Born and raised in North Dakota, I grew up surrounded by people with hockey coursing through their veins. I, however, had a much more casual relationship with not just hockey, but all sports in general – less rooted in my heart and soul, but more topical, like wearing a hat. Want someone to dress up in a costume? Do a little dance? Read a book? I’m your girl. Need someone to play on your volleyball team? I mean, if there’s an outfit I’ll be there, but my friends will confirm that you will expend a lot of energy saying “Oh, that’s okay, you’re doing great.” It’s not that I don’t try; I’m just generally crappy when it comes to athletics. (Also, I hate volleyball, because I’m not sure why you’d willingly choose to hit a hard ball against a part of your body with very tender skin.)
Sure, I hold a high school letter – in danceline, for which my crowning athletic achievement was my ability to almost do the splits.
And, according to my mother I’m “pretty sporty,” which should give you a good idea of my family’s general understanding of physical prowess. Case in point: My sister shocked us all a few summers ago with her perfect football spiral. Turns out her childhood dream was to play for the Vikings. “That’s why I had a Minnesota Vikings birthday party,” she told us. “You did?” Neither my mom nor I had any memory of this. “And I was a football player for Halloween,” she said. “You were?” We were shocked. It wasn’t that we weren’t an engaged family; it’s that we – minus my sister, apparently – are so unathletic that we wouldn’t have even known to recognize the interest or talent.
So imagine all of our surprise when I married a man who is actually “pretty sporty.” My husband, Kyle, played competitive hockey, volleyball, and baseball in his youth, and continues to do so in old man beer leagues. He does things that sporty people do, like plan vacations that require me to wear running shoes and not ooze through the slats of a beach chair from sunup to sundown. He knows what you should drink so that your joints or muscles or whatever stay loose after performing an activity that would make your joints/muscles/whatever tighten. He’s so sporty that he’s made an actual career out of it, as a hockey agent and rink consultant.
Despite all of this, my marriage to Kyle has done absolutely nothing to improve my athletic abilities. Bless that sweet, hopeful Canadian, he sure has tried. First there was the co-ed softball league. He and I were warming up before a game – which I was slightly disappointed to learn meant throwing a ball back and forth, and not sitting on the grass drinking beer – when he stopped, jogged over, and handed me the ball.
“Um, I think you may be throwing with the wrong hand,” he said, quietly.
“No.” I said.
“But you’re left-handed.”
“Yeah, but I throw with my right. I’ve always thrown with my right.” This conversation was costing me beer time, and I was getting annoyed.
“Yes,” Kyle said gently. “But did someone tell you to throw with your right when you were a kid and you just stuck with it? Because it doesn’t look very natural.”
I harumphed. “You don’t look very natural.”
“Just try one throw with your left hand,” he said, jogging back to his spot.
I held the ball in my left hand, briefly contemplated divorce, and threw the softball back to him. Whereas all of my right-handed tosses had flopped like a wet beanbag, this left-handed throw sailed across the field like a – well, like a ball, I guess. Kyle had to run backwards to catch it. Backwards and sideways, in fact, because it was the wildest toss that’s ever been thrown.
“Great!” He shouted. “Now do it again, but try aiming right at my glove.”
“I was aiming at your glove,” I shouted back.
“Great!” He shouted. “Then do it again!”
I did throw it again. And again and again. Since that fateful toss fifteen years ago, I have thrown hundreds of softballs with my left hand, and approximately ten of them have actually made it to their intended target. I once threw a ball that hit my toddler, who was standing a few dozen yards to my right. I did, however, become very good at keeping softball score after I was inevitably benched on that co-ed team to make room for someone better.
Later came hockey. One Valentine’s Day, Kyle and his law school hockey team set up a “fun” game with their spouses.
“I don’t know how to skate,” I told him.
“But you have skates?” He said, pointing to the closet.
“I got those in the 5th grade,” I said. “Which was the last time I skated.”
“Do they fit?”
I contemplated the consequences of my answer. “Yes,” I said, truthfully.
“Great!” Kyle said. “You’ll do fine.”
Skipping ahead to where we all know this story is going, I wasn’t doing fine. In fact, I was doing so un-fine that they put another person out on the ice in my place and just let me shuffle around while the game went on around me. By the third period, that shuffling had turned into awkward skating. I was so pleased with my prowess that I stopped in front of the net and leaned again my hockey stick to compliment myself on a job well-done.
As I stood there imagining a future where I would one day achieve my dream of skating backwards (next up, the Olympics!), all of the rest of the players stopped and my dear husband passed my the gentlest puck that has ever touched ice or snow. It was going so slowly it was almost stopped. The goalie beside me stood up straight, clearing the way for me to make the world’s easiest shot. I watched that puck tiptoe its way to me, past my stick, and then, as light as a feather, it tapped me on the skate. And BAM! I went down as if I’d been shot. The goalie helped me up and pushed the puck into the net. Goal.
For the next few years, Kyle rotated me through a series of sports, and I rotated him through a series of Broadway and movie musicals, and somehow we stayed married. The most successful venture was
The Band’s Visit curling, which we did with another couple. The wife and I were the Sweeps (Sweepers? Sweepies?), which we often forgot to do because we were too busy talking about celebrity gossip. Fortunately, Kyle is Canadian and her husband is also pretty sporty, and so we actually won the league championship. I promptly retired so as to end on a high note.
Like his father, our firstborn came into the world wearing hockey skates. My lack of athleticism was no big deal at first; I was awesome at knee hockey against a three-year-old, and I did all of the voices when I read “One Line, Two Lines, Red Lines, Blue Lines.” But three blinks of an eye later, our little dude was clop-clopping along the ice and out of my league.
Fortunately for me, I fell into Hockey Mom-dom like a champ. I cheered from the bleachers. I bought a photo pin for my coat and a fleece blanket for my car trunk. I carried water bottles and snacks and half-drunk Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate. I told our son, “You’re really fast!” and “I’m proud of you for doing your best!” And I supported Kyle by saying things like, “Sounds good,” and “I’m proud of you for doing your best” as he bought equipment and laced up skates and organized lessons and volunteered to coach.
I slid by on this hands-off parenting style until the winter after our son’s seventh birthday, when one of Seven’s hockey games fell on the same day as a Kyle work trip. By now, we had another little fella in our family, who at the time was a three-year-old tornado.
“Seven can skip hockey this week,” Kyle reassured me as he packed his suitcase.
“No, no,” I said, imagining him telling his friends and future therapist that he didn’t get to play because his mom couldn’t hack it.
“Well, I’ll ask one of the dads to come pick him up and bring him home,” Kyle said.
“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
The day of the game arrived. Normally, we’d leave 45 minutes before the puck dropped. This time, we were out the door before the sun was up. The locker room was completely empty, and so I deposited Three in a corner with my phone and took out Kyle’s instructions.
Kyle had drawn a very detailed sketch of the dressing process (If he ever decides to leave hockey he has a real career in front of him at Ikea), and I studied it for about the 10th time that week as an incredulous, but quiet, Seven looked on.
“Well, here we go, buddy,” I said, picking up some black piece of fabric.
“Not that, Mom,” Seven said, picking up some other black piece of fabric. “This.”
Together, we worked our way through it, strapping and velcroing and taping (I had to redo the sock tape twice because I put it on “too tight,” proving my long-held assumption that the tape is just for show). Finally, we were down to the last step: his skates. I tied them up.
Seven stood and shook his head. “Too loose.” I retied them, pulling so hard that I had to lean back like I was trying to stop a stampeding team of horses.
Seven stood again, and this time his bottom lip quivered. “Still too loose.”
I sighed. Seven sniffled.
“Hang tight,” I said. I went out into the corridor, where a few of the early kids were dragging their bags along. I jogged around until I found another grown-up, who just happened to be one of my old friends from high school.
“Oh, hey, how’s it going?” I said, trying to be breezy. “So, listen, Kyle is out of town and…”
“Let me guess, skates,” he said, depositing his own four children into another locker room.
Five minutes later the skates were tied. Fifteen minutes later, all of the other moms showed up and I watched them get their kids dressed without any written instructions and without any lace-tying incidents. An hour later we got ice cream, because we deserved it. My boys are now Nine and Five, the older one has become a goalie (no sock tape), and the baby lets me tie his skates if his dad is 100% absolutely, completely unavailable. Once a year, Kyle gets my old skates sharpened and Nine spends an hour scraping every last flake of snow off of our outdoor rink so that I can have a perfectly safe surface to practice skating. Nine holds my hand as we scoot along, saying things like, “By next year you’ll be able to go backwards!” and “I’m proud of you for doing your best!” And Kyle takes a video and sends it to my parents, who are very impressed that I’m so sporty.
By Amanda Silverman Kosior, 2021