Sunday, April 22, 2012


I have trouble explaining my love of ice hockey.  People know me as a liberal, feminist, schmaltzy-mom peacenik more likely to take in a wounded sparrow than deliver a elbow to the jaw in the neutral zone that puts some winger in the hospital. 

I understand that’s the reputation hockey has -- one thinks of a hockey player as a goon with no front teeth, and pictures constant game interruptions when players start beating on each other for no reason.  Even worse, you might be familiar with the fact that most of the time a fight starts on the ice, it has been pre-negotiated.

“You’re an overrated @(*!.”
“Oh yeah?  Well, you wanna go?”
“Sure. I’ll go.  At the face-off, #&*!”

And when the puck is dropped, the players turn to each other, drop the gloves, and the refs stand watching, punches flying, until they finally step in to break it up -- either because someone is going to get hurt or it’s about to get boring.

Sure enough, the fans go nuts for a fight.  People sitting by the glass start pounding on it, as if they could vicariously cold-cock the other team’s player.  The decibel level in the arena skyrockets.  This reaction holds true for the calculated fights like the one I dialogued above.  It’s spectacularly escalated in a situation where a spontaneous, unscripted scrum breaks out, especially one that involves a star player or a situation in which the goalie needs to be protected, like a queen bee.  Sometimes there have been multiple insults -- a cross-check here, a face-wash there -- between two players that have built up over a game or a series and finally they erupt into a heartfelt brawl.  Those kinds of fights usually draw in other players like the gravity field of an asteroid,  until the whole thing is one big, spinning pile of space junk, and even the refs get folded into the mess until it finally freezes up.  TV time-out.

The reaction of the crowd to an intense fight is as contagious as an emotion can be.  I’ve sat by the glass and pounded on it; I’ve been in arenas, especially during the playoffs, and found myself screaming for some guy’s head.  Over the course of a very long season, in which a team finds itself repeatedly playing division rivals, a really genuine loathing of individual players, or even whole teams, has plenty of time to germinate.  By the time the season progresses to multiple seven-game series, in which that hated rival can knock you out of the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup, even the forty-something mom in orthopedic athletic shoes is dying for the opportunity to smash in Scotty Hartnell’s face.

For some people, I’m sure it’s just bloodlust.  For me, it’s maternal instinct.   I love ice hockey the most, I think, because the players are completely different than those in other professional sports.  They are humble boys from small towns all over the frozen parts who go back home and eat Cheerios out of the Stanley Cup when they’re lucky enough to win it.  And yet they’re incredible athletes.  They play more than 80 games a season and perform amazing feats, all while on skates.  A goalie stopping a shot rifled from the blue line must be performing the fastest move in all of sports -- there must be statistics on that.  They call each other nicknames:  Staalsy, Geno, Flower, The Kid.  And they call each other “boys.”  They’re my boys, too -- I feel motherly toward all of them.  That’s why I wince when I see a fight, but it’s also why I shout at the TV.  (“They can’t hear you, mommy,” the Little One says.)  I guess what it boils down to is that I am a Mama Grizzly and a hockey mom. 

This year my team lost on their way to the Cup.  It’s a long time until next season.  Right now, I’m thinking of my boys, wondering whether they’re okay after a painful loss.  I wish I could have gone out there and blocked a shot myself.  They don’t need me, but I wish they did.

Monday, April 16, 2012



The crowd overflowed to the glass front of Wendy's across the street. The people, all white, wore t-shirts with slogans or carried posterboard signs or, in one case, a plastic fetus, two feet long, stapled to the top of a balsa wood stick. A few of the protesters wore rosary beads, and a man at the front wore black clergy robes, but the majority were what she would have profiled as southern, evangelical, and clueless. She wondered if they'd been bussed into the city. Stacy felt her arms tighten around the elbows of the two women standing next to her, interlocked. The three were part of a human fence separating the clinic from the surging protesters, who had been enticed there by a recent talk radio diatribe. The clinic door opened, and a young black woman emerged, birth control prescription in hand, stoic in the midst of the noisy fracas. The protesters shouted, cried and cursed at her; a young woman wearing a fluorescent vest wrapped an arm around her shoulder and began hustling her to the gate. They would take her all the way to the bus if need be.


The light wind threatened to hurry the ceremony. Wisps of fine powder occasionally escaped as the saffron-robed monk made his way down the line, smiling as he dispensed a measure of colored sand into each newspaper cone. A line of twenty-five or thirty people of a type -- NPR listeners, organic gardeners, Unitarians -- stood awkwardly along the deserted edge of the Schuylkill River. Those who had received their sand squinted out over the water, or stared down into the tinted grains; those whose cones were still empty watched the monk -- his slippered feet on the green grass, or the glossy wooden beads on his wrist, or his wrinkled scalp and warm, dark, brown eyes. The lama, the teacher, waited at the top of the line, always peaceful, neutral, patient. Fifteen minutes prior, his team had scooped up the colored sand comprising a huge mandala, eight feet square, multiple three-dimensional layers of tiny images and laden symbols that had taken weeks to assemble on the museum's Asian gallery floor. In a moment, the lama would call for the assemblage to pour the sand into the river -- fleet as the water, impermanent as emotion.

What Could Go Wrong?

Hiring an au pair is a little like dating -- you do it online, everyone puts his or her best foot forward, and a lot of it boils down to chemistry. It's a little like hiring someone at work, of course, because a person's experience and references must be checked and considered, and there are a lot of paperwork and rules. It's a little like selling your house, because you necessarily describe your life, your family, and indeed your house, including her future bedroom-and-bath, in the sunniest way possible without pretending there are no flaws. And you post pictures.

And hiring an au pair is a little bit like conceiving a kid just so you can harvest cells to save your other kid (you've heard of this, right?). It's like that because when she arrives, an au pair is like another daughter, someone who solves many of your problems, creates some emotional ripples of her own, someone your family ends up caring about very much -- yet everyone is aware she wouldn't be there at all if it weren't for the precious child who came before. She is de facto a second-class citizen.

For a mom like me who works at home most of the time, the au pair takes on an added dimension: we hang out together. I am here, she is here -- at least, a lot of the time. We will be like mom/daughter, friend/friend, employer/employee. What could go wrong?

Right now we're floating through the best part of the whole process: the time after we and the au pair have made a match, but before the au pair has been with us for more than 3 months or so, when the newness wears off. Our new au pair, S., will join us in June, arriving from Germany to New York, spending three days in training and then hopping on a plane to her new bed-and-bath in Clarksburg. We are all in love right now. We chat on the email, we gush a bit on Skype - we are all legitimately very excited (except maybe Little One*, who remains fairly sure that the arrival of someone to help watch her for a year means that Mommy and Daddy are leaving for a year-long trip without her). It is fun.

It will stay fun -- in fact, if our experience this time is as positive as last time (and my gut says it will be), we will really benefit from S.'s part in our lives, beyond more date nights and fewer panicky rush-hours home to get the girl before school lets out. She will be a young woman who learns from us, who makes us feel like we have wisdom to offer; she will teach us about what our daughters will be like when they are 23, and about how Europeans think differently from Americans. We will eat and laugh and travel together. We will learn so much about ourselves and our lives as we translate them for her. Most rewarding of all, we will find in S., I can already tell, another person who deeply loves our kids. That creates a bond that transcends almost anything. Love my kids, I love you.

*I know "Little One" is somewhat annoying. I don't like using the kids' names in posts. She is the littlest, so Little One is her name for now.