deep in the college process for nearly a decade.
Photo credit: K.M. Klemencic