Iceland Revisited

This morning, I woke to find that I’d missed a call from Chris.  It came in at 8:00AM, at a time when under any normal conditions on a Saturday in the fall, I would have been up, and well on my way to work.  I called him back, but the phone rang through to his non-message. The fact that young people with smart phones eschew the voice mail message option on their phones shouldn’t surprise me – after all, they don’t use their phones to talk  much. This much I know from first hand experience.

But when the phone rang about 2 hours later, Chris was panting. “You will never guess what happened!”

There are a lot of things that go through my head when my son begins a phone conversation this way; sadly, about 95% of them are not good. Here’s what ran through my head in the 2 seconds before he spilled his real news:

1. I just ran my car off the road into a ditch because a black bear crossed the path of the vehicle with no warning.  I am trapped inside the car and he’s getting pretty mad out there and just pawed the side view mirror off the car.

2. We can see the flames from the apartment of the fire burning near Lake Tahoe. We are being evacuated now.

3. I was running in the woods and got bitten by a rattler. Just a little nip. I’m waiting for the paramedics to arrive and thought I’d give you a call.

4. I dropped my phone into the water at the beach. No, Els, he’s calling me on said phone.

5.  I was just standing there in the bar when a fight broke out and someone smashed a stool over my head and I’m in the ER getting stitches. Good news, Mom,  no concussion, but the police are coming to take me into custody.

But now he’s talking again and he’s very happy sounding, so all of those possibilities dissolve as I hear him say, “I just finished playing hockey and was on my way out of the rink when the owner of the rink approached me to ask me where I’d played. He said they have just hired a new GM and  there might be things for me to do there.”

This is really good news. The resurrection of hockey in Chris’ life as an adult signals nothing but good news. Chris played hockey from age 5 to age 18.  I took him to the ice rink in Van Nuys for a diversion one afternoon, and he peered over the high wall of the rink to watch about ten 5-year-olds in full hockey regalia fling themselves onto their bellies and then scramble back up on their skates and resume skating. Turning his shining eyes up to me, he said, “Mom, I want to do that!

And I, having been schooled in New England with a staunch appreciation for Ice Hockey, marched right into that crappy little pro shop and asked them for information about their hockey program;  within the week, Chris wore his mini mite uniform and was out there flinging himself down on the ice with abandon.

IcelandExterior2Iceland at that time, was pretty low-rent. It consisted of just the rink and about 300 square feet of pro shop, with a small enclosed café area with windows facing out on the ice. There, parents would cup their hands around the steaming styrofoam cups of bad cocoa, glancing up to watch the drills of the little mites skaters. And we would chat as we watched the Zamboni clear the expansive ice. We learned the progression of our skaters – Mini Mite, Mite, Squirt, Peewee, Bantam, Midget, Junior, etc.Iceland zamboni

And so began our family’s love affair with hockey. We got there  at 5:00 AM, carrying our sons’ hockey bags and lacing up their skates in the metal shipping container locker rooms adjacent to the ice rink.  The chilled morning air was filled with the squeals and giggles and wadded up tape balls whizzing by our heads as we knelt at the feet of our little princes, wrestling their tiny feet into the even tinier skates.  My husband and I took turns getting up early to ferry Chris to his practices. Later, we attended all the games, cheering from the sidelines, bundled up in our scarves and gloves. They were adorable. We were completely invested in the vision of our sons growing up and becoming LA Kings players. Along the way, they were learning about hustle, and the need to hone their skills, teamwork, and a little bit of Russian.

The Iceland coaches were all Russian.  I can barely remember their names, now, but I remember the drive and the skills building that they instilled in Chris. How Slava would smack them on their thick pants with his hockey stick to get them to go faster, harder, straighter.

Jimmie told Chris in those early days that to be a hockey player, he would need to learn how to skate backwards. Chris then dedicated himself to learning just that and so many more things.Their coaches championed them from level to level, later providing personal instruction in private lessons, an added cost, but with unquestionable effect on their growth.IMG_1086 

So now, as I cupped my tea in my hand from the comfort of my couch, I listened and heard the eager pride in his voice. “It’s weird, Mom, how just this morning, I was thinking about how I could see myself coaching. I was thinking about how Ryan trained me and thinking about how I could do the same for kids. Today a little five-year old came up to me after the session and said, I don’t know the name of my street, but I can give you my number!”

All those years of hockey which had seemed lost in the mists of the past came flooding back, and I followed Chris’ vision in my mind, seeing him out there on the ice with those five-year-old Mini-Mites, or perhaps the Pee Wees. Bursting with pride today for my son, the future hockey coach.IMG_1131



Lose Yourself on the way to Valencia

This morning, the warm up music for Jim’s 7:15AM spin class at YAS was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” and hearing it again made my heart fill with happiness and anticipation. Eminem’s song might seem an unlikely anthem for a 54-year old college professor of technical theatre.

But where this song took me was back to my days as a hard-driving hockey mom. I say hard-driving because then, back in 2000-2003, approximately, we drove an average of five round trips a week from our home in Van Nuys to our son’s hockey rink in Valencia. And that was just the practice trips. Practices were usually three nights a week, and then there was a game a week. He might also have a few other coaching sessions other times during the week. The game trips were sometimes even longer, as we travelled to Anaheim, Riverside, Encinitas, etc. for the games.

And all along the way, this precious time spent sometimes together as a family, or me solo with our son on some practice nights were some of the happiest times of my life.

Chris chose the music to listen to in the car during these 45 minute  to 1.5 hour trips to Valencia. As any parent of a  teen knows, the resistance to our music  or NPR can be so strenuous and unpleasant that one would do anything to  minimize stress or strife in the car. Even listen to Eminem.

I remember once, a few years later when Chris had more sensibly elected to play with a team in Panorama City, we were driving to practice one night and were fighting in the car about homework, or a messy room, or some other now insignificant issue, when my cell phone rang. This was pre don’t-answer-your-cell-phone-under-penalty-of-death-or-major-fines, so I picked it up. Chris continued to harangue me, and if you were to go to the archives of KCRW’s website, you would hear him in the background nagging at me and my shocked, anger-tinged voice answering and turning sweet as I said Hello to Matt Holzman, who was calling to tell me that I had just won a 17′ iMac computer. My anger and the resulting embarrassment at having been caught fighting in the car with my son by Matt Holzman turned instantly to wonderment and elation, as Chris listened and fumed in the passenger seat. Let me just say that was the best way to end an argument I have ever experienced.

But back to our friend Eminem.

That song became our pre-game anthem, blasting in the hockey-gear- stench-filled car on the way to points arctic for weekly games.  And it was sweet, the anticipation of the game, of seeing the other parents, of watching the boys as they blasted out of the locker room, fully charged and ready to win. And the writer in me admired the lyrics booming from the CD player in the car:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

Those were good days, those hockey days. Ice Hockey is a total commitment, financial, time, energy. The hockey parents used to joke that hockey was cheaper than rehab. We spent so much time with our boys and with each other. Holidays, every weekend, and several nights a week cheering them on as they became men. Those night drives to Valencia  after a long day at work were grueling, and yet transformative of him, of me, of our family, and ultimately of our relationship. And sometimes just the sound of a song can make you lose yourself. This morning, I was a proud hockey mom again, feeling energized, happy, and ready to spin my heart out. Thanks, Eminem.