When I complain about headaches, my husband tells me all the time, “When you get out of bed, it’s feet first!”

Ba-dum-bum.  I stole that from a Henny Youngman classic.

Things are going to be different in hockey this year.  There has been so much chatter and twitter about concussions lately.  It’s all the talk in hockey town these days.  First, my daughter’s favourite Sidneyhas not been able to play hockey since January 2011 and his return to the NHL is still unknown (good thing she has a life size poster of him in her bedroom to tide her over).  Several recent tragic deaths of NHLers, allegedly suicides, have raised awareness regarding the lingering effects of concussions and their link to mental illness.  Finally, Hockey Canada has initiated a new head contact rule for minor hockey and every hockey association in Canada is initiated or expanding their non-checking divisions (checking starts at the Peewee level, ages 10-12, in my boys’ association for both competitive and recreational hockey, and does not exist at all in my daughter’s association).

I have 3 kids in hockey – I’m thankful they are goalies.  Actually I am NOT thankful they are goalies as they’ve made my pure enjoyment of the game virtually impossible (see post) and my official induction to AA entirely likely.  I can concede, however, that head shots are not typically directed at the goalie of the team – unless of course you’re my 15-year old son who insists on pointing out to every player he’s thwarted that their mother wears army boots … or something like that (my hearing’s not so good anymore).

Hockey Canada’s poster about their new head contact rule doesn’t make me happy though.  This is the sign my husband usually gives me when I have my more than occasional perio-menopausal moments.  Now I’m going to have to see that hand signal 10 times a game and it’s really going to confuse me!  Did I forget something again?  Why is that zebra on the ice giving me the What were you thinking?! sign?  Who does he think he is?  Only my husband can give me the What were you thinking?! sign!  Maybe that zebra IS my husband (my vision’s not so good anymore)!

I have seen some hockey hits that make me feel truly nauseous (or was that the canteen coffee?).  Though I approve Hockey Canada’s decision to implement this new rule (I know, like they care), the ripple effect will be go all the way to the local hospital emerg room.  There will be decidedly few kids there due to concussions sustained in the wickedly violent game of hockey (which is good) but I’m not so sure my experiences in the emerg waiting room will be near as satisfying (which is bad).

Me:  So… what are you here for?
Player:  I got slammed into the boards from behind by some jerk on the other team.
Me:  Oh, that’s a bummer [since I’m totally hip to the teenage lingo].  Gotta headache?
Player:  Yeah, but we won the game so it’s ok.  How ‘bout you?
Me:   I knocked myself out on the upper bunk making my kid’s bed*.
Player:    [Loser]

So NOW, with fewer kids in the waiting rooms with concussions due to injuries sustained in hockey, the conversation in the waiting room of my recurrent hospital visits will be decidedly different:

Me:   What are you here for?
The Drunk (not to be confused with me talking to myself):  I banged my head on the street lamppost after I left the bar.
Me:    Bummer, that sucks.
The Drunk:  Yeah, but I don’t remember anything so it’s cool.  How ‘bout you?
Me:   My husband caught me banging my head against the wall again and brought me in.
The Drunk:   Bummer, that sucks.  I like that white jacket you’re wearing.  Can I have it?
Me:   Yeah, I don’t remember anything, so it’s cool.  Am I wearing a white jacket?  Oh!   So I am.  I guess we can share!  What are you here for?

Things are going to be different in hockey this year.


* I didn’t pass out but this actually happened to me – I swear to God I’ve given myself a concussion! And that upper bunk has been there for 5 years!  How do I keep forgetting it’s there??!!


The images are so vivid but I can’t figure out how I can be in so many different places at the same time.  I cannot escape nor do I feel compelled to do so.   I am in the moment, but one minute the moment seems suspended while the next it is rambling incomprehensibly through a time continuum.  I am overcome with a need to follow a beckoning unseen hand that tenderly directs my immediate attention elsewhere.  Farther and farther away I drift away like I am actually walking on the open lake…

It’s after noon.  The steady groan of creaky hammock hooks seems to mimic the sound of the passing motorboat’s wake whose waves gently break against the rocky shore, seemingly in time with the swinging hammock.  I am suddenly younger me.   My tongue is enveloping an ice cream cone without haste but also with swift defensiveness to catch the melting drops before the dog does.

It’s evening.  The putt-putt of the small watercraft drifts farther and farther away and another of my selves is reassured by the evensong of a distant train whistle pinpointing its path through the Land o’ Lakes.  I lay nearly naked on top of my sheets – impossible to coax a breeze tonight.

Time is going backwards and it’s dusk.  I am suddenly back on the dock disappointed by the fish that just literally just jumped off my hook making its escape before I can summon a witness.  The plaintiff cry of a not-so-far away loon suggests its commiseration with me and my disappointment but is in stark contrast to the shrill laughter of the small children playing in the water directly across the bay, their shrieks bouncing off the shore and tree line as it becomes mid afternoon all of a sudden.  How can I be playing in the water across the bay in daylight when I am here lying on the dock watching the meteors streak across the night sky?

It doesn’t matter. 

It’s late afternoon.  My old self is now smirking at my teenage self up on the dock stocking the cooler with clanging and clattering bottles of cold beer.  “You used to drink cold beer”, my hazy mind teases but doesn’t mind the memory now of refreshing fermented barley relieving a parched throat and summertime thirst.

I am once again back to my young self trying to catch fireflies in my mother’s mason jar before she discovers it missing from her pickling supplies.  I know this Tinkerbell Convention will be convened before I can say, “All children, except one, grow up.”

I am moving farther and farther away from these sights and sounds, and deeper into another layer of my mind.  The corn stalks tower over me as I run, playing hide and seek with my siblings.  I prepare for our father’s disappointment when I produce my meagre U-Pick harvest compared to his overflowing bushel.  I am an impatient amateur in this realm and I want to leap up and seize the imagery but my self-of-altered-state cautions me against it.  I am subliminally mentored to just “be”.  Somehow it doesn’t freak me out that all these me’s are all over the place. 

I am suddenly my grown up self again at evening yoga class, and am being gently drawn out of savasana by the instructor.  Her voice is soft, wispy and slightly high-pitched, but persistent nevertheless in beckoning the class back to the present.  Because of that unrelenting voice and gently shaking, slowly but reluctantly, my subconscious meets my conscious.  All too quickly I come face to face with the imminent new existential question:  “What’s for dinner, Mom?” 

Nap over.

Just when I thought (and said, and wrote that) I didn’t notice or care about the national postal strike, my three kids went off to summer camp.  The no-electricity-no-electronics camps, remember?  So, as I am anxiously preparing three loving I-Miss-You care packages to be devotedly sent off before they have even left for camp (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband!), my heart stops beating:  Oh no!  How are these going to get there???!!!  I am suddenly frantically scouring FedEx and UPS sites for rates knowing full well the shipping costs for these three packages will be ten times the value of their contents (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband!).

Alas, the postal workers were legislated back to work (what a happy work environment Canada Post must be) and I shipped off my three packages before camp drop –off day.  I can also now stand daily at my Superbox staring blankly into Box#5 waiting for the daily mail delivery, hoping for return letters from  my three campers (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband).

No news is good news, right?

“We do want to make it very clear that there are no visitor days at camp during the summer months.”

The lump in my throat progresses to tears as I re-read the new policy at my daughter’s summer camp.

This summer marks the first year my 10-year old daughter, my youngest child, my baby, advances from a two-week camper to a month-long camper.  Her own choice, I feel compelled to add.   She has enjoyed an amazing two-week experience at this all-girls camp over the last 2 summers and begged me, upon turning 10, to allow her stay for a month.  I couldn’t refuse since her older brothers have also been attending an all-boys camp each July.  I could hardly refuse based on my anticipation of aching child-sickness.  I could hardly refuse after the camp director confirmed the fact that many of her other former cabin mates will also make this leap to a full month stay on or around their 10th or 11th birthdays as well.  So, I agreed, always knowing that a mid-month visit was planned (as we do with our sons).

“These [visitor] days were completely unsettling for the new and old campers and resulted in campers spending a day getting settled back into camp life. …we take pride in the fact that our campers are our highest priority and our decisions are made with their best interests in mind”

Okay I get it, but what about MY best interests?  I don’t know why, but it actually never dawned on me when I sent my eldest off to camp in the summer of 2003 that someday all my goslings would waddle off into the wild.   It is now happening.   I do take comfort in knowing that without iPods, cell phones, computers and TV, they’ll come home more accomplished swimmers, trippers, archers, canoeists, kayakers, sailors, bush-crafters, campfire chefs, fishers, horseback riders, basketball/soccer/ball hockey players, climbing wall authorities, aerial rope gurus, mountain bikers, woodworkers, singers, thespians, artists, lapidary aficionados, and environmentalists.  I do know I can’t offer them an equal experience at home (because for one thing, there’s no way I’m cooking for 150 kids, I don’t care how cute they are!) and I realize full well that this experience is a great privilege to them.

It’s just that I have always looked forward to that mid-month visit.  Now, as my baby heads off in July for her first month-long camp experience, that date circled in red on the family calendar is two weeks later than I thought… and I’m a little bit sad.

And I’m little bit worried for her too.  So, when I delicately approached the subject of this new policy with her yesterday at the kitchen table, was she concerned? Was she worried? Was she sad?

Not quite.  She gave a magnificent fist pump carried out with a triumphant “Yes!” she was most decidely not concerned, not worried, not sad.

So, the unwritten, implied final piece of this new policy should also read “…and you parents that don’t like it? Get over it!”

A group of friends and I recently attended a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary intended to raise awareness on the way our children are educated.  Roughly 90 minutes, this documentary highlights the negative impacts of the pressure parents, educators, the government and students themselves place on students in their quest for achieving good grades and getting into the best universities and colleges.  Though succeeding in sports and in school can be a good thing, the unintended consequences can be anxiety, depression, panic attacks, misuse of drugs (particularly stimulants and depressants), cheating and even suicide.  The documentary begs viewers to ask themselves the fundamental question:  are we really going about preparing the next generation for healthy, productive lives the right way?

I wish I had taken notes as at the end it summarized strategies for each:  school administrators, parents, teachers and students.  Discussing it with my family at the dinner table, I felt some guilt in the “reward systems” I’d established over the years for academic achievement.  I confess to bribing my son with a laptop for achieving 2 consecutive semesters of an over-80 average and buying my daughter a new hamster for getting straight A’s (okay, I get that these rewards vary drastically in their scope but it’s relative after all!).  Watching this documentary,  I felt pain for these kids whose lives have been turned upside down in this quest for excellence.  I felt anguish for the mothers who agonized over the guilt.  I felt the frustration of educators whose optimism seemed doomed in the face of government pressure and board-mandated curriculums.

Since I’ve been too busy lately to write, I haven’t had the time to post my feelings about this documentary immediately.  Perhaps that was fate, for that post would have been a heartfelt emotional plea to ban organized sports, outlaw homework and curtail household chores for the evils of “the system” in stealing my kids’ childhoods.  Over the week, some perspective has since bubbled to the surface of my cauldron of anxiety.    My oldest son has often asked me, “When was the last time your boss asked you what you got in high school Math?” and I can truthfully respond “Not once”.  But I have been asked on more than one occasion, “when can I expect that presentation for [insert anything here] or “can I please have you review this by this afternoon?”  There is the need in our children’s lives for some structure, order, a healthy dose of discipline and the need to exert some effort from time to time.

Part of me wanted to immediately ban all homework in our house and the incessant interrogation of “did you do your homework”, “how’s that project coming along”, “why did you get a C on this test?” etc., etc., etc.  I actually don’t think my kids’ teachers or coaches are hard on them at all.  I don’t think I’m that hard on them for that matter either.  Or is it possible that we happen to function in our own little bubble of balance.   Not that I don’t stress over their future, their grades, their sporting skills, their social lives, their clothes, their choice of friends, their choice of music, their more than occasional lack of initiative, their excessive gaming and TV viewing, their adulation and obsessions with really stupid people (imho), because I really do lose sleep over those things, and so do they.  Just not every day and not every night.

We can’t always look for the easy route for our kids.  Yes, ABSOLUTELY, it’s critical to monitor for signs of excessive stress and anxiety in our kids (and their friends, as it does take a “village” after all) as they forge their path through the school years.  But the truth is, school shouldn’t always be a breeze, and shouldn’t always be a social club scene.  We DO have to somehow equip our children with the means to cope with what is difficult, rather than just take that right out of their path.  How many days does anyone wake up with nothing to do and nowhere to go?  It’s not often I go to work and have nothing to do.  There are plenty of days that some stressful situation or uncomfortable discussion presents itself for which I need to know how to navigate. 

I recognize the need for balance.  Even though the documentary highlighted individuals who are stressed to the max because of school and because of organized or school-sanctioned sports activities, it is not representative of my kids (at least not now, though my oldest has only just started high school).  Rather than do away with homework and scheduled activity, it’s time for the parents to take charge and know when their kids have had enough – and that is difficult because you can’t always rely on kids to tell you they’ve had enough.

Whatever your point of view on this, I encourage you to see the documentary!

Race to Nowhere

May 13, 2011

Notes to self:

Clean underwear  – check!

Groceries done – check!

Cooler packed – check!

Wine packed  – check!

Running gear – check!

Spa wear – check!

Laundry done – check!

Cell phone – check!

Cell phone charger – check!

Gas topped up – check!

Coffee for the road – check!

Map – check!

Hotel  phone number for hubby – check!

Reading book – check!

Tabloid magazines – check!

Extra food in frig for kids – check!

Extra food in pantry for kids – check!

Alert neighbours of my absence – check!

Number for pizza delivery – check!

Emergency procedures reviewed with family – check!

Summary list of kids’ activities – check!

School homework overview – check!

Sunglasses – check!

Sun roof open – check!

Open road? Check!

Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss.

Love you!

See you Sunday!


About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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