Hockey sounds like a good idea…until it’s not.
Zeke desperately wanted to play hockey. He watched his big brother play his heart out and wanted in. I could see his brain wheels turning, imagining himself on the ice, when he told me he wanted to play hockey.
He bought his own whistle, so that he could pretend to referee driveway hockey, then real hockey. I had to convince him that the ice arena stands were not a good place for whistles.
We took him to an open skate. We sat on a bench and laced up his skates for him. He stepped out onto the ice and tentatively took little baby iceskating steps. Dave and I looked at each other scared to breath, lest Zeke fall over. He didn’t. He did great and so we thought, “Ok, Zeke, let’s do hockey!”
The next week we bought him the shorts, the pads, and the stick for his birthday.
That first night of hockey, Zeke and I took out all the gear from a hand me down bag, alongside twenty or so other parents and small children, each eagerly awaiting the unveiling of their tiny ice stars. I started layering on elbow pads and shin pads, and a neck protector. I laced up his skates.
Zeke walked onto the ice and I knew instantly that something was wrong. Zeke hunched himself over and half stood, half squatted on the ice, curled up in a ball.
It was a rough start, and then it got worse.
He started falling.
I don’t mean he fell a couple of times. He fell and fell and then he fell some more. Zeke was clearly struggling and it was so painful to watch as a mother.
At one particularly difficult moment, he looked like a turtle stuck on his back. I wanted to rescue him from this fiasco, but “Crazy moms entering the ice” was frowned upon, I knew.
I heard the snickers around me.
I glanced up and saw a couple of moms pointing and I assumed the worst.
My face flamed up. I could feel the embarrassment and then its faithful cousin, shame, slowly creeping up my chest. I sent some texts off to a group of good college friends, just to make it through the 50 minute lesson:
“These women, they don’t know. How dare they laugh at Zeke!”
“There’s actual pointing going on! I’m rageful.”
“I’m just sad. Tears are rolling down my face. I wish this world was a better place for him. I just want it to be so much better.”
My friends comforted me and helped me sort through the anger, the frustration, and the embarrassment. With logical thought returning, I had a mom realization. I really thought we had prepped him for this. I generally try to avoid extremely difficult situations in public, for my sake, and for Zeke’s sake.
It dawned on me that Zeke’s sensory system was likely in overdrive. We had tried skating, yes, but we hadn’t added in the weight of a chest pad, too tight elbow pads, shin guards, and tightened skates. Throw in a cold arena and slippery ice and it’s a lot for kids, much less sensory challenged kids. Looking back I was pretty impressed that Zeke wasn’t just screaming like a banshee.
I finally turned to one mom, channeled my inner Dr. Brene Brown, and made myself intensely vulnerable.
I invited someone, a stranger, into my pain –
“This is so hard for me. Zeke’s on the Spectrum. I love him and it’s hard to watch him struggle. The equipment is just too much for him and learning something new is hard. Skating is hard. He hates anything that’s hard and a struggle. Don’t we all, but it’s intense for him in a way that it probably isn’t for you or me.”
She had a friendly smile and loads of wisdom – “Look at them. They all are falling down! Don’t they all look a bit ridiculous trying to stay standing up? It’s adorable.”
In an instant my fear, anger, and sadness dissipated. She pointed, not at my son, but her own, and then the myriad of skaters I failed to notice in my struggle, all trying to stay on two awkward skate blades.
I realized that while I do think some of the mamas could have been a bit more sensitive, I had created my own place of shame. I had wrapped myself in a blanket of embarrassment and disconnected from the reality of 30 or so little kids struggling through something new. I only saw my own little one’s pain and frustration and wanted so badly to take it away that I made up a story in my head and pointed my rage at those around me.
In the next moment, as it often does, life became supremely ironic…
I watched one coach skate over to Zeke and help him up. He dusted Zeke off and then proceeded to spend the rest of the lesson giving him confidence, giving him props, and an arm to hold on to when he needed his bearings. The mom I was talking to pointed at the coach, “That’s my husband.”
I said a small prayer – Thank you, God, for people, and care, and connection in this life, for not leaving us to walk alone.
Fast forward 8 weeks and hockey ended. I stood at the side of the ice with the moms. We laughed and talked about how far they had come these little tiny skaters, falling down less, but more importantly getting back up more, and having the time of their lives.
I was so proud of my #27.
He walked off the ice. They gave him a certificate and some pretty cool hockey cards, but I don’t think anything could mean as much as the fist bump waiting for him from that one coach. The coach who reached out and silently said with everything he did, “We’re in this together buddy. It’s hard work, but you can do it.”
One person, one mom, one coach makes a difference. This one moment of connection made a supreme difference in my life and in my son’s life. We need one another, even more so in our darker moments, but we need each other every day.
I could have gone through all of it, frustrated and hurt, and raging at those around me, by myself, but I found truth, by inviting someone in.
For #27 and his mama, it made all the difference.
*more on the stories in your head and connection in Dr. Brown’s book, Rising Strong