A lifetime ago, my husband and I played roller hockey. It started with a handful of people playing pick-up in a converted tennis court in a city park. It grew into a league of four teams that played two seasons a year, and eventually even involved us playing a season or two for the local university.
I wasn’t good and I certainly make no claim to have been, but it was fun and good exercise. Very early on, I learned the value of a face mask (I was one of the few who were already wearing a helmet) when I collided with a co-worker who wore thick glasses to protect his eyes. Those thick glasses were briefly smashed between our faces before I hit the ground hard.
As the only woman on the court, I felt the urgent need to get up quickly so as not to look weak and unable to take a collision. I quickly rolled onto my knees and opened my eyes as I prepared to push myself to standing. That’s when I noticed the blood gushing from my face and thought uh-oh. I stayed put with my head down so the blood poured straight to the court instead of down my clothes.
Someone eventually gave me a dirty T-shirt to press against my forehead and then people helped me strip off my skates after guiding me to a bench to sit down. Then my husband, very carefully avoiding the I told you so that had to be in his head (we had argued about the need for face masks just that afternoon), drove the co-worker and me to the emergency room.
He got 8 stitches. I got 11 – straight through my right eyebrow. Since he arrived to work before me the next morning, the crowd eagerly awaited my arrival. Ah, yes… those were the days.
Pregnancy and hockey do not mix well, so my career, such as it was, ended a couple of years later with the Fall 1999 season. The summer of 2000, about 6 or 7 months pregnant with Jane, I briefly donned skates and wobbled unsteadily around the rink, taking a shot – and scoring – on one of my fellow goalies. That was my last time to wear skates and hold a stick. Motherhood took over from there.
Until last night.
One of the men from those days was looking for a way to get himself back in shape. And looking for a way for his son to play hockey without having to travel to a major town. He’s starting up a league and holding pick-up games in the mean time.
He’s been encouraging my husband to join him and he finally did last week. I went too because Hal wanted to see what it was all about. That set a series of events into motion where we dug out our gear, found some cheap gear for the boys at a thrift shop, and took them skating a couple of times before they headed off to summer camp and grandparents’ houses. Jane declined to participate.
Last night, with all the children gone, I joined my husband at the rink once again, this time dragging my dilapidated and broken bag behind me. When I told the ticket man that we were paying for two people, he looked shocked. “You are going to go out there and hit?!” he asked.
“I’m going to give it a go,” I responded, not bothering to mention that checking is usually avoided in recreational play. At forty years old and after a fifteen year break, I wondered a bit if I was crazy.
I had a blast.
A serious blast.
I felt so alive skating back and forth, even if a bit unsteady. It was a thrill to hold the stick and control the ball or puck (we had both out there). There were three young boys too and we worked with them on their skills. I was exhausted and exhilarated.
At one point, as I sat on the bench, panting for breath, a very young, small girl walked up. She indicated to her mother that she wanted to go out on the rink. Her mother told her no. One of the men pointed out that I was skating.
“Yes,” her mother said, “She’s already told me that there is a girl out there. But she can’t play – she’s a girly girl through and through. The first time she fell down, she’d cry.”
“The first time those boys fall down, they cry too,” I commented. And it was true. Tears had been shed by at least one boy already. I wondered briefly if girly girls are girly girls because they are or because their mothers insist they are. Because that’s what they want. This girl certainly appeared interested in joining the game.
The girl, of course, was not dressed appropriately for playing hockey. In my mind, she wasn’t dressed appropriately at all, wearing just sandals, short shorts, and a sports bra-like top. But she was obviously interested in what was going on on the rink.
I died a little bit inside when she reiterated her desire to go out there and her mother murmured, “No, honey. Those boys would hurt you.”
The woman, I knew, wouldn’t have said that if the girl had been a boy. The girl’s seven year old brother, after all, was out there right then. All the boys were heavily padded and flopping down constantly. None could stay on their feet for long nor move particularly fast. No one was going to be hurting anyone.
But this girl was already learning her proper place in the world – on the sidelines unless it involved dance or cheer. A hockey rink is no place for a lady. With a sigh of regret, I slapped my helmet back on my head and returned to the action.
I should have said something. I shouldn’t have worried about meddling with this woman’s child-rearing and her narrow view of the world. I should have turned to the little girl and said, “Yes, you might get hurt. But it’s not the boys that will hurt you. It just happens when you do something worth doing. You have to get up and keep going. You can do it if you want to.”