Lessons from the Ice

He stands up on the tiny blue ice skates, so strange in shape that they almost look like a pair of high heels.

He stays upright and begins to walk toward the rink.  I hold my breathe and wonder what will happen as he steps onto the ice.  I don’t have to wait long to learn the answer.  A mere thirty seconds later, kids fall one after the other as they slip through the gate and step onto the frozen plane.

I expected this.  Every one falls when they go ice-skating for the first time.  But it is fall after fall after fall for my little guy.  The coach notices his struggle and begins to work with him one on one.  She models how to get to a hands and knees position, and then attempt to get up one leg at a time.  Liam mimics this move but can not get to standing on his own.  Every few attempts, she helps him to his feet and within moments, he is back on his knees struggling to get up.

It’s hard to watch.  We signed up for the four week hockey clinic because Liam went to a hockey game and loved it.  The clinic was free, and we figured he could try it and if it wasn’t for him, no harm done.

On the way to the first session, Liam was ready to pop with excitement, talking  through a mile-wide smile about how he was going to practice every day.  Only once did he pause.

“Do the parents stay for the lesson or do they go?” he asked.

“The parents stay.  Is that what you want, or do you want me to go?”

“I want you to stay.”

“Then I’ll be right there.”

I remember this conversation as I stand behind the plexiglass perimeter.  Does he think I have foresaken him?  Does he know he can stop anytime he wants to?”

The lesson comes to a close and Liam is visibly exhausted.  Ben and I hug him and tell him how proud we are of him for trying.

After an impromptu nap, Liam and I are playing together, building a pretend lake. As we place the rocks around the outside of the blue material, I ask him what he thought about his first time playing hockey.

“I didn’t like it pretty much.”

“What didn’t you like about it?”  I inquire.

“I fell down about thirty times,” he responds.  But then he adds:

“But I got up thirty times.”  I am amazed he has puts this together.

“Do you want to go to hockey next week?” I ask.

“No, we can take my stuff back.  I wasn’t good at it.”

“It’s ok if you want to take it back, but you might just need to practice.  Sometimes it takes awhile to get good at something.”

I close the conversation by telling him he can think about it and that whatever he chooses is ok.  When I signed him up for the clinic, I did so because he showed interest in the sport, and selfishly because I knew he’d look adorable dressed in all the gear.  But he was dealt a real life lesson I don’t believe he had ever pondered before- he wasn’t going to be good at everything right off the bat.

Preschoolers are used to praise, and rightfully so.  Preschool is a time of exploration and imaginiation.  There are no wrong answers, every misstep is cute, every drawing is a masterpiece.  That’s how it should be.

Hockey is a little less subject to interpretation.  When you can’t stand up, you know you aren’t doing it right.

Ben offered to take Liam to an public skate to practice ice skating. I thought this was a very nice thing to do.  But I wondered why he was trying to help Liam when the clinic would be over after two more sessions, and Liam would likely never play hockey again.

“Because he tried so hard.  He fell for an hour and got up every time and kept trying.”

I nearly burst into tears.

Ben took Liam to public skate.  The first lap took an agonizing twenty five minutes.  Liam stopped after a quarter of it and wanted to quit, but he had to at least make it back to the entry way to get out.  Rather than turn back, he went forward.  He stopped and took breaks, but he went forward holding Ben’s hand.  The next lap, took ten minutes.  The next only two, and he skated all on his own.  By the end of the sesssion, he didn’t want to leave.

Today, he stood on the ice in his hockey gear and hit a puck.  He told me he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep playing hockey, but he really wanted to go skating with his dad again.

You may think you are getting a hockey lesson, and learn something completely different instead.

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