Practicing our forward transitions

A month or so ago, Ian declared he wanted to play hockey this year. Ok, dude, sure.

Hockey is not cheap. There's the cost of the season itself, the jerseys and socks, and all the other equipment. Then there are time costs. Practice is every Tuesday and Wednesday and games are every weekend. I'm tired just typing that out. But hockey is important to our family.

Ian and Rich - December 2012. This was Rich’s first time on the ice after the first surgery six weeks prior.

Ian and Rich - December 2012. This was Rich’s first time on the ice after the first surgery six weeks prior.

Ian played beginner hockey a long time ago. November of 2014, to be precise. That's when things starting going downhill for us all as a family. That first season was fine, but Ian was five years old. All of his equipment was put away after that season. We all were trying to survive, and not all of us did.

January 2015 after hockey practice

January 2015 after hockey practice

Ian and I went back to Iceland for a fresh season last Monday. It was a whole other world. As an 8-year-old, Ian is a "squirt", meaning he plays in an 8-10 league. He's taller than all of them by quite a bit, but they all skate much better. Much. Better.

The other kids are faster, more agile, can skate backward and stop on a dime with ease. Ian is not that good. He could have been that good, but we were busy the last few years.

The first practice day. Ian specifically requested an orange jersey “like Daddy”.

The first practice day. Ian specifically requested an orange jersey “like Daddy”.

I sat on the tall bar stools at the glass and watched my giant child repeatedly fall with each drill he attempted. The first practice was an hour, and I cried the entire hour.

I didn't cry because my kid is not an advanced ice skater. I cried for everything that could have been. That should have been. I cried for the smell of chemical ice and body odor that hangs in the air at Iceland. If some couples have a song or a destination, Rich and I had that smell. It felt so awful to be there without Rich.

I was convinced that Ian was going to walk off the ice any minute. That he would come out in tears and tell me it was too hard and he didn't want to do it. Crying in the lobby was certainly too hard for me, and I didn't want to do it.

I talked to a few of the other parents. They were polite and didn't mention the shine in my eyes. They noted how tall Ian is. I told them that I'm 6' tall and his dad was 6'5". I'm not sure they caught the change in tense.

There were two little goalies out on the ice. They were in Rich's crease, making all the same moves he used to make. My heart wanted to burst with happiness for them learning to glove save and the grief of never seeing Rich in his pads again.

Ian walked off the ice after his first hour delighted. He was soaked in sweat, just like Rich would be. He was grinning just like Rich would. He had on an orange jersey even. As we drove home, I told Ian how incredibly proud I am of him. I reminded him that his dad and Uncle Lee didn't skate until they were teenagers.

After the second practice, the coach pulled me aside and said Ian couldn't play this season until he can skate better. He was worried Ian would be crushed so wanted to tell me first. I told him Ian just wants ice time. We're in this for the long haul. 

Vickie is the manager of Iceland. I adore her. She recognized Ian and me from the memorial skate we had for Rich (Vickie gave us the rink for free that afternoon). She said she would transition it all for us and we’d be fine. Ian would play on a team in no time.

Ian asked me to read him the brochure for Learn to Skate and Hockey Initiation before bed several times last week. He made a list of the items he needs to pack for skate lessons. He is utterly undaunted.

Ian’s list for hockey

Ian’s list for hockey

Vickie refunded our season fees and gave me credits towards the Learn to Skate program. I decided to join Ian on the ice. I can skate decently, but I'm not great.

Our first lesson was last night. Ian had a blast. I can already see a marked improvement after just one hour. And I learned how to do turns. I'm in an adult class with two ladies in figure skates. We make quite the team. I'm noticeably better after just an hour too. There were no tears last night either. We both had so much fun.

Ian’s first official skating lesson

Ian’s first official skating lesson

Vickie said maybe I'll want to play goal like Rich did. Maybe.

I should note that while Rich can't be there with us, we're not alone. I have a new boyfriend named Brian. He’s in my phone as “Code Monkey” because Senior Developer Design Engineer Monkey is too awkward to say. He supported me over the phone while I cried in the rink. He came to Ian's second hockey practice to support us. He made Ian's lunch while I was upstairs getting Ian settled for bed. He met us for dinner after our first skating lesson. He can't skate and it doesn't matter. He’s very much on our team.

Code Monkey

Code Monkey

Cutting it close

At one point in an argument with Rich, I blurted out, "I spend an awful lot of energy making sure I don't ever do anything wrong because I can't handle it if I do." 

This was pre-parenthood, pre-cancer. It was just us arguing in the kitchen about something I don't even remember. It stuck in my skull. It was a truism of who I was at the time. 

I came to realize that it's exhausting trying never to do anything wrong. It's like trying to hold your breath indefinitely. Even champion breath holders have to come up for air eventually. What misery to experience every trip underwater as just a delay to eventual failure. 

As luck/genetics would have it, I became the parent of a sensitive child who also loathes ever doing anything wrong. And yet, he's only 8. 

He re-heated his sub in the microwave without putting a plate under it. An hour later I discovered melted cheese all over the inside of the microwave. I asked him about it. He started this elaborate explanation that I had wrapped his sub in foil and he knew that shouldn't go in the microwave. He just didn't think about what the sandwich would do once it got warm. He started to get spun up. "I'm only 8! I don't know everything!"

"Dude. It's cool. I'm not mad. I'm just telling you to use a plate next time. Good thinking about the foil. That would have spooked us both. You didn't realize about the cheese. Now you know. Crisis averted." 

I'm teaching Ian that the mistake is not as relevant as what he does about it. Does he own it? Does he try to blame others? Does he justify himself? Does he avoid apologizing and hope it will all just blow over? Does he apologize so much that it's a burden on the injured party? 

We had a tough week leading up to school starting. It was the end of summer, and we were just all up in each other's spaces. Then there was that whole "almost losing each other on the river" thing. By Labor Day I was ready to tag out of parenting. 

During that same ultimate week of summer, mere hours after the cheese incident, I screwed up. I had been hounding Ian to let me trim the back and sides of his hair. He finally consented, and we went upstairs to the bathroom. I pulled out the #2 guard, I set the #2 guard on the counter, and then proceeded to trim a 4" strip of his head with NO GUARD ON THE CLIPPERS. 

I was so upset. It was a preventable mistake. It is not fixable. You can't glue hair back on your kid's head. I could feel all of those reactions. Wanting to blame Ian for distracting me. Wanting to justify the super short hair as a planned action. I was sick to my stomach. I wanted something to take away the pain of my mistake. 

I put the clippers down. I leaned on the vanity in the bathroom. I said something along the lines of, "I can't believe I did that. It's all messed up now. Nothing can fix it ever." Ian consoled me. "It's ok, Mommy. Just make the rest of it the right length, and I'll cover up this part until it grows out. Please don't cry." 

Brings new meaning to the term comb over

Brings new meaning to the term comb over

Forgiveness and understanding are powerful stuff. My punk kid who had been driving me crazy all week instantly made me feel better. I didn't need to lash out at him or the dog or Mercury in retrograde to feel better. I could shrug and keep going. 

Granted, I don't think Ian understands how long it takes hair to grow back in since he asked two days later if his square was still there. But it's already growing in and blending. This too shall pass. Look at us all livin' and shit. 

Adventure Day Two

At Ian’s wedding reception, he will say, “Hey, Mom, remember that time we almost died but didn’t? Thanks for that.”

Today was supposed to be a bit of an adventure and boy howdy, did it deliver. We decided to go canoeing down the James River from the Alpine landing back to Wilderness Canoe Company where we parked and rented a canoe.


Ian was already nervous and excited before we even got in the van to ferry us to Alpine. He told me (and our driver) that he had farted out his nervousness just before getting in the van so he was ok.

We got in the canoe and took off just fine. Ian took his shoes off and I kicked my flip flops behind me. I tied the cooler to the canoe so it wouldn’t slosh around. We were ready.

The first two rapids were easy. But the third one we caught sideways and ended up capsizing the canoe. In the rapids.

My daddy taught us never to panic. I’m not sure how you teach someone not to panic but I need to sign Ian up for those classes. Everything and everyone went everywhere. Paddles. Shoes. The canoe. People. Water bottles. It was awful.

I had to keep the canoe from leaving us but I also had to save my kid and myself. While barefoot on hard rocks.

I grabbed Ian and dragged him into the shallows. We precariously walked to the edge. One of his shoes floated away and I couldn’t get to it. We almost lost one of the paddles too but Ian grabbed it.

Then I had to save the canoe. I untied the cooler and took it to the shore. It had my phone and our car keys and my blood meter. It was important.


By the time I got back to the canoe, it was perpendicular to the rapids and full to the brim with water. I dragged it as far as I could while Ian screamed bloody murder from the edge. “PLEASE MOMMY! JUST LEAVE THE CANOE! I’M SO SCARED!”

I’m forever grateful I upgraded to a waterproof iPhone X after our Jamaican water adventure in December. I walked to the edge and called for help.

I ended up texting with the canoe folks. I cannot say enough great things about them. We were in a very inaccessible part of the river. There were hardly any other boaters out. Our rescuer drove to the closest drop in upstream and canoed to us.

It took both him and me to get the canoe loose. And then he followed behind us the rest of the way in case we had trouble again.

Sure enough, another mile or so later, we got stuck on a rock. I yelled to Ian, “Don’t paddle! Don’t move!” He started to whimper again and desperately wanted me to wait for our rescuer to catch up. Our rescuer got within shouting distance and told me I’d have to get out and move the canoe then get back in. In the rapids. With a weeping 8 year old.

Back in the saddle, minus one shoe

Back in the saddle, minus one shoe

We did it. Ian stayed still. I rearranged the canoe. I got back in (it took me two tries and when I fell on the first try, Ian was not happy). We made it to the creek where they drop off tubers right as the tubing bus was arriving. They loaded our canoe and the rescue canoe on the trailer. We road back to our car.

Our hero, Dick Pickle

Our hero, Dick Pickle

Our rescuer’s name is Dick Pickle. Yes, really. I love him. He was totally calm, patient, and capable. He even told jokes to Ian on the ride back. “Hey Ian. You know how I can tell the trains been through not long ago? I can see its tracks!”

The good people at Wilderness Canoe Company, LLC are getting a hell of a thank you card. And five star reviews on every platform I can find.

My legs are covered in bruises and scrapes. Dick Pickle even had bacitracin in his bag for me. My feet are bruised from the rocks. I’m emotionally exhausted. My blood meter is waterlogged and probably won’t dry out til morning.

It was clear to me on the river just how much I’m all Ian has. The boy has very tangible fears of losing me forever. And I think he saw his nightmare coming true as I floated away from him on the James river. We talked about how it’s hard for both of us to only have one parent (and one strong/calm canoe wrestler) in our family.

Ian improved over the day. We went from “I don’t ever want to do this ever again! I want to leave right now!” to “I really really didn’t like that and it scared me and I wish I could stop thinking about the James river.” We even joked we would look for his shoe in our part of the river tomorrow once we got home.

But good grief. #notforwusses