Perhaps the subtitle of this blog should be ‘Lane talks about sisterhood until you can’t stand it anymore.’ Because here I am again.
Our particular lifestyle leads to a certain kind of isolation. We move. A lot. We stay in touch with our friends, but we can’t take them with us. Which means every season we find ourselves together with a new group of people, and those people (no matter who they are) are the most viable candidates for any hope you have at a social life. For North American hockey families who live overseas, particularly in countries where English isn’t the language, the group of other players and their families is even more important.
The ‘imports’ on the team are sort of thrown together, in new situations far away from home with little to no access to the comfort foods to which you’ve become accustomed. Most of us are in this hockey life by choice. There are some amazing benefits. The travel. The adventure. Supporting a partner as they live their dream. The flexibility. The excitement.
But like any choice in life, this particular path has it’s rocky points. Uncertainty. Homesickness. Instability. Lonliness. Watching your partner struggle with the inevitable transition out of this lifestyle. Flying coach. Flying coach for 25 hours.
One of the best antidotes to all of those hardships is the sisterhood of other women who are living this same life. Who understand the ups and downs. Who feel both joy and pain as one season turns into another. Who give up so much willingly and accept all the unknown openly.
Dave is my co-pilot on this journey, I have his back, he has mine. But he doesn’t always get it. Because while we share many struggles specific to hockey life, he can’t understand what it’s like to play the supporting role. He doesn’t know what it’s like to watch him have to negotiate for his own worth each year. He hasn’t had to put his career on hold and say goodbye to his friends to follow my dreams (yet). And so for those things, I turn to my sisters in hockeydom for camaraderie. And complaining. Camaraderie and complaining in an alternating pattern.
The ladies of this sisterhood often refer to themselves as “hockey wives”. They name their blogs using this term, make cute play-off t-shirts with it emblazoned on the back , create support group on Facebook with this label. And as much as I love the idea of embracing our shared experience, I have a very hard time sharing the affection for this term.
“Hockey wife” isn’t an identity I readily use to describe myself. It rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know of any other professions, besides other sports or the military, where people commonly identify themselves as a group and with a title that only describes their spouses profession. And perhaps this strikes me as particularly unfair because professional hockey remains a men-only domain. So even if the defining-yourself-by-your-partner bit didn’t feel odd, the fact that there are no hockey husbands rustles my feminist feathers. It’s hetero-normative and patriarchal and…you don’t really want me to start in on this rant, do you?
When I feel myself bristling at this term, I ask myself why I let it upset me. My answer goes something like: I am not Dave. I am not defined by Dave. Even more than that, I am not defined by Dave’s profession. I can say that all day long and while it is essentially true, it’s also not true. In this particular profession, because of the way you have to let it encompass your whole life, I am defined by it. We have to move to where Dave gets a contract. I have to base my work on the fact that our life is mobile. Dave gets time off every year of course, but it isn’t flexible. All our holidays, our down time, our family visits revolve around his schedule. So even though my resistance to this term on existential grounds are logical, they aren’t really entirely accurate.
If I dig a little deeper, I can admit that there is some part of me that scoffs at the “hockey wife” label because of preconceptions held by our society about spouses of professional athletes and my own internalized stereotypes. There is sort of this image of a blonde piece of arm candy. A decoration for the arm of a minor-pro gladiator who cares more about the designer label of purse than…anything else? Maybe someone who is too eager to accept the term hockey wife and turn her identity over to her man. Despite the fact that I’m not blonde or arm candy and my purse is a backpack full of diapers and loose raisins, I somehow feel fear of this stereotype being applied to me. Or associated with my hockey-life girlfriends. So in other words: I’m delusional.
The real reason I am a ridiculous lunatic to even worry about the ‘athlete’s wife’ stereotype is because I am one. And I know them. Lots of them. And none of them fit the bill. Ok, wait, maybe 1% of them do. But the women I have met in the last 11 years are EVERY kind of woman. They are lawyers and dentists and mothers and sisters and activists and hair stylists and teachers and vegans and triathletes. There are writers and artists and scientists. Some of them love hockey. Some of them play hockey. Some of
us them couldn’t care less about the game and a few probably cannot even stand up on skates.
These women do amazing things in support of their partners. They put their careers and dreams on hold and move to the ends of the earth. They put their careers and dreams first and maintain long distance relationships with the men they love. They give birth far from home where no one speaks their language. They give birth at home while their partner is oceans away. They drag their children all over the world on airplanes with no legroom. They put having children on hold.
Hockey wives are just women. Girlfriends, fiancees, wives, partners who have one thing in common. We’ve all joined in to support a man (who also, I should mention, very rarely fit the stereotypes assigned to them) in whatever way works for our family.
And thank goodness they have. Because the years I’ve spent have been wildly inconsistent. Three continents and four countries and eight teams. My career has started and paused and stopped and changed. I became a mother once. Then again. And along the way I leaned on them. Leaned into them. Ashley and Jami and Shannon. Sherry and Hannah. Hilary and Michi and Eileen. Jenn and Elise and Susanne. Whitney and Jenna. Sachiko and Yukina and Hiroko. Jinny and Katie and Anna and Shelby. Women with whom I have so much or very little in common. Women who are kindred spirits and women who I probably would never have had a decent conversation with if we hadn’t been thrown into the same situation for 8 months of intensive getting-to-know-you.
Some for friendships that help me up during the season but faded away by summer. Some for bonds that I will cherish and keep for years. A lifetime. I reject the label, but I embrace the sisterhood.