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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Day Zach Quit Hockey

Zach officially walked away from the sport he has loved since the he was six years old.  He says he will always love hockey.  He will still play around at hockey but his desire to play higher level hockey is gone.

He had no idea how to skate when he set his skates on the ice that first time.  His hockey stick looked like a shepherd's crook by the end of his first season.  He had no idea how to do a hockey stop so he used his stick to stop himself...turning the blade of his stick into a curved mess.  But he didn't care.  All he cared about was getting on the ice, feeling the rush of the icy wind on his face and working to get better and better.  In those early years, he would pick out the best kid on his team and say "See that kid over there, I'm gonna be better than him someday."  It worked for him.  He pushed himself harder and harder.  Hockey was his first love.

I will tell you the story of how he came to say "good bye" to his first love through a letter I hope he someday reads.  But not now, not yet.  My emotions are too raw and too much, I think, for him to be able to handle right now.  As I sit here typing, my throat is constricted and tears are rolling down my cheeks.  There is so much more to the sport of hockey, for me, than simply watching a game.  For me, right now, this means Zach is growing up...

Dear Zach,

I have watched you play the game you love for 10 years so I hope you understand, someday, how hard your decision is for me.  The hockey rink is the place where I have watched you grow from a little boy into a man-child.  The hockey rink is the place where fast friendships were formed and a broader sense of family was created.  Hockey was your fist love and it turned into mine as well.  I never expected to be a hockey mom.  I never expected to fall so in love with a sport that most consider violent.  But I love it.  I love watching you play.  As you take your place at the door, waiting for your shift on the ice, I watch you ready yourself to spring into action.  I see you zero in on your opponent who has the puck and prepare yourself to pounce.  There are times you are like a shark out there...circling your prey ~ striking at just the right moment.  I love watching you skate, effortlessly, up the ice and back again.  I love watching the plays form between you and your teammates.  But most of all, I love watching the bonds form between you and the young men who started as teammates but became friends.

The hockey rink is where, we, as parents developed nearly familial bonds with other parents who were as passionate (or crazy) as we are.  It was at the hockey rink where you started to come out of your shy, shell a little and realize that you didn't have to do something perfectly the first time you tried it.  The hockey rink instilled a confidence in you that, try as we might, we never could.  When we moved from Louisville to Richmond this close knit hockey community embraced us and took us under its wing, making us an immediate part of the big, giant hockey family.  I will be eternally grateful to all that the hockey rink has given to you and, by default, us.  The hockey rink has become synonymous with family for me.

I want you to know, though, that I am so very proud of you for making your decision.  I know it hasn't been easy on you and I am sure I haven't helped your process much ~ for that I am sorry, I have been a little selfish and a lot worried.

I am selfish because I am sad your decision has been made to walk away from hockey.  You are such a fabulous hockey player and your decision has left me reeling and feeling off kilter.  I wasn't expecting last season to be your last season.  I wasn't prepared for you to say "it's gone from 'I get to play hockey' to 'I have play hockey.'"  How very grown up of you...you are growing up, literally, before my eyes.  And selfishly, that makes me sad. 

And I worried that your decision wasn't made for the right reasons.  After our talk last night, I know you have made the decision that seems most natural to you.  I thought your decision was based on the fact that you were cut from the U16AAA team.   But your decision to leave the world of travel hockey makes sense to me and now I know it was made well before the U16AAA tryouts.  You had already refocused yourself and your aspirations on lacrosse.  The lacrosse coaches have encouraged you and built you up in a way you haven't had before.  I understand.  Your hockey coaches have always encouraged you, lead you well and taught you to love the game of hockey.  But your lacrosse coaches have given you accolades and encouragement.  They want you to go big.  And that's not such a little deal to you...you want to play college sports.  You understand that you need to embrace the sport that is giving you the most positive feedback.  As we talked last night, you reminded me about an opposing team's coach seeking you out after a game, wishing you well in your college lacrosse career ~ that, to you, means the world.  My worry is gone.

But my sadness still remains.  It remains because all of these decisions mean you are growing up.  And my heart hurts to think the shy, little boy who stepped on the ice 10 years ago has become such an intelligent, young man who dreams big dreams and will be leaving our nest far too soon.  Watching you walk away from hockey...the page is turning on your childhood and I am not ready to see that chapter end.  I am not ready for you to grow up.  Maybe I never will be.  But, Zach, I love you, respect you and know you are ready to take on the next chapter in your life.  The sadness is mine to deal with...just like watching you grow up.

I am very proud of you, my man-child.

With love.
Always ~
Mom

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