“The more we try to keep up with the Joneses in terms of preparing our little athletes for future success, the less likely we are to leave ourselves time to enjoy the simple pleasures of family life.” – Angie Abdou, in Home Ice.
If hockey parents aren’t shrieking in the stands this winter, it’s because their noses are buried in Home Ice, author Angie Abdou’s latest book. Abdou is the author of six previous books including The Bone Cage (2011) and In Case I Go (2017) and is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.
Do you have to be crazy to spend thousands of dollars, give up all your weekends, and spend eight months of the year shivering in cold arenas drinking crappy coffee? Welcome to the reality of hockey parents.
In Home Ice, Angie Abdou describes a typical season—beginning in August with hockey camp and grinding on for eight months—of Atom hockey. Abdou sits in cold arenas for every practice and every game (well, except that time she snuck out for a beer) and contemplates the trials, the tribulations, and the tears of her nine-year-old son’s hockey career.
There’s friction from the beginning as Abdou and her husband disagree on whether their son, Ollie, should even play hockey. The family spends winter weekends on Fernie, BC’s ski slopes. How would hockey fit? It doesn’t. Differing interests pull Abdou’s family in incompatible directions: one child wants to play hockey, the other wants to ski-race. Abdou’s extraordinarily ordinary family confronts the dilemmas that accompany busy parents with busy kids.
Abdou and her husband settle on a “divide and conquer” strategy. Mom and son hit the arenas each weekend, while Dad and daughter hit the slopes. The upside of this bargain is the strengthening of mom-son and dad-daughter relationships. But fractures appear just about everywhere else. The weight of kids’ hockey tips the balance and puts a strain on everything else: work, leisure, relationships (with spouses, other kids, extended family, etc,) and personal fulfillment. Each season is saturated with tense negotiations of whose interests, whose ambitions, whose opinions, are paramount.
A cleverly-crafted memoir, Home Ice delves into themes both off-ice and on. Abdou describes the competitive and shrieking parents, the bullying coaches, the lurking threat of physical abuse or physical injury, the steep financial investment, and she provides research on how these affect the players
Abdou’s reflections are inward as well as outward. She uses her time driving to and sitting in arenas to contemplate motherhood, her own childhood, her parents, her spouse, her writing career, her life.
That Abdou has poured her soul into this book is evidenced by her simple honesty about her own struggles to be the best parent—the parent who knows where the line is between encouragement and helicopter parenting, and between helping their children find their own passions and moulding children into miniature versions of themselves.
Throughout each hockey season, Abdou is constantly re-evaluating: is this right for Ollie, for the family? Am I getting this parenting thing right?
Abdou has a self-confessed tendency to over-analyze, yet she uses these very analyses as a catalyst to chart the effects hockey has on its pint-sized players and their families. Quoting the latest research, Abdou provides information on the effects of concussion on young players, the creeping elitism inherent in an increasingly expensive sport, the toll youth hockey takes on parents and families.
As the season grinds on, Abdou is unflinchingly honest about the bruising her marriage takes. Couple time gets consumed by the black hole of careers and children’s sporting interests. Communication between her and her husband deteriorates to bickering, icy silences, and petty parting shots (“Fuck you!”, “No, fuck you!”), sometimes followed by block-caps text messages of conciliation.
“I wonder if other families navigate this terrain more gracefully,” Abdou muses. “They must.”
Hockey has become a religion and arenas are its shrines. In Home Ice, though, Abdou questions the tenets of junior hockey. Is the current structure the best for young players, their parents, and the game? Could it be better, kinder, more inclusive? Could it be more fun?
Reading Home Ice for the first time, I find myself compelled to lurk around the local arena and thrust a copy into every hockey parent’s hands. But the appeal of Home Ice goes far beyond the rink. Abdou’s memoir explores universal themes: the challenges of parenting, of relationships, of finding balance. Throughout, Abdou’s penetrating wit provides a humorous foil to the seriousness of the hockey machine.
Home Ice is a sobering and relevant glimpse at what parents go through to give their children opportunities. Far beyond a hockey memoir, Home Ice is about the wrenching decisions parents make in their effort to give their children the best start in life. Most of all, Home Ice is about love: Abdou’s love for her family, love for her children, and Ollie’s love for the game.
Home Ice is published by ECW Press and was released September 4, 2018.