My seven-year-old daughter played in her very first out-of-town tournament this past weekend. It was a big moment for me: a small part of me felt like I finally “arrived” as one of the millions of North American parents who every year pile their kids and their big stinky bags of hockey gear into a minivan and hit the highway to cheer them on in a chilly rink and remind them not to press all the buttons in the hotel elevator.
Except that I drive a Civic, her gear fits into a small backpack, and she’s a curler.
My daughter caught the curling bug last year, thanks to a friend and parent of two girls. Her oldest was in her second year in the sport at the Little Rocks level (in our parts, it’s for ages 5 to 12) and we were invited to watch. Then my girl was invited by one of the coaches to head down to ice level and give throwing a rock a try.
That was it.
In my view, one of the greatest internal battles we struggle with as parents is wondering if we are steering our kids in the right direction. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure except your offspring’s future is at stake. If we encourage her to get into soccer, will she have missed out on becoming the world class equestrian that, deep within her soul, she really is and we completely destroyed her chances at fame and fortune? If we keep the boy out of hockey, will he get arrested in our basement at the age of 21 because he hacked into the Pentagon’s mainframe?
And then sometimes you have to let your fears go, live in the moment, and listen to your kid.
We put our eldest son through two years of baseball, a summer off (I shocked one parent with that admission: “You’re not putting him in anything?”) and then two years of soccer. Hockey just wasn’t going to happen – at the time, we were a one-vehicle family and there was no way we could make those 6am practices. He’d start out interested, but four weeks in he would lose interest in most aspects of the game. It took us four summers and several hundred dollars to figure out that my boy didn’t have a competitive bone in his body and what he really loved were activities that challenged his own personal capabilities: biking, swimming, skateboarding. Especially skateboarding.
Back to my daughter: we didn’t push her towards any sport in a hurry, but curling was the first sport she expressed an interest in. For that, I couldn’t be happier. Hockey may rule in these parts, and sometimes it feels like the be-all, end-all in the city where I live. Anyone who knows me knows I have a tendency to buck what’s conventionally popular, so here’s why I love that this is my kid’s choice:
It’s inexpensive. Depending on where you live in Canada, curling for this age group is relatively cheap. It’s about $100 for us this winter, from late October to mid-March. I didn’t have to pay for a slider (we tape the kids’ indoor sneakers), the rink supplies brooms, and I didn’t need to spend on extra gear thanks to a local sponsor supplying hoodies and Ice Halos (foam strips that wrap around the kids’ heads to help prevent concussions in the event of a slip on the ice.) For families that may have trouble with membership fees, there are programs out there to lend a hand (Canadian Tire’s Jump Start is one.) The costs climb a bit higher when you choose to travel for funspiels, but there are car pools and relatives with beds (my dad, this weekend) and hotels that offer discounts for these annual events.
It’s relatively safe. Ice can pose a issue, no question. But compared with other sports where speed or force is a factor, I seem to worry less about the potential hazards of curling. This is now the moment where someone in the comments is going to tell me about the time they got a broom in the eye or some miscellaneous cavity, or dropped a rock on their foot, or hit their head on the trophy cabinet. But that last one happened because you had too many Schooners in the lounge and doesn’t count.
It’s for every body type. It doesn’t matter whether you are tiny for your age like my daughter or you have a stocky build. What matters is that you can throw a rock down a sheet of ice and sweep like there’s no tomorrow. And point – that thing that skips do.
In our league, boys and girls play together. I’m not sure if this is the same across North America, but we have a mixed league. It just so happened that my daughter was on an all-girls team this weekend, but her coach was male. She receives instruction and encouragement from both men and women coaches at her weekly classes. Everybody is equal in our league, with the only distinction based on experience.
I like hanging out with curling people. This weekend’s funspiel allowed me to meet parents from various corners of my province, and they were nice people. No one criticized the coaching or openly hoped a kid would mess up a shot (not to say that there aren’t jerk parents in curling, I just haven’t met them yet.) In fact, the only complaint was how cold the observatory was Sunday morning (you gotta love those old curling barns!) Within my daughter’s club, I’ve been able to get to know her teammates’ parents better. I spent the better part of one Saturday making ham and cheese sandwiches and serving up chili for out-of-town guests at our own funspiel. I know the proprietor by name and where she keeps the vacuum in case the snacks wind up crumbled to the floor. Best of all, I get to spend precious time with the friend I mentioned near the beginning of this post, and see her superhero side working miracles, organizing team photos and wrangling sponsorships while keeping an eye on her two kids on the ice as well as how other kids are doing. And now and again, we get a quiet moment so I can show her how to cast on with two needles. I didn’t get to do any of this on the soccer field.
It’s intrinsically Canadian. Cold sheets of ice, dusty plaques on the wall, corn brooms, the iconic blue and red rings, coolers with not a craft beer to be found. Curling clubs host wedding receptions and book sales and are often a hub of activity for small rural communities. There’s no elitism to be found in these buildings, and yet Canada has produced some of the finest curlers on the planet. Hockey seems to have been taken over by the world, but we still own curling.
Surprisingly, there aren’t nearly enough songs about curling. But I really like this one:
My kid is having fun with it. I snuggled with her at bedtime after her first curling session back in the fall. She sighed “Mom, I wish I was going curling tomorrow.” And that’s when I knew I chose her adventure wisely. She points it out when she sees curling on TV. She is engaged in learning how to improve her throws and slides. She jumps up and down excitedly when a teammate gets a rock in the house. She loves that she now owns *two* curling medals from funspiels.
I have no expectations of my daughter becoming a Jennifer Jones (I’d settle for Heather Nedohin) but as long as she is excited to get into the car every Sunday afternoon, she has this family’s complete support. And hopefully she sticks with it a while, because I love being a curling mom!