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My 14-year-old son wants to go to the hockey game tonight, but he has school tomorrow: not just school, but a history exam.
"I already studied for the exam, Mom," he argues. "And realistically, how much studying am I going to get done in the next four hours? If I don't know it now, I never will."
He has a point. Ideally, studying should be happening incrementally over the semester. Ideally, laundry should also end up in the hamper, not the bathroom floor. And ideally, toothpaste should be rinsed from the sink. We cannot always rely on "ideally."
"Should we let him go to the game tonight?" I ask my husband, calling him in the middle of both of our workdays.
"Are we irresponsible parents if we let him go to the game, fully knowing that he has a midterm exam in 14 hours?" he asks.
If we don't let him go, is he going to sulk and refuse to study just to spite us, his caring parents?
Will he become increasingly rebellious, eventually spray-painting My Mom Hates the Habs on the side of a bus shelter?
Will he get arrested for vandalism and hauled into court, where he will cite this very occasion as the rocket that launched his criminal career?
On the other hand, will he spend his study time wisely and, somewhere between the fur traders and the coureurs de bois, realize that we were right?
Will he do exceedingly well on his history exam, win the history prize for his school and go on to write a textbook about the history of hockey in Quebec?
On the third hand (work with me here), if I let him go and he fails the exam, will he learn a valuable lesson about priorities? Will he spread his studying over the whole term next time, complete an extra-credit assignment, and make sure all of his homework is handed in on time?
I get off the phone with my husband and get back on the phone with my son.
"Since when are you so interested in hockey?"
He dropped out of playing hockey three weeks before his seventh birthday. He'd spent many practices making snow angels at centre ice and is still widely recognized around the neighborhood as the kid who lay on the blue line during slapshot drills.
"Mom, going to the hockey game isn't the same as liking hockey," he pleads. "It will be my first time taking the Metro to the game with my friends. I'm excited about being out with everyone, and yeah, I like the hot dogs at the Bell Centre."
When I was in high school, classes emptied out the day of the Expos home opener. It was a given that we would all pile into the Metro, head for the cheap seats at the Big O and cheer on our home team. Our beloved baseball team is no longer, but the commitment Montrealers have for our athletes lives on through Les Canadiens.
I want my Toronto-born son to have some of those kinds of memories, too – of going to games with friends, cheering on our team, and feeling like a part of the "city with a heart."
Living in Montreal and being 14 means you wait for the 7:16 a.m. bus in the pitch black, frozen slush sticking to the cuffs of your school uniform, while you try to remember why wearing boots is so damn uncool. It means not being able to watch The Simpsons free on Hulu and needing a car to get to the Orange Julep.
Maybe we need to balance the cold, harsh Montreal winter with the radiating warmth of a weeknight hockey game. Plus, think how surprised our son will be when we say yes.
Shocking my own parents was easy. All I had to do was bleach my hair platinum blond and dye the ends pink. Now that I'm a parent, there are fewer opportunities to get my audience gasping in surprise. True, my audience is now my children rather than my parents, but still – so much of my monologue is predictable: Put your pants on, take your sister to the park, here's a breath mint.
When my son asked if he could go to the hockey game with his friends, he was no doubt expecting me to say: "Absolutely NOT. You can't go to the hockey game. You HAVE AN EXAM tomorrow."
We have lulled our kids into thinking they can anticipate our every move. They know that they are not allowed to skip school, rob banks or eat in the TV room.
I want to keep them guessing. One of my cheap techniques for throwing them off is to say yes when they are expecting a no; to show them that we, too, can be spontaneous and unpredictable.
We made our son promise to wake up early and study before the exam and then we let him go.
I have no way of knowing whether he will pass the exam. I have no way of knowing whether he has studied enough, whether he will use his pre-exam time in the morning wisely, or whether I have just thrown away a possible history scholar just for the sake of hockey.
I had to take a gamble. And I decided to gamble, as so many have before me, on the Canadiens.
Amy Fish lives in Montreal.