To be a role model (ain’t easy)

When I was a kid, and Mom wanted me to behave well with my cousins, she always told me that she counted on my being nice because “you’re their idol”. I’ve never been a troublemaker to begin with, but the flattery worked, too. Whenever dealing with my younger cousins – or young kids in general – I always tried to be on my best behavior.

I wanted to be a good role model.

And I wanted my Mom to be proud. Still do.

These days, I try to be the good role model to the kids I coach, even though I know that I don’t always clear the bar I’ve set for myself. There are days when I don’t want to talk to anybody, days when I get discouraged by the kids’ lack of focus, and days when I’m simply too tired to really be engaged.

Then there are the days when I’ve had a nice dinner with the family and arrive at the rink in a good mood, not stressed, and ready to have fun for an hour. On those days, I have a lot of patience and peace of mind.

Last Thursday was one of those days, so when Darin interrupted me in the middle of a sentence when I was explaining a drill to the girls on Daughter’s ringette team, I just put my arm over his shoulder and told him we’d talk about it later.

“OK,” he said, “but do you know what double irony is?”

The he skated away from me and joined the rest of the team. Now, Darin’s special because he’s not supposed to be there. Ringette is a sport for girls, and girls only, and Darin is a boy. His sisters play on the older girls’ team so he tags along and practices with us because his mother asked the coaches if that was OK and because he likes to play.

So, on Thursdays he shows up and he changes into his hockey gear wherever he can find some space. Sometimes it’s in the locker room corridor, other times in the bathroom, and sometimes he waits until all the girls have got their gear on and then he puts on his in the empty locker room.

Isn’t fun, but he’s never complained. On the contrary, he’s always smiling, and he’s inquisitive and funny. And for some reason, maybe because he’s the only boy in the group – or because he just likes me – he often comes to chat with me about different kinds of things.

During our next break, he came back to me.

“Double irony, you know, it’s like saying, ‘I don’t like socks’, but doing it just straight-faced,” he said.

“All right!” I said, with a chuckle.

“But triple irony? That’s hard,” he said.

After the practice, he carried his hockey bag from one bench next to mine in the other.

“So, triple irony,” he said, with a smile but with no irony in his voice (which may or may not have meant that he was doing it perfectly).

Then he explained to me how they had talked about irony in Swedish class, and we talked about the differences between irony and sarcasm, and about languages and how many languages we two speak. (Six). And he taught me how to say “you’re great” in Kurdish and he counted in Finnish. And Spanish.

It was nice. I felt good.

Yesterday, Son decided to come with me to Daughter’s bandy match. It was early in the morning, too early to be honest, and to make matters worse, what I thought was a 40-minute drive was a 20-minute drive so we arrived there too early. But I had also had a nice cup of coffee on the way, and the kids had had breakfast on the back seat, which gave it a nice feeling of a road trip.

Also, just a week earlier, a father of Daughter’s teammate had told me that his son “really liked” me, so I was feeling good, and, admittedly, a little bit cool as well as I stood outside our locker room, holding the door and welcoming the players. I can’t remember what I said, but I said something like, “ready to go?” to everybody.

As I closed the door, Son jumped out from behind it.

“You know…,” he began, “you’re really cringeworthy when you do that – especially in Swedish.”

I figured that the day I had dreaded had come. That my Swedish kids were ashamed of my Swedish (which is fine, I guess, but far from perfect). But that day is still to come.

“You shouldn’t try to sound so cool, you know. I mean, you’re not the worst, the worst are the old people trying to speak like kids,” Son went on.

“Oh yeah? Anyway, these kids think I’m fun. One of the dads told me so last week.”

“Yeah? Really?”

Son raised an eyebrow and shook his head.

“Anyway, don’t ever say boom,” he said then.

“OK. Any other words I should avoid?”

“Burn, burned, and all variations of them. Shots fired. Dank. Meme. Dank meme. Superdank.”

“That’s quite a list,” I said.

“Oh, I’ll think of more, keep talking.”

Naturally, I replied to that by saying, “boom!” and making a rapper pose.

“Also, no hand signals of any kind,” said Son.

Unable to speak or move, I sat down on a bench next to the locker room door, and pulled out my phone. I went on Twitter and scrolled through my feed.

“Hey, did you see that Mike Myers clip I tweeted?” I asked Son.

“No, I’ve muted you. You tweet so much,” he said, with no trace of irony, single or double, in his voice.

“You’ve muted me? Really?”

“Yeah,” he said, and pulled out his mobile. He was quite for a few seconds as he went through his Twitter.

“No, I was wrong, I hadn’t muted you,” he said, “I just don’t follow you.”

Boom. Zing.

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