The Roc had his first official hockey practice with his Special Hockey team on Sunday. He was excited to go and kept asking the same questions over and over and over again, definitely showing his anxiety.
“Will I have to skate? Will there be helpers like last time? Will there be lots of kids? Will I get to sit on a chair? Will someone help me? Do I have to use a stick? Will it be just like last time? Will my coach be there? Will you be there? Will you watch me? Do I have to stand up on my skates? Will I fall down? Will it hurt? Will I have to go to the hospital?”
“I’m going to be a real hockey player!”
When we got into the activity center he saw an older team on the ice skating fast and shooting, his eyes filled up with tears and he proclaimed, “But I can’t do that! I don’t know how to do that! I can’t skate! This is too much for me!”
We tried to reassure him that he would be okay, that he wasn’t skating with those older kids, and that he would have a good time. We reminded him of how scared he was when we went to opening day and how much he loved it and didn’t want to get off the ice when it was over.
I sat by as GC got the Roc into all his gear, watching the other parents help their children, young and old, into skates, helmets and pads. I listened to the chatter, the squeals and shouts from the older kids saying hello to their teammates, the whining from the younger kids as parents struggled to get skates and helmets on their children. I smiled at the Roc as he transformed into a hockey player. As the Roc hobbled out of the locker room his coach ran ahead to get someone who would help him on the ice. I breathed a sigh of relief, he would need help. We left him at the tunnel entrance to the ice with a cute young blonde and made our way to the stands. I wasn’t as nervous as I had been during opening day, and I think the Roc being able to walk on his skates and his lack of tears and screams at the thought of getting on the ice had a huge part in calming my butterflies. We sat down next to the team managers, parents of a 16 year old on the team, and I scanned the ice and found the Roc seated in a folding chair, being pushed by the blonde cutie.
“Oh man, I’m totally going to cry,” I said as tears blurred my vision. “I cried through the whole open skate down at the U a few weeks ago!” I fanned my wet eyes with my mittens, trying to hold myself together.
There was my little guy out on the ice, fully geared up, learning a new skill. This opportunity means so much to him and to us, his parents. My guy who cannot yet balance on a bike or scooter and feels so left out when he sees the neighborhood kids riding by. My guy who wants to belong, who wants to connect, who wants to be a part of the group, out there a part of something. I watched the kids, some skating, some pushing chairs, some being pushed on chairs. I watched so many kids fall down and get right back up, over and over, and over again. Sometimes they would pop back up, sometimes they would lay on the ice for awhile. I watched a young man lay down in the goal for a few minutes. I watched as the Roc’s helper got him up on his skates behind the chair.
I watched her coach him on how to use his stick. I watched as the coach gathered the team at the end of the ice and they did some sort of introduction, the kids all banging their sticks on the ice. Then the Roc was back down at our end of the ice. Smiling, not needing nearly as much help to move behind the chair.
I listened to some of the stories. A young man who was injured in a work accident, who was a hockey player in his former life, and was now blind was out on the ice skating behind a short ladder with his friend. That friend was at every practice and game, and if he couldn’t make it, another friend took his place. I learned that the team coach does not have a disabled child, in fact, most of the teams in the area are coached by people who do not have disabled children. I heard about the young women who give up a prime hour of their Sunday to volunteer with the players. How the team had tried some of the young men from the area high school hockey teams, but that they usually do not possess the compassion gene, and tend to skate around or hang out with their friends on the ice, not helping the players. The girls really help, they get into it, and they keep coming back year after year. They make a difference. The young lady who was working with the Roc was actually now in college, but she gave up her Sunday to drive up and volunteer. I listened as they told us about some of the players, how they have changed over time, a young autistic man now setting up goals for some of the younger, less skilled players. How his mother was incredulous last season, “Did you see that?” she had asked, her eyes wide and brimming with tears when he dropped the puck in front of the goal for someone else to shoot. He was changing before her very eyes, no longer concerned only with getting the puck and making a goal, he was really a team player.
I listened and watched the players, watched my Roc, and my eyes filled up with tears yet again.
“God, I’m going to cry every week!” I told them.
“Just start bringing a box of tissues with you on Sundays!”
“Wait until he makes his first goal,” one of the managers said to GC and I, “The tears really start up then. They give the player the puck from their first goal and the pride on their face… oh man.”
“I’m going to lose it when he first starts skating on his own,” GC said, his eyes on the Roc, a smile on his face. GC loves hockey, loves to watch it, loves to play it even more. He played when he was younger and he worked at an ice rink when he was a teenager. There was a time when hockey is what he did almost everyday. He would love to be out on the ice, helping, volunteering, coaching, but for now, his place is behind the glass. Watching. Watching the Roc grow, expand, learn, gain new skills and new confidence.
When practice was over the Roc’s helper said, “He was so cute! He told me he wanted to go down to your end of the rink so you guys could cheer for him!”
I thanked her for all her help and she accepted gracefully, “I love doing this! No problem! You did awesome buddy! See you next time!”
Then we had to take a picture of our “real hockey player.”
And I cried again.