It was a simple error, that I have made more then once but seem hard pressed to truly learn. Or perhaps it is more a protective device that continues to give me the courage to stand up for my children in world that would prefer they stick to the status quo.
This week after hockey practice my son expressed concern for a few things that had happened both on ice and off ice. There was a player and a goaltender in a fist fight. There was a player yelling at him for doing the drill he was instructed to. And then a team mate yelling at another in the locker room. His inquiries to me were simple, why are my teammates fighting each other, we are suppose to be a team.
I was with him. We discussed different ways to to address his concerns. What felt the best to him was for me to draft up an email to the team. This may be the part where I became slightly delusional. You see in my mind I would draft up our concerns, toss it out to the team and we would trouble shoot ideas to help the boys who were feeling aggressive alongside those who were surprised by the lack of team cohesiveness.
My son felt the note clearly addressed his purely innocent queries. And in our happy, peaceful bubble where all members of our family are equally respected, I hit send. Feeling open and ready to have a discussion.
It didn’t take long for my bubble to be burst. With it came an immediate waterfall of tears. The first to reply was the coach and he said “I will respectfully disagree” before going on to disqualify every last thing I had said. I am up for a respectful conversation of differing opinions. I think it is what leads to an mutual sense of understanding. What I am not up for is someone saying out right, what you and your son experienced is wrong and I’m going to tell you why.
My tears were heavy. For here in black and white was my son’s coach saying “your experience is invalid. Your observations are wrong.” He went as far as to say “when passion bubbles over it naturally leads to roughness in boys. I see this all the time.” He crossed that line, in to telling me stuff about boys that I might now know after parenting two of them for the past ten years.
Another Dad popped in to share that he was a high school teacher and a coach as well and that this sort of fighting is just a part of competitive sports. So suck it up sister. I had nothing to go back to my son with. There was no open conversation. There was no validation of what he was experiencing. Just some grown ass men stepping up to tell us we were wrong in what we experienced. Which is where I was like, oh shit I have been here before. The place where folks assume they are being attacked and immediately take on the defensive. Hold tight to everything they think they know about children, and the raising and treating of them because that tiny little crack of difference I am reflecting out to them is terrifying.
I also cried hard for the fact that I go to the rink three days a week and I see children being belittled, yelled at, ostracized and told how very wrong they are in their simple observations. It breaks my heart. I want to live in a world that is kinder and softer on the youngest most valuable resources we have. I don’t want to be convinced in to believing that this is “just the way it is” or “all boys are aggressive”. I want for my son to continue to have an experience that is uniquely his based on what he has come to know about the world from first hand experience.
He asked me, “so what did coach say?” I fumbled quite a bit. I didn’t want to read the email word for word. I didn’t want to give him another reason to feel disgust at the team he has struggled all season to feel a connection with. So I said, “he see’s it all a bit different then you do. He thinks there are reasons why this is going on and feels he has it handled.”
My son said, “I hate my team.” Ouch. That is hard to hear. But then a light bulb moment unfolded and I was able to see some stuff I might have been missing. My son has struggled with this team from the beginning. Before knowing who is coach was he saw him make his son skate without socks on telling him he would never make that mistake again. When he knew this man would be his coach he was crushed. In fact, he fought back tears before leaving me to get on the ice. Yet still, twice a week, week after week, he has laced up his skates and hit the ice. He has noticed the injustice around him. We have discussed the heartbreak. We have imagined what it would look like if things were more respectful. He has complained LOUDLY and I have listened, just listened.
His passion has given him the courage, the strength of character to get out on the ice and give it his all. To score a goal every single game. To continue to search for ways to better the team. To want to have conversations that explore ways of being a member of a team. Even though, the adults in charge of coaching him, aren’t listening, aren’t supporting him, we his parents are. And that is enough for him to feel what he needs to continue to love the game and to push himself further. To gain what he can from the situation.
I looked my sweet boy in the eyes and said, “this is what team captains do love. They see what a team needs and bring it forward. Even if the coaches don’t want to hear it. I love the your courage and determination. You inspire me every time your skates hit the ice.”
And even though I want to avoid the rink like the plague after making such a public display. I will walk in with my head held high, knowing I honored and supported the relationship in all of this that means the most to me. And yes chances are this is not the last time I will make the mistake of offering a whole different way of being in relationship with children out to the larger world. Cause though those who responded had nothing nice to say, maybe someone who didn’t respond knows they are not alone.
I learn from my son, to keep lacing up my skates and hitting the ice, working to improve my personal best despite those who aren’t seeing the world through my same filter.
You continue to be such an inspiration to me! <3
I am SO upset, Shan. I was so proud of Mitch for asking you to do the email. I am always proud of you and knew that you would help your son in any way that you could. I feel your tears in my eyes (oh, those might be my tears!) and have so much love in my heart for you and Mitch. He is so dedicated and determined to play hockey. I am hopeful that this first year will one day be something for all of you, especially Mitch, to look back on and say, “Really? What a rotten year that was but look at how things are now!”
Love and hugs to all of you.