Harris Rooney accompanied his ten year old son Franklin to the Blue County Skating Arena in Greenville for his early Saturday morning hockey practices. His Ex, Joyce, had no interest in the activity so it gave Harris extra time to spend with his son at practices and games, even on non-visiting weekends of the four month season.
"Hey, Caden," Franklin said, greeting his new friend who had joined the Mini-Giants team this season.
"Hey, Franklin," Caden replied, getting ready to skate onto the ice in his full hockey gear.
"This is my Dad," Franklin said, gesturing toward Harris who stood not far from the boards layered in three different sweaters and sweatshirts underneath his heavy winter coat even though it was only early November.
"This is my Mom," Caden said, gesturing to a short woman with long black hair.
Franklin barely acknowledged the mom as he joined his friend on the ice but Harris made a point of saying hello to the woman who nodded in reply and went into the much warmer lobby where she set up her laptop on the counter and watched the practice through the large windows.
Harris thought it would be chicken shit of him to escape to the warmth so he stood with the other tough guy Dads watching their sons (and a few daughters) running drills on the ice.
Franklin was big enough to be a pretty good defenseman and Harris could see that Caden was fast enough to be a speedy winger. Both boys could skate and Harris was glad that Franklin had made friends with the new kid.
Franklin had mentioned a new player at the season's first practice the weekend before although Harris didn't remember seeing him or his mom but there were plenty of people coming and going between ice times and it was easy to lose track of folks.
Franklin enjoyed hockey and Harris was willing to indulge the weird hours, expenses, and cold rink time to let the kid have his satisfaction. Joyce was supportive of Franklin's interest but she wasn't keen on the rough and sometimes dangerous sport which is why she avoided practices as much as possible. She showed up at some of the games (sometimes with her boyfriend Matt) and that was good enough for Franklin.
The following week, Harris once again escorted Franklin in the arena where they once again saw Caden dressed and ready to go onto the ice, only this time he was with a different woman – much taller than last week's mom, with frizzed out curly reddish brown hair.
"Remember, keep your skates tight, your gloves dry, and your mouth guard in your mouth," she ordered.
"Okay, Mom," Caden groaned.
"Let's go," an eager Franklin said, pushing his friend out onto the ice.
"Have fun, boys!" The woman yelled after them.
"Hi," Harris said, offering his hand. "I'm Harris Rooney, Franklin's Dad."
"Canopy Jones, Caden's mom," the lady said cheerfully, accepting his hand in a shake.
"Canopy Jones?" Harris grinned. "That's an interesting name."
"Isn't it?" She laughed, remaining at the boards and watching the practice through the glass.
"So, I met the other mom last week," Harris said. "Is that your ex's new wife?"
"No, she's my wife," Canopy replied without looking at him. "Alice."
Harris felt like a total idiot, of course. How foolish of him to assume.
Canopy glanced at him and grinned. "Do we need to send you to Inclusion Diversity Sensitivity Training?"
"No," Harris said lamely.
"Don't worry about it," Canopy said lightly. "It's a common but annoying mistake."
"It's unintended bias," Harris replied.
"That's true," Canopy said with appreciation. "Sounds like you have some awareness training under your belt. Where do you work?"
"I'm head of Billing at Blue County Mental Health Association," he said.
"Most social agencies are pretty progressive with this stuff," Canopy remarked.
"Yeah," Harris agreed. He gave her a glance. "Where do you work?"
"I'm a nurse at Blue County Medical," she replied. "Alice landed a job as an executive at Aztec Manufacturing. We moved here from Taunton this summer. I'm glad Caden found a friend in Franklin."
"Me too," Harris replied.
"Alice doesn't approve of Caden playing hockey," Canopy explained. "We reached consensus that I'd be the hockey mom unless I'm working."
"My ex's not a big fan either," Harris remarked. "She thinks he'll get hurt."
"Alice thinks he should be more involved in the arts," Canopy said. "Theater. Music. Writing. That sort of stuff."
"Is Caden interested in that?" Harris asked.
"Ah-ha, you get it!" Canopy replied with a smile. "Do we force the kid to do something he's not interested in doing or do we let him do something he's interested in?"
"Can I take a chance at being insensitive again by saying you're the bio mom, aren't you?" Harris said.
Canopy beamed and Harris knew he was correct in his second assumption.
"Is Caden's Dad around?" He asked.
"He's back in Taunton," Canopy said. "He was never really involved anyway."
"Caden seems to be doing well," Harris observed.
"God, I hope so," Canopy said, letting out a heavy breath as they stood against the boards watching the practice. "He likes his new school so that takes a lot of pressure off."
Canopy spent the rest of the practice yelling out positive reinforcements through the glass to Caden. Harris admired her spunk and spirit and he could tell she was an involved and engaged Mom. He wondered if he should mention Alice and her laptop on the other side of the window but decided it wasn't his place to say anything.
The buzzer went off signifying the end of the ice time and as the kids came off the ice Harris dug his business card out of his wallet and handed it to Canopy.
"Franklin lives with his mother but I have full visitation rights" he explained. "If you ever need anything, or want to get the boys together away from here, or any of that stuff, give me a call or text."
"Sure, great, thanks," Canopy said with a smile, slipping the card into her pocket. "I appreciate that."
Harris was surprised at how quickly time passed on this Saturday morning. He had forgotten how cold he often felt standing in the rink because he had been so engaged in his conversation and interaction with Canopy. It was a refreshing feeling to connect with another parent, given that he had been on auto-pilot since the divorce.
The two parents helped their kids out of their helmets, pads, uniforms and other accessories in the warm lobby, making sure all their belonging made it safely to their hockey bags for the next time.
The kids said so long and Canopy gave Harris a grin.
"See ya, Mr. Sensitivity," she said lightly as she led Caden out of the arena.
Harris laughed in response as he watched her go.
"I like that mom better than the other mom," Franklin remarked.
"Me too," Harris replied without even thinking about it.