A few weeks ago, I mentioned in one of my posts that we had enrolled KJ in a new hockey program for the fall. I had the best of intentions in making the switch. KJ had already done a (long) session of learn to skate, and was antsy to play real hockey, with a stick. The original program through which KJ skated was run through the United State Figure Skating Association and had a l-o-n-g learn to skate program. He was going to have to pass 5 levels of learn to skate before he was ever given a puck. That's over a year of learn to skate. Because I skated through the USFSA growing up, I knew the program was a good one and KJ would be a good skater if he completed all 5 levels. But KJ is 4. I had some serious doubts that he would even be interested in hockey if he didn't touch a stick or a puck for another year.
So, I sought out and found another rink that taught learn to skate through the USA hockey program, as opposed to the USFSA. While it still had a learn to skate component, the program was much more compact and introduced stick handling and pucks much, much earlier. I figured that if KJ passed the fall and winter sessions of learn to skate in this new program, he would be using sticks and pucks around Christmas. I knew the boy wanted a stick. So, I signed him up.
But I did not anticipate how KJ would react to the new hockey program. The old hockey program was taught at a new, modern rink that actually had several sheets of ice. There was always something going on, and he almost always got to watch a game either before or after his lesson. The old hockey program divided kids by age and ability. So most of the kids in KJ's class were around his age. And the old hockey program was taught by women. In fact, my old figure skating pro taught KJ's Sunday night lesson. The new rink is none of those things. It's a bare bones operation run by a bunch of men who are hockey coaches or retired professional hockey players who coach kids by ability, not age. It's true hockey.
KJ, as it turns out, was not ready for true hockey. The very first week of learn to skate he cried. He didn't want to go out onto the ice. He didn't like the teachers. He didn't like the whistles. And he certainly didn't like the mascot of our local professional team skating out there with him. It wasn't a complete metldown, but it wasn't what we expected either. I had taken KJ skating just 24 hours earlier and he had loved it. In my opinion, there was nothing so different at this rink so as to warrant tears. I tried to reason with KJ, tell him that this hockey would let him play with sticks sooner, but he was still upset. Eventually, I handed him - still crying - to the one woman coach and asked her to get him started. I hoped that once he started skating he'd get over the whistles and everything would be fine. She got him on the ice, saw that he could skate and sent him over to the advanced section of the learn to skate class. KJ, still crying, was on his own.
I felt like a terrible parent. I was that mom, living through her child, making him do something he clearly didn't want to do. Except, I'm not that mom. I couldn't care less if KJ plays hockey. In fact, from a financial perspective, I sort of hope he doesn't. I pushed KJ out on the ice because I know he loves hockey. Every Saturday morning since last February he has woken up, donned all of his equipment and played me in floor hockey until Sweet Pea wakes up or he gets so hungry he remembers to ask for breakfast. Believe me, there were plenty of mornings where I would have preferred to nap quietly on the couch while he played matchbox cars in the playroom. But KJ wanted to play hockey, so I did it. KJ wasn't crying because he didn't want to learn to skate, he was crying because it was different. And different is sometimes scary. But as I sat on my side of the plexi-glass watching my little guy cry through a facemask and hockey gloves, I knew that he had to get through this little bit of scary to reach his goals. That someday the salt of these tears would be replaced by the excitement of a stick. That I was doing my job as a parent in helping him face a fear.
Thankfully, KJ didn't cry on the ice for too long. A high school kid who was assisting the learn to skate program took pity on KJ and helped him calm down. He also held KJ close whenever the scary mascot skated by. He was kind to KJ. Kind in a way that he didn't have to be. Kind in a way that makes a mother grateful. By the time KJ got off the ice, he was - once again - all smiles.
Happy hockey didn't last long, however. The very next week KJ cried that he didn't want to go on the ice again. And the third week, KJ cried when he found out that his special high school friend wasn't there. Each week I'd talk to KJ, tell him that he had to finish out this session, but then he never had to play hockey again, and then I'd put him on the ice crying. And each week, I'd feel like all of the other parents were looking at me, judging. Each week, I felt like a bad mom.
Somewhere around the 4th week the crying stopped. KJ did his lesson and had a good time. And with the exception of weeks were there's a mascot on the ice or when KJ gets run over by an 8 year old, there's no more crying. But it wasn't until this last week that I knew for sure that I'd done the right thing sending KJ out on the ice all of those weeks. Last Saturday, after a learn to skate with a horse mascot that even I found disconcerting, KJ's coach told me KJ passed learn to skate entirely, and was ready to begin real hockey. With sticks and pucks.
I will never forget KJ's face when I told him the news. It was like Christmas had come early, and everything Santa brought had Bauer written on it. To say KJ was excited was an understatement. KJ wanted to skate with sticks and pucks right that very second. He was so proud of himself. And so excited to get back on the ice. It was as if those weeks of crying had never happened. My little guy was happy. He had done it.
Tomorrow, we start "real" hockey with sticks and pucks. This afternoon, we are going to the store to get his suspenders and his first real stick. I had planned on asking Santa to bring KJ a stick for Christmas, but I'm happy to be buying one for him now. KJ has truly earned this stick.