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Loud cheers erupt from the street below our apartment building. "I guess that means they won," says my son, rolling his eyes.
"I guess so," I say. "Do you think we should look up the score online – you know, so that if your friends start talking about the game at school you'll know what happened?" I'm grasping faintly yet again at an opportunity to interest my 10-year-old in the ultimate Canadian boy pastime.
"No! All that will happen at school is that Michael and Sarah will be upset because they're Boston Bruin fans, and Roberto and Pavel and Konrad and everyone else will be happy because the Canadiens won."
I try again. "Maybe we should watch the highlights of the game? I mean, I'm interested in knowing what everyone's talking about. Hockey isn't so much about the actual game – which I know you don't like – it's about the story of the team and the players. They're like characters in a book. And when you know about hockey you can talk to anyone; cab drivers, bus drivers, people at the grocery store. Your father."
"Except I think it's stupid and I don't want to talk to people about hockey," he retorts.
I could try telling him that sports are a metaphor; I could say a lot of things in response to his comment. But deep down I agree with him. It is absurd to celebrate people who train, to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, not to save the planet from destruction, cure cancer or solve the problem of homelessness, but to chase a piece of rubber.
Still, I want my son to be interested in a sport, not just because of the benefits of exercise, but because sports are a social connective tissue, a thread that links us together and attaches us to a world of heroes who prevail despite adversity. I'm not sure anything else teaches kids this essential trick for survival as well. As a single mother, I also want him to be interested in a team sport so he can share in a part of male culture.
I've tried my best. I bought a Fisher-Price mini basketball net, spent his preschool years tossing a miniature foam football with him. I put him on a soccer team. We took boxing lessons together.
I never wanted to be one of those parents who forced activities on their kids, so as soon as he started complaining too loudly about a sport, I let him stop. Maybe I shouldn't have – but he always seemed to have a valid reason.
Soccer started out well, but by the time he was 7 the kids on his team were bouncing balls off their heads and their crazed parents were screaming instructions from the sidelines. "People are yelling at me," my son said tearfully. I agreed it didn't seem right.
Karate looked like it was going to be a hit until the instructor, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Iron Man, began giving lectures during class. "Jason only eats things he can rip off trees, or out of an animal," my son said with raised eyebrows. I agreed that perhaps Jason was a bit unhinged.
Hockey, Canada's game, drew the deepest critique. After a hockey lesson, my son, who had never been artistically inclined, spent a half-hour drawing a picture – the longest time he'd ever spent holding a coloured pencil. He filled an entire page with rows of stick men connected to each other by arms that were pointing at their heads like guns.
"Wow, what a great picture! Is it about mind control?" I asked, figuring he was depicting a scene from a book or a film. "Sort of," he said. Then added: "This is what hockey feels like."
Though I was thrilled he was finally using the art supplies I'd bought him, the message was clear: He felt hockey was about conformity, and I couldn't argue.
I took up the sports my son discarded. I now box and play soccer and hockey. Typically masculine sports have become part of my new identity as a divorced mom. They make me feel stronger, and I enjoy the camaraderie. I can't help but feel he's missing out.
Walking back from the park one day recently, we elicited the usual curious smiles from passers-by for the reverse stereotype we offered: me, sweaty and red-faced, sporting a pony tail, cleats and soccer uniform; him with a book tucked under his arm.
"How was your game?" he asked.
"To be honest, it wasn't very fun. There was a moment tonight that made me feel angry. I had the ball and a bunch of people were kicking my shins to get it. They were all around me and I felt crowded. I felt like, okay, if you want the ball so badly you can have it. The way people were fighting to get the ball made me dislike the people I was playing with. I sort of lost respect for them."
My son turned to me with an exasperated, you're-an-idiot-mom look and said: "Yeah, that's EXACTLY why I don't like team sports. Can you imagine what kids are like?"
My son is one of the few Montrealers I know who isn't hockey-obsessed. He's fine with standing out in the crowd.
It seems that in my quest to make him like all the other boys, I've helped him develop his self-esteem through sports, too. It just didn't happen the way I expected.
Julie Anne Pattee lives in Montreal.