By Jamee Larson
The parking lot is already full by the time we get to the arena. My wife and I had started getting the kids ready thirty-five minutes ago, but once again I find myself driving to the back corner of the lot.
“Damn it, Cindy,” I grumble. “It’s five degrees out. Five. And now—”
“There’s a spot, Daddy,” my son, Brian, shouts excitedly from the back seat. “There’s a spot right there in the front.”
“Those spots aren’t for us, Bud,” I say, continuing my exile to the back.
“Daddy, you didn’t even look,” Brian cries.
“Stop it, Brian. We can’t park there.” My knuckles are white as I clench the wheel, resentment bubbling from somewhere deep within. This is Brian’s first year in hockey, and I am not yet comfortable with my position in the “hockey parent” club. I have heard stories of hockey parents—the lengths they will go to see their child succeed. They are a different breed of people, and I am not interested in becoming one of them. Case in point are the row of parking spots in front of the arena, purchased at last month’s fund raiser for $1500 per spot. That’s enough to cover our mortgage, both car payments, and groceries for a month. Who are these people?
We make the trek across the lot and enter the arena. The bleachers are packed with parents and grandparents, cameras and camcorders aimed and ready. The Rookie league is made up of five and six-year-olds, many of whom have a hard time just staying vertical. I didn’t play hockey, haven’t been on skates more than a handful of times in my life. I can teach Brian how to throw a spiral or shoot a jump shot. I was a three-sport athlete in high school—hockey just wasn’t one of them. I am out of my league here.
The game begins with Brian in the goal. His attention span is short, and he’s quickly distracted. A slow shot from the other team slides past him easily.
“Pay attention, goalie.”
The words originate from somewhere behind me. My face gets hot and I feel my butt lift off the bench. Are you really heckling a six-year-old, asshole? I feel Cindy’s hand on my arm—she has always been able to read my mind. I look over at her and smile, sitting back down without turning around. I hate hockey parents.
A few line changes occur without much action. That can be said of most Rookie games—“without much action.” The kids received their jerseys last week, each one printed with their last name on the back. Before that, they all looked the same in helmets and pads. One little guy with “Rhodes” on his back skates twice as fast as the others. His father stands at the top of the bleachers each game and paces like an expectant parent. His voice can be heard above all others.
“Be aggressive, Zack.”
“Get going, Zack.”
“That’s your puck, Zack.”
On and on, he doesn’t shut up until the final buzzer and then God only knows how he is after that. I feel sorry for the kid. I don’t understand parents like that, the “win at all cost” kind. My father wasn’t like that. I’ll never be like that.
The game ends unremarkably and we head for home. Brian loves to watch himself, so we pop in Cindy’s recording.
“I’m pretty good, Dad, huh,” Brian says, looking at me for affirmation. “Do you think I’m pretty good?”
“You’re awesome,” my daughter Rosie chimes in. “You’re the bestest hockey player ever.”
“There you go, Bry. Rosie has spoken.” We all laugh and return to the tape. Cindy’s voice can be heard offering commentary.
“There goes Brian for the puck. He swings. Oh, so close.” Her take on the game is more mother than analyst, but it works. Before long, however, a voice begins drowning her out.
“Come on, Brian. Concentrate.”
At first, I wonder who was yelling at my kid. I imagine it is the same asshole as before.
“Be aggressive. Stop being so timid.”
I feel my neck getting hot with a shame that quickly spreads up my face. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“Let’s turn the volume down, Honey,” I say. “It’s more fun to watch without the noise.” My voice cracks a little more with each word.
“Good idea,” she says without looking at me. “I had enough of it at the game.” The disgust in her voice is unmistakable. We finish the tape and the kids get ready for bed.
“How’s your head?” Cindy asks.
“What do you mean,” I respond. “What’s wrong with my head?”
“I just figured it would hurt by now, all that blood rushing to it during the game.”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Let’s just go to bed.”
“Sure, John,” Cindy says as she walks out of the bedroom. “Goodnight.”
God, I hate hockey parents.
Jamee Larson is currently an MFA candidate with an emphasis in creative nonfiction at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, where she teaches English composition as a graduate teaching instructor. Upon graduation, she intends to continue teaching while pursuing her writing career.