Sending a Rookie off to Hockey Camp
July 29, 2006
The night before my eight-year-old son attended hockey camp for the first time, my husband finally got around to looking at the brochure.
“I think he’s going to be in over his head,” Dave said grimly. “I’m sure he’ll be the only kid in the whole camp who’s never played hockey.”
I could not bring myself to ask why he failed to voice those concerns before we shelled out more than $450 on fees and equipment. I was too preoccupied trying to prevent myself from hurling a hockey puck at his head.
Besides, I knew he was wrong about at least one thing: Noah would not be the only neophyte. The friend with whom he’d be attending, a schoolmate named Eric, was similarly inexperienced.
Also, I’d prepared Noah for the possibility that, unlike in school, where he can add and subtract four-digit numbers in his head and fill pages of a journal with creative (albeit illegible) prose with seemingly no effort, hockey might not come so easily.
“You’re not going to be good at this,” I warned him.
He nodded solemnly.
“And that’s okay,” I added quickly. “You’re going to camp to learn. If you try, if you don’t give up because you can’t do it right away, you’ll get better.”
“He’ll be fine,” I assured my husband, even though past evidence suggested otherwise. The first time Noah took skiing lessons, he’d gotten so frustrated at his lack of prowess that the instructors had to remove him from the group lesson and give him an intensive private session.
There’d been a similar incident at a pre-season soccer camp that had Dave and me wondering whether Noah and organized sports were a healthy combination. But when soccer season ended, Noah announced he wanted to attend hockey camp. I didn’t discourage him because I am convinced that it is every Canadian father’s dream to suit up his son in full hockey regalia, and Dave had been denied that dream for eight long years.
On the first day of camp, Dave accompanied Noah, Eric, and Eric’s mom to the rink. Later he called from work, ostensibly to let me know where to pick up both boys at the end of the day, but really to unburden himself of his burgeoning dread.
“It doesn’t look good,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids who can skate like Wayne Gretzky. Noah skates like you.”
I was less insulted than worried. All day I fretted. At the rink that afternoon, I didn’t look for my son, I went to a coach and asked for a progress report.
“Noah?” the coach said, looking blank for a minute. “Oh, Noah! He did really well. He’s going to be great.”
I didn’t believe him, but in the car on the way home Noah and Eric cheerfully assured me they’d had fun.
“Were there any good skaters?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” they said.
“Were there any bad skaters?
“Yeah,” they said, unflaggingly enthusiastic. “Us.”
“Really? Were you the worst?”
They thought about it for a minute. “No,” they said. “There was a kid who needed to hold a coach’s hand on the ice. But we were the second worst.”
I opted not to report this information to my husband, choosing instead to share it with my sister, who is a firm believer in the glass-half-full philosophy of life. “Well,” she said, “Noah can be the most improved camper.”
I showed up well before pick-up time the next day. Noah was skating toward a net, holding his stick like a real hockey player. I was impressed. Then he fell over, unleashing an avalanche of hockey players. Almost immediately he was buried beneath them. The next time I spotted him he was standing by the net. I thought he was using it for balance, but one of the other hockey moms explained that he was playing defense. “He’s great at it,” she said. “He really wants to keep the pucks away.”
This I did report to Dave, who remained skeptical until the end of the week when, just as my sister predicted, Noah came home with the most improved camper award.
To say we were thrilled is an understatement. But when we asked Noah whether he wanted to play hockey instead of, say, soccer in the fall, his response both surprised and unnerved us.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I think I might try basketball.”