Two Conversations

Over the past few days, I have had two interesting conversations - one with each son - that have tugged on my heart strings in vastly different, yet eerily congruent, ways.

The first conversation was about hockey. I am a huge hockey fan; I grew up playing the game on ponds for fun and in rinks for the competition. I played all year long, following up the winter season with spring and summer leagues, hockey camps, and roller blading. We played street hockey on my block a few times a week, and when we didn't have organized games I would shoot tennis balls and hockey pucks in my driveway with whomever was available. If no one was available, I would do it alone. If it was too wet or cold, I'd do it in the basement. If, for some strange reason, I couldn't play hockey I would read about it instead - I accumulated a nice library of over 100 hockey books that I knew inside out. And, of course, I could watch games on TV whenever I wanted - Bruins, Rangers, Islanders (I hated the Islanders), and whatever I could find on network TV back in the late 70s before cable. When my competitive playing days were over, I coached and refereed for several years just to stay close to the action.

When Kai was about 18 months old, I got him a little stick and we would play street hockey in our driveway; I did the same for Kade. When we owned a house in TN we would sometimes play driveway hockey with some neighbors, and I would shoot a few tennis balls every day just to stay limbered up. About 5 years ago, the boys started to get more interested in the game and decided that they would like to take skating lessons. It was a gigantic fail, mostly because I was such an ass about it. They would go on the ice and struggle, and I would try to teach them how to skate like the wind, regardless of how unsure, frightened, uncomfortable, or apathetic they felt. It lasted three sessions, and then we had to quit for the sake of our sanity. They weren't ready, and I wasn't ready for them to not be ready.

About three months ago, Kade decided that he wanted to start playing, and we enrolled him in a Learn to Play program sponsored by our local rink. In this case, "local" is a bit of a misnomer as the rink is in Eugene, an hour's drive from us. Each Friday afternoon, we pack up the car and head down for a 30-minute practice session. His decision to play left me absolutely thrilled, partly because I knew he would have fun, and partly because it was nice to have something that we enjoyed together to talk about and work on. He has taken to it very well, and enjoys it thoroughly. But as he gets better, the coaches want to move him up to a league, which would be great. I knew he wanted to get more time on the ice, and figured he would be thrilled at the chance to move up. But playing in a league means three practices a week, for one hour each. In Eugene. One hour drive to get there. 90 minutes to be there. One hour home. Three. Days. A. Week.

Personally, I would definitely make that drive three times a week if I weren't working. But at this point, with two kids, sleep schedules being what they are, me in a new job, and only one car, there was really no way to make it work. What a hand-wringer . . . something I KNEW he wanted that I really had to say NO to. I knew he would be angry, sad, betrayed . . . and I had to plan the timing and content of that conversation very carefully. Mustering up all of my compassion and courage, I sat him down to have "the talk".

And he was fine. He didn't want to make the trip three days a week any more than we did. He didn't ask to move closer to the rink, he didn't curse me for going back to work, he didn't cry or seem upset in the least. That freaked me out. Here was something I wanted so badly for him and he was able to brush it off with relative ease. That was not only surprising, it actually stung a bit. Hockey is my thing, my passion, my game . . . if he was okay leaving it behind, even if only for the spring and summer, what did that mean for me? I felt like someone I love rejected something I love . . . and that hurt. But more on that in a bit.

The second conversation was about the Army. Both Ginger and I served in the Army for a time; I actually spent almost eight years on active duty, bowing out as a Staff Sergeant. We sometimes talk about our experiences, and the boys have lately been interested in learning marching and parade commands. Kai has been playing Halo and watching some war movies of late, and he is getting curious about military ranks and structure. I should have seen this conversation coming, as we've been building up to it for a while. I'm not sure how it started, but he and I ended up spending about an hour reviewing just about everything I know about how the Army is structured and how you get into the Army. We covered organization mission, structure, and size, from fire team up to Corps; Army ranks (enlisted, warrant, and commissioned) and the time it takes to achieve them; duties and responsibiities of enlisted vs. officers; and the various ways of becoming an officer. We laid it all out on the whiteboard, and he asked detailed questions while I did my best to try to hide my distaste for the conversation. Having served in the Army, I see both its good points and its bad points. Frankly speaking, though, I would never want my sons or my daughter to serve, because ultimately they could wind up getting hurt in a variety of physical and emotional ways. I no longer see the glory in it, if that was ever there, but see a lot of hard work, danger, and heartache - all things that I don't wish for my children. But here was Kai, talking about joining the Army and working hard to get ready to join when the time comes. I was surprised, and somewhat freaked out. Here was someone I love embracing something I hate . . . and that hurt. What did that mean for me?

What an interesting pattern, huh? Kade demonstrates less enthusiasm that I would wish for something that excites me, and Kai demonstrates more enthusiasm than I would wish for something that repels me. It made for a lovely little self-pity "where did I go wrong and what about me" party last night as I struggled to get to sleep. But the reality hit me square between the eyes, both in a conversation with Ginger and in finding the time to relax enough to think about it rationally. Ginger said it best: "So what, would you rather have them do everything you want them to do, and then wake up miserable some day in the future, with no tools to help them deal with it? They need to experiment and experience and develop those tools for themselves."

Of course she's right, but sometimes it's hard to keep a healthy perspective. Kai may never join the Army, and Kade may never quit hockey. But it is just as likely that they will both develop their own passions and interests that feed their souls, just like hockey feeds mine. And it is just as likely that they will develop their own ideas about what they do not like, as I don't like the Army. For them to develop their own way of determining "good and bad, right and wrong" is really all I - or any parent, IMHO - can or should ask. A few years ago, I put this thought down on paper as sort of a daily parenting mantra:

"I want you to be happy. I want you to see the world for all it can be. I want you to find the things you love to do and do them as much as you want. I want you to develop your own definition of success, and then pursue it like a dog on a bone. I want you to know that I will support and love you, even if you're down. And I have only one real expectation and hope - that you believe what I just said, and that you call bullshit on me when I deviate."

Looks like I would benefit from reading that more often :-)


  1. nice to read something of yours again....think Im gonna copy that quote and refer to it as well...

  2. Even well-intelligent and attuned parents often allow our agendas to creep into how we advocate for our kids. Thanks for spelling these conversations out!

  3. hoo boy, that's all we can do, and want to do. but dang it's hard when they have their own freakin' opinions!

  4. p.s. i like the birds, according to portlandia all the cool people like birds. see, the same kat is sitting here giving you crap bald man ;)

  5. Hello--I've really enjoyed reading your blog since I found it last year (and heard you speak at LiG). Glad to see you posting and to read you again!

    You mention that you were trying to hide your distaste for the Army conversation--I totally get that. I've also experienced that it's hard but good to be able to share your factual information without having your personal opinions get too much in the way when a kid is really probing into something that you may have a very strong feeling about. I'm wondering whether you ever discuss your negative opinions of the Army with your kids or whether any of that naturally came up while your son was very enthusiastically inquiring about the Army. (Basically, did he already possess that information as a background to your conversation?) Do you get the sense that your son's interest is compelled by a feeling that experiencing the Army or learning all about it would be a way to be closer to you/your experience/body of knowledge (and if so, do you think you would approach that situation differently than if your son just happened to have an interest in something that reflected one of your past interests?)

  6. Kristi - I'm going to violate my "never comment on my own blog" rule because your post really made me think.

    The first part is pretty easy. We do discuss the good and the bad together in our attempt to paint a realistic picture of what it is like. I think that is pretty critical; after all, like most things the Army is neither all bad nor all good. We try not to demonize anything outright, but to give as unbiased a view as possible. Sometimes - especially when our biases are strong - that feels almost impossible!

    You bring up a really interesting point about whether or not their interest is a way to be/feel closer. I am sure that at some level and to some degree you are spot on; I'm also sure that the degree to which they seek affiliation with me varies from topic to topic, but that it may be omnipresent at some level. What an interesting thought - thanks!

  7. I figured you DID discuss the good and bad about your experience I guess I wondered if in trying to hide distaste you also hid the bad and therefore a disproportionate 'sunny' reflection of the topic was perceived...because sometimes a wealth of knowledge on a topic may be perceived as a good thing...which could spur interest in and of itself. Don't know if that makes any sense.

    My analogous situation is that I was good at school--REALLY good--and even then knew that was not necessarily a good thing. So I have this underlying fear that if my unschooled child realizes how big a thing that was in my life and how my friends and relatives judged me as a person based on that success it may increase her interest (trying school out may be something she wants to do at some point and I would support that but I hope to never inspire her to be a 'success at school'!)

    The 'being like mom' issue can raise my guard sometimes--perhaps because I was always trying to seek acceptance I couldn't quite attain from my parents. But even though my daughter and I seem SO similar to myself sometimes, she so clearly has her own sense of herself and her interests that I ultimately don't see her need to 'try on my passions' as the same thing at all. Hopefully because I'm able to provide her with unconditional acceptance for herself ;-)