Ready or not, winter is coming. I am not ready and probably never will be. I don’t relish in double-digit snowfall occurrences. I’ve never been downhill skiing, and to my ears, the words “below zero” are complete filth.
    But, like it or not, I was born in Wisconsin. I could change that location if I chose, but I’m not any bigger on drastic life changes than I am on winter, so I choose to remain in the frozen tundra and tough it out. Please note, toughing it out doesn’t exempt me from complaining, even though it does no good.
    The beginning of November used to mark a change in the year’s activities for me. I transitioned from eight months of cow shows into four months of hockey mom mode. My son played hockey for 15 years, which might seem ironic considering my aversion to all things winter.
    Like most things I get involved in, I dive in head first and become immersed. Hockey was no different. Austin came home from pre-school one day with a note and said, “Mommy, this says I can play hockey!” The note was advertising the Learn to Skate program put on by the park and recreation department and the local youth hockey association. I had no clue what I was getting in to when I went to the office and paid the $25 fee with the idea in mind that the amount was pretty cheap for him to learn to ice skate (something I never learned and never will).
    And, so it began. We went to the hockey rink to get his equipment the week before the program began. That night, I sat there wondering if I’d ever remember what got strapped on where. That year, we spent an hour every Sunday and Wednesday night from October to February at the rink. I learned a lot, like how tight skates have to be tied, skate guards on ice are no better than blades on concrete, how to tape a hockey stick and that some children (mine) consider plastic mouth guards edible. One of the greatest components to that program was the coaching. The on-ice coaches were members of our high school’s co-op hockey team, the Vipers. Those young men were wonderful coaches, and each played a great role in teaching my son about a whole lot more than skating or hockey.
    Anyone who has ever entered the world of youth hockey learns quickly about tournaments. Not just traveling to them, but hosting them. Hosting tournaments is a necessary evil for many youth hockey associations to create revenue for keeping the lights on and the ice in. When Austin was still in Learn to Skate, I ran into one of the more seasoned hockey moms at the grocery store one Friday night. She casually asked if I was busy the next day, and if not they could use extra workers at the rink for the tournament that weekend.
    I arrived at the rink the next morning, figuring I’d end up selling hot chocolate in the concession stand. Instead, I was greeted with the question, “Do you know how to run the clock?” My answer was no, but I ended up running the clock anyway. Running the clock is more technical than flipping a switch when a whistle blows. You have to know the referee signals – off-sides, icing and penalties, power plays – and run time. There is always the pressure of forgetting to flip the switch and the mob of parents screaming “Clock!”
    Besides becoming one of those rare people who could run the clock, I became one of the stalwart parents who were at the rink at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to get ready to open up for the tournament, and my child became a rink rat. The natural evolution was getting drafted onto the youth hockey board. I served six years as the program coordinator, in charge of recruiting not only new players, but new families. I also spent four years as the secretary for our Wisconsin-Minnesota Hockey League.
    After probably thousands of hours logged, I morphed from being a youth hockey mom into being a high school hockey mom. Then I had four short years left in my hockey mom career. Eventually the final season came with his senior year. He was the team captain, which made me the parent representative, serving as a liaison between the parents and the coaching staff.
    When the clock ran down to zero on the final playoff game that ended Austin’s youth hockey career, I thought I would be sadder than I actually was. I had feared I would have a huge void in my life with nothing to fill the countless hours taken up by hockey games and practices. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my first winter without hockey passed quickly. I never went through any symptoms of withdrawal, and I only attended a couple of our high school’s games.
    I’ve come to realize that an activity like youth hockey is a lot like the dairy industry and agriculture in general. It’s all-consuming, has a lot of nay-sayers, and you certainly aren’t in it for the money or the glamour. Very few kids support their parents by making the NHL, just like very few cows win the big dance for their owners, but it becomes a way of life and embeds deep in your soul. And I’m pretty certain that those involved in either pursuit, like me, learn they would rather live their lives that way, than not.