When my eleven-year-old was around seven, he came home from hockey practice and announced he wanted to be a goalie.
“Great!” My husband said.
“Erm,” I said.
Here was my concern: hockey is a team sport, but the goalie’s mistakes stand alone. In fact, sometimes, the goalie shoulders the burden of the entire team’s mistakes; for example, we were recently at a University of North Dakota hockey game and UND scored on the opposing team’s net.
“Sieve, sieve, sieve, sieve!” the crowd shouted at the goalie while the goal replayed on the screen.
“See that,” Kyle (as a reminder, a hockey agent) said, pointing at one of the opposing defensemen. “He lost his man.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, even though I didn’t see because my knowledge of the intricacies of hockey stops at whether they serve hot dogs or brats at the concession stand, and also because it’s hard to keep your eye on everyone when there are ten people quickly chasing a small black disk on a big sheet of ice (and you’re busy eating a brat).
Anyways, I didn’t want my sweet, doe-eyed seven-year-old to face that negative attention, warranted or unwarranted.
“How about this,” I said. “You can play goalie for your Tuesday practices, and play out for your Thursday practices.”
“I want to play goalie all the time,” he said.
“Let’s start with Tuesdays,” I said.
That plan lasted exactly one week. On the second Thursday, I popped by the rink after work to pick up our toddler from Kyle and wave to the big boy. Shore ‘nough, I found him out on the ice in his borrowed goalie equipment.
“I thought we agreed on Tuesdays,” I said to Kyle.
“He wouldn’t get dressed otherwise,” Kyle said.
That first year, he let in approximately nine billion goals. I sat in the stands scrunched like an old dried-up sponge, searching his face behind his mask for an anticipated torrent of tears. They never came; instead, he’d dance along to the music that would play during the whistle.
He was still wearing borrowed equipment by his second season – “I don’t want to spend the money if he’s not going to stick with it,” The Killer of Joy told Kyle – although I had willingly agreed to pay for goalie lessons because I needed another thing to obsess over. Before every practice, lesson, or game I’d say to our son, “Have fun and do your best,” and then spend the next hours and days fretting over why he wasn’t paying enough attention, or getting his stick down fast enough, or saving every shot, or whether the other goalies were better and if they were and he was cut from the team would he have any friends anymore and should we just pack up and move right this second to a town in the middle of the desert that had never seen ice? WELL SHOULD WE?
Of course, I didn’t want to share these neuroses with an eight-year-old, so instead I’d tamp down every emotion into a tight ball and ask with the eyes of a psychopath, “Do you still like being a goalie, buddy?” And our son would always answer, “Yes!”
Once, I decided to mention a few of these anxieties to my best friend, who has neither children nor any interest in youth sports. After a loooooooong pause, she said, “I don’t think he needs goalie camp, I think you need Valium.”
Fast-forward another year, to when my parents met us for one of the final games of the season. I was sitting in the stands next to my mother, who was talking away about something when she stopped and asked, “Are you holding your breath?”
“Yes, I guess I am,” I said, exhaling quickly.
“I’m nervous,” I said.
“About this game?”
“About everything,” I said.
“Well, what is the point of THAT?” She asked, as if I had told her I owned more than one can opener. “It’s a game, Amanda. Games are meant to be fun. Is he having fun?”
She pointed to my son, who was zipping around in his net.
“Yes,” I said.
“If he doesn’t do well, are you going to go out there and play for him?” She asked.
“No,” I said.
“Then you can either have fun or not have fun, or be nervous or not be nervous, but none of those things are going to change the outcome of this game.” Then she went back to whatever she was talking about before, probably can openers.
I thought about what she said all summer, through baseball and road trips and goalie equipment shopping trips (because I’m not a total monster). I thought about it while we were packing up for his first fall hockey tournament, and while we were walking into the rink for the first game.
“Have fun, buddy,” I said, with a depth of emotion that can only come with total enlightenment – because that was what I was going to do: enjoy myself, and my son’s time in the sport.
“Okay,” my son said, not giving a crap about my spiritual growth at all.
Today, fifteen zillion games later, my younger son has also decided to become a goalie. At one of his first games, he got tired of playing, leaned his arm up on the back of his net, and just…let in goals for a while. Kyle and I were standing together and we burst out laughing (and then knocked on the glass to get him to pay attention). I may not have yet achieved total Zen, but at least I was having a good time.
“Man, I don’t know how you can stand to be a goalie parent,” one of the moms said to me after the game. “It would be too stressful for me.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” I told her.
The photo above was taken by photographer Jeff Wegge. My older son (then eight years old) got to play with the Little Chippers during the first intermission of the UND game. As you can see by his face, he had a REALLY good time.
Caitlynn Towe, Myah Johnson, and MacKenzie Olson of Rugby, Hazen, and Watford City, respectively, are on their way to New York to sing at Carnegie Hall. (KFYR TV)
A Bismarck non-profit called Badlands Search and Rescue now has a pup named Copper. (KFYR TV)
In North Dakota-adjacent news, Breckenridge’s Jared Hoechst was recently honored for saving an elderly couple from a burning vehicle. (KFYR TV)
In celebration of her birthday, West Fargo’s Gowri Pillai has donated 5,000 pounds of food – her 10th year of gathering food donations. (KVRR)
This is a sweet little read about memories. (Minot Daily News)
Bismarck’s Christian and Wilfried Tanefeu had Thanksgiving dinner with their new friend, Kelly Ripa. (KFYR TV)
Minot’s Josh Duhamel – you may have heard of him – is the voice of the main character of a new video game. (Fargo Forum)
Let’s Be (Official) Pals!
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