This is the sign that hung in my son’s room last week on the morning of what was supposed to be his big return to playing ice hockey (after a long shut-down of all winter sports due to COVID-19). To say he was excited about getting back on the ice is an understatement. He was quite-literally counting down the days. The last thing he said to me the night before the return to hockey was, “I am so excited for hockey tomorrow, mom!”
And he needs to play.
He needs the exercise and the social interaction with teammates; he needs the structure of a busy routine and the lessons that come with good, healthy, competition. He needs the motivation from a coach that just isn’t the same as motivation from a mother or a teacher and he needs the joys of a win and the soul-crushing defeat of a loss. He needs to get on the ice and be slower than others sometimes so that he learns to work harder and he needs to be faster than everyone else every-now-and-then so he can learn that hard work pays off and is always worth the pain and discomfort that greatness requires. He needs to complain about refs after games, so I can teach him that bad calls are part of the sport and out of his control. He needs to get mad at #11 on the other team for illegally checking him so he can learn the difference between playing physical and playing dirty. He needs sports and all the valuable lessons that they teach when he simply thinks he is showing up and having fun.
He bounced out of bed overcome with excitement for the day ahead on this morning and he changed his sign to read “Happy Hockey.” He sang a little song (that he made up) about hockey as he got ready in the morning as his sisters and I secretly giggled at his excitement. It was a good day. It was a day we waited for (sometimes patiently and sometimes impatiently) and it was a day we just weren’t sure would ever arrive — because Covid has a way of cancelling just about everything. Off he went to school with the biggest smile I had seen in a long time.
And then the phone rang.
“Emmet is now in quarantine.” I was confused and caught off guard and my head was spinning with questions that didn’t make any sense at all — not even to me. As it turns out, Emmet had been in class with someone who tested positive for COVID and… I’m sorry not sorry, but my first and only thought was, “What about hockey?” Maybe I should have been concerned about his health and the health of others. Maybe I should have been concerned about what this meant for work and who was going to stay home with him and will we get him tested before bringing him back to school. But, no, those thoughts didn’t occur to me. I couldn’t get over the fact that Emmet was going to miss hockey for two more weeks—again! Totally unexpected. Totally out of our control. And oh-so-totally the epitome of pandemic life—disappointment.
I worry about the subconscious lessons our children are learning through this pandemic: rely on nothing, nothing is ever as it seems, don’t get too excited about anything because pretty much everything gets cancelled — sometimes even at the very last minute. Kids are supposed to be able to trust school and sports and schedules and their parents. They are supposed to know that these things are reliable, consistent, trustworthy and dependable — but they aren’t anymore and they haven’t been for an entire year.
So, what happens, now? Will Emmet hold back his excitement the next time or will he tread all-too-cautiously with his emotions in hopes of protecting himself? What can I do as a mother to help him through this time, which is lasting much longer than anyone anticipated? What is the solution? What is next?
There are no answers.
This is just one, small, not-the-end-of-the-world experience that our kids are facing and one that isn’t discussed enough. Our kids have been taught for one year to expect the worst; to never get too excited; that the very things they should rely on more than anything in the world can no longer be relied on, and this scares me. I worry about their little hearts and their little minds and their great big futures; I worry about their mental health — now and down the road. And I worry that I, as a mother, am not doing enough.
So on that day, when I picked Emmet up from school and he was scared and confused, I was there staring into his teary, blue eyes the minute it clicked his brain — but what about hockey tonight, mom?
You will play again in two weeks, Emmet. I am sure it will go by in a flash, I lied. Lucky for me, he’s counting down the days again and he’s equally excited and he sure isn’t expecting a last-minute cancel. But me? Well, I am not so sure…