"Mom, I'm tired of Covid," his voice trembled as we sat down for dinner. Unlike his sister, who wears her heart on her sleeve, he's not a child who likes to talk about his feelings. As parents, we have been riding our own emotional rollercoaster as well as those of our children.
Apart from his scientific dreams to see what is on the other side of a black hole, he also wants to be an NHL hockey player, like most boys his age who love the sport. To play in the big leagues, he understands that it takes commitment, dedication and hard work. He now feels as if his dream slips further away with every new restriction. When his favourite team pucks out overtime on our television screen, he's holding onto the trophy he got two years ago at a Hockey Holiday tournament.
Every year I create a wall calendar, capturing the previous year's highlights. This month had a precious photo of his first big game attendance for his birthday, just a month before the lockdown started in 2020. The plan to celebrate every birthday from that day on life derailed.
"Let's make that happen, regardless", my husband suggested. We printed off tickets for the hockey game between The Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames, although not at the arena, in the basement, complete with his sister as a concession stand waitress taking coupons for popcorn and juice. He wholeheartedly appreciated the effort we've put in and enjoyed staying up well past bedtime to hear the final whistle. As a special bonus, his team won, and we all sang Oh Canada, happy that the birthday went so well.
However, a couple of days later, a deeply-felt sadness settled in. He entered the preteen phase. It's fair to expect inner turmoil and frustration surfacing, especially given the new external environment.
My work includes studying human behaviour in-depth and growing up in a household where my mother holds a PhD in Social Work with Play Therapy specialisation. I contacted her. When children are little, toddler aged and slightly above, adults' responsibility is to break children's overwhelming emotions into smaller, more manageable parts.
"Let's talk about the trophy and the message he tries to convey," my mom suggested. She's been on video calls with him since the beginning of the pandemic, having seen all his rollercoaster emotions first hand too. "He wants to stay on top of his game, and because he's not allowed to go outside alone, he feels suppressed. Like he is committed to the dream, dream big with him. Commit to time for practice, and he'll step out of the scarcity mindset into feeling validated and supported all the way.
When we feel trapped or out of control, familiar feelings can seem much more significant than they indeed are. To place him back in the power of his dreams, the first step seems to acknowledge the disparity that he suffered. Covid is unfair, this is an undisputed fact that everyone in the house has to deal with. The easiest solution could have been to suggest shooting some pucks in the driveway, but temperatures dropped below -20 thanks to the polar vortex.
Digging a little deeper into why the sudden flood of emotions, we dissected the events surrounding his fatigue. What did he miss that surrounded hockey apart from being on the ice? Alone time with dad, who also coached the team, driving to and from the arena, talking about music, lego and the latest video game. When he put on his skates, it brought a sense of belonging, enjoying the drills with friends from different neighbourhoods. He craves the focus and intensity of being a valued member of the hockey team and becoming the next famous NHL player.
Hockey also allows friendly competition, to show up and push your own limits. This also caused a significant dynamic shift being away from his peers. Although his little sister stood in for most of the games, it's not remotely the same as having a group of hockey players testing themselves against their own previous records or playing a game against another group of kids.
Disappointment and uncertainty are also part of the new reality. "Do we tell the kids when sports will resume or do we not?" If we tell them there is a possibility that sports will return soon, it places an end date to the lockdown and gives them something to look forward to. However, if those dates are delayed, does it cause more harm than good? This was, and continues to be a life-lesson of flexibility and genuinely taking ownership of our own responses to external events that we have no control over.
Routines create certainty, so with the new information at hand, our family began a new practice. Twice a week, unless it's a massive snowstorm, the boys go outside and play hockey in the driveway. His sister doesn't participate in this activity, allowing some one-on-one dad time. However, she receives the same amount of scheduled time for a structured activity that she enjoys with her dad.
Although it seems like we are in a pandemic double overtime, once we journal every obstacle that causes sorrow and everyone's expectations, the bigger picture seems flexible, bright and accommodating resilience.
By asking for support, allowing everyone to contribute positively to the team and understanding that we are all navigating our own journeys parallel, we can focus our energy to victoriously score one after the other goal.
Keep journaling, keep growing.