Last night was my last time lacing up the goalie pads for another hockey season. I started dressing a goalie twelve years ago, when my aunt and uncle went to Africa and I was responsible for their kids. Little Graham, the baby I rocked to many a Billy Joel song, was in goal for the first time that year. I had no idea what I was doing, so Graham's big brother had to come along and help me out. Who knew that yesterday, we would make a sign and stand out on the road, me and all the kids, and welcome Graham and his returning champion college hockey team back in town with police escort and parade?
That cute goalie with the black baseball cap, number 42? That's Graham, all grown up.
WAY TO GO, LIONS!
My boys love to watch their big cousin play, in part because they can sympathise with the pressure on the man between the pipes.
They have told me about the moment of the dreaded breakaway, when it is a one on one match, and the other team's player is skating right at the net, and they are the last line of defense. They describe the look in the eyes of their teammates giving chase, watching, trusting them, to make the save. They say they can see it before the shot even happens, that they know whether or not they will come through.
It's nerve wracking for the boys, but not nearly as hard as it is to be the goalie's mom. Every weekend morning means an alarm
hours before the sun to drive to a rink an hour away where the puck drops at seven a.m. There is much lugging of gear. I have never forgotten the first time when Hayden was a Mite goalie. I remembered to pack the gear bag, the helmet and the bulky leg pads. I remembered snacks and water bottles, coloring books and layers of clothes for the little brother and sister. I remembered directions to the rink forty minutes away and the GPS. And I forgot... the goalie stick.
Then there is the dressing of the goalie, which I can assure you is ALWAYS better if Dad, or even just another dad, does it. First the cheetah print protective cup under hockey pants, then the loosening and relacing of skates, often still sweat-wet from the last game. Then the pads, with the intricate weaving of the toe ties, and the seven straps and clips each up the back, during which it is nearly impossible to keep wiggly Max lying flat on his stomach on the locker room floor.
Next, he's up for the chest protector and jersey, the blocker and glove, and the helmet. I always estimate it should take me about ten minutes to dress Max, and I am always wrong. I forget to factor in for the posturing and trash talk, the tape ball throwing and the flexing, the, "Hit me as hard as you can, right here! Kick me in the shins! Harder! I didn't even feel that!"
And then comes the game.
You want them to see shots, so you didn't drag them out of their warm bed and drive all this way and haul all this stuff and dress them for a blowout where they fall asleep in net, elbows resting on their thighs. But you also don't want your boy to get completely shelled. You want their defense not to leave them standing there alone like they're waiting for a date to the dance on a sniper breakaway. You want their offense to light up the scoreboard, but not too much, so you don't start feeling bad for the other team's goalie, and his mom. She's not hard to spot in the sea of moms clutching Dunkin Donuts coffee cups and wrapped in Flyers print fleece blankets grabbed off the foot of her son's bed on the way to the game--she's the one calling out, "Hang in there, buddy!" so earnestly after every one of your team's goals.
With Hayden, I didn't worry as much. He had the perfect personality to play in goal. His sense of self is rock solid, and he never takes anything home with him. He didn't care when the announcers at the Wachovia Center made a crack about his size, that he didn't even reach the top of the pipes standing upright on skates. He could lose or win, eat some donuts on the car ride home, and move on to the next game.
I'll admit there was some relief for me though when he played out for a season and got a taste of goal-scoring fever. He hasn't put on the pads since.
(Huge thanks to Robin Trautmann for capturing this great photo of Hayden's first hat trick this past weekend.)
My respite as a goalie mom was short-lived; half a season. Last year, Max decided he wanted to follow in his brother's path between the pipes. I worried. If Hayden's sense of self is titanium, Max's is more tin foil, prone to creasing and wavering in the lightest breeze.
But maybe hockey is changing all of that. I have seen Max flash the leather for a sweet glove save, and then spike the puck to the ice. I have seen him moonwalk gleefully in a little backwards celebratory circle in the crease after a kicksave. I have seen him dance during the intermissions, and I've seen him smiling at the bottom of the puppy pile at the end of a great game.
Last night, I laced up the goalie pads for the last time this season. Max was playing up a division for the Squirt team and they had a great offensive game. He had his first shut-out, 11-0, and a sweet little glove save where I thought he might break into a juggling routine. He looked right at me as he tossed the puck to the ref and his expression said, "Did you see that?"
Max came off the ice ruddy cheeked and beaming. In the car ride on the way home, I could feel the joy radiating off him. He was singing along to Swedish House Mafia, a little smile on the corners of his lips.
For this, I will drive to New Jersey in the icy dark. I will down gross coffee and dry donuts. I will lace skates and pads with numb fingers. I will watch endless games with a tiny pit of anxiety, and cheer him on after saves or shots made, because last night, when we were sitting at a red light, he said softly, "Now I know what it is like to feel important."
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