Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Strong

Other than the first year of my life being spent in Illinois and a year in South Carolina, I have lived in Massachusetts my whole life.  I have lived in small towns, and I have lived in a city, but Boston was never more than 90 minutes from my home.  To me, Boston meant a place to go when you wanted a good concert, a good sporting event, an exciting museum or aquarium or an airport to take you to fabulous vacation spots.  It was also a place of culture, of fancy restaurants and of some great people-watching. Never have I thought of it as a scary spot...until Monday.

During one of our state's biggest annual celebrations, and maybe THE biggest, there were two explosions.  As runners completed the 26-mile Boston marathon, some of them were not greeted by the smiling faces of their loved ones at the finish line but instead were confronted with a smoky barrier and police officers rerouting them and preventing them from going to the family members they knew were on the other side of that smoke.  A co-worker of my friend Maureen was at the Boston Marathon finish line with her two daughters waiting with excitement, anticipation and pride for her husband to cross that line and complete his first run of the historic event.  Instead, she soon found herself scared to death, grabbing her children in fear, disbelief and shock as the explosions went off, and they were shuffled away from the finish line.  They passed people lying on the ground, some bloody, some badly injured and everyone in absolute chaos.  These sights are what she and her daughters see even today, days later, every time they close their eyes.  Her husband writes about the experience in his blog.

Yesterday morning on the way to work, Maureen and I were talking about how scary that experience was for Michelle and her family. Our talk led to how sad it is that a fun family event was now marred by fear and destruction and how so many people and children are going to be afraid to go to a crowded place or a big event anymore. We then talked about how scary it is to even be parents in this world and how overprotective we seem at times when our children want to sleep over a new friend's house or want to ride their bikes off the street, and how we try not to push our fears and distrust in this world onto our children because there are still good people and we don't want them to be afraid to live.

Yesterday afternoon that fear was tested. Through Facebook, I saw a newspaper status yesterday that indicated there was a missing 10 year old boy in Clinton. As I read on, I learned that boy was Maureen's son who was visiting family there on his school vacation.  I cannot begin to describe the fear that engulfed me.  I tried to call Maureen but got her voice mail.  After leaving her a hysterical message, I paced back and forth, "What do I do?  Do I drive to Clinton?  Can I make the 20 minute drive?", all while my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was overcome with hysterical sobbing.  I got a hold of Maureen's niece who assured me that Ross had been found and was safe.  As the afternoon progressed, I learned that he had been going for a run with his aunt, and after getting a head start, he took a wrong turn. Not knowing which way to go, he kept walking, hoping to see a familiar site.  Finally he came to an area that he knew was a way to get to another aunt's house and began walking there, only to find upon his arrival that they weren't home.  His parents, the local police, the state police, family and friends combed the neighborhood for hours before they decided to check familiar places where he might have gone, and there they found him resting outside his aunt's house, sunburned, thirsty and tired but SAFE.  He had traveled 12 miles trying to find his way, and I thank God that he had the strength and the determination to persevere until he found his way to safety and to be reunited with his family.  Plain and simply put, he is Boston Strong.

Terrifying events this week, and I pray that those involved in the horrific events at the Boston Marathon will also find their peace and their safe haven in the arms of those they love.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cyclone Hockey

Ten years ago after a school floor hockey game, a mother of one of Jake's classmates asked me if he would be interested in playing on a travel tournament style dek hockey team.  We got more details and headed to Leominster that weekend to try it out.  Jake had been playing ice hockey for 3 years at that point, but we had never heard of dek hockey or knew that it was actually played as a regular sport, like baseball or football, with a season of its own, never mind tournaments.  That day opened our eyes not only to dek hockey or ball hockey or street hockey or whatever you want to call it, but that day we were introduced to Cyclones Hockey, which is a whole other kind of hockey.

There were never any tryouts for the Cyclones team, you were just kind of chosen and asked to play on the team, and your invitation usually came out of the blue and at the last minute, kind of on the down low, like on Sesame Street when the guy in the trenchcoat meets you in the alley, opens his trenchcoat, covered with letters and says "Wanna buy a C?'  That was the invitation you got to be on the Cyclones, and you said "yes" or "no". There was no coach calling you begging you to play, you got the invitation, and you either committed or you didn't.

Our first year was kind of a blur.  The coaches were crazy to me, a kind of crazy that I grew to love and appreciate, but a kind of crazy that I hadn't seen before in an organized sport.  We traveled locally and started the season with a New Jersey tournament and ended with Niagara Falls.  We would show up for the first game, usually only getting the game time the day before, and never knowing how many other kids would be there.  I'm not even sure if the coaches knew.  I still remember driving to New Jersey still with that wide-eyed kind of innocence where I didn't know how the whole thing worked yet, but the coach said to go and told me what hotel to book, and I just packed up the kids and went.  The first games were always the toughest because we never had the full team, and then other kids would arrive or fill in from different Cyclone levels.  The weekends were fun and competitive and a great bonding time for the kids and parents, as tournaments often are.

On our first trip to Niagara Falls, I was just leaving customs when my phone rang. It was the coach.  "Where are you?" he asked.  I told him I had just left customs.  He said, "Get Jake over here."  I asked why since our game was hours away, and he said, "I need him for the Cadets game."  I said, "Jake is a first year Beaver."  Jeff answered, "I know that.  I didn't ask how old he was.  I asked where you were, ok."  Ok, and off we went to the rink, and my 10 yr old played in the 95 degree temperature with the five 13-15 yr olds who were there, and he scored the only goal that game.

I think that was when I realized that being a Cyclone was more than being a member of a team.  It was a way of life.  You gave it your all and left it all on the dek.  Whether the scoreboard or the bruises said you won or lost, you gave it your all, and that made it ok, no matter which side of the score or the penalty box you were on.  I never really heard the coaches spout off any profound words of wisdom or quote Vince Lombardi or Wayne Gretsky, but they believed in the abilities, skills and dedication of their players, and they didn't have to say much.  I can remember when we first started, and I would say to Jake, "Jeff should pronounce his words more clearly.  Every time he says 'Nice shift', I think he's saying 'Nice shit', and Jake said he was.  Jeff liked the stick-handling that his players possessed, but to a point because if you did it enough that the ball was taken away from you, or you couldn't make your pass or shot, you would hear, "All right, your mother took the picture, pass or shoot."  Penalties weren't discussed, and sometimes there was a nod as if these not so mild-mannered coaches understood the heat of the moment and the call that followed.  And yes just as there were games that we played with 5 or 6 players, there were also games where we only had 5 or 6 players left because the others had been ejected or were sitting in the box.

We learned that the Hudson tournament was always very hot and always under the sun. We learned that Jersey was a great way to kick off the season and the spring and to pack shorts even though it was only early April because chances are you'd need them.  We learned which Leominster refs to yell at, and which teams were good competition or physical players.  We learned to stay away from the Falls district in Niagara Falls to save money on hotels, where the good go-carts were, and lots of free activities to fill up your time between games.  We learned that the Niagara players, while talented, also play very physical and can be dirty at times.  I remember one particular game where numerous fights broke out, where one of our players, tired of being pushed around and hacked in the ankles by his Niagara opponent, finally picked the Canadien up and bodyslammed him better than any wrestler in the WWE.  Fun times!

Now Nathan and Allie play dek hockey at the level at which Jake started, and though they aren't Cyclones, I hope they get some of that Cyclone pride and determination in them, and that they always leave it all out there.  And though he's now Jeff the Ref, and not Jeff the Coach, our family will always have fond memories of our Cyclone days and the game that we have grown to love.