That West Roxbury's Keenan family was able to include me in a 6 p.m. dinner right at the start of the New Year made for a minor miracle in the first place. The family often has to set on dinners as early as 3 p.m. or as late as 9 p.m. And that all five members of the family were able to make it to the table for that 6 o'clock dinner? Also remarkable.
The Keenan family are like many hockey families in West Roxbury. Like many in the Parkway, like families in the Greater Boston Area, and like many families in the northern United States at-large. Full-attendance family dinners at family dinner time just don't happen often. It's not because of overworked parents (though in many cases they are) or because of the effects of television on the family. The Keenans have two kids involved in Parkway Youth Hockey, and the hour they spent eating dinner at home illustrates the massive commitments these families take on to get to practices and games and color in the rest of their lives in between, and how much they love to do so.
That 6 p.m. dinner, in fact, came on the heels of middle sibling Michaela's practice, and was jammed right in before that of the youngest, Patrick. Dinner-time discussion centered on hockey (Patrick, 11, and Michaela, 14, debated who has a harder shot) and rarely went in a different direction, and in the background played the NHL's Winter Classic on television. The Keenans, through and through, are a youth hockey family.
The love starts with the parents. Their father, Jim, coaches Patrick's team and assists with Michaela's. Their mother, Mary, takes part in a carpool to help get Michaela to and from school and the rink. Both work significant hours, Mary as a nurse and Jim in construction.
"You just have to take it one day at a time," Jim explained as he pored over Michaela's high school and PYH schedules.
Michaela goes to school at Mt. Alvernia and plays for a varsity team comprised of students from her school, Mt. St. Joseph's, and Matignon High. Her team practices in Charlestown on weekdays when they don't have games. Her Parkway team meets once a week and also generally plays a weekend game. Totaling her time on ice and her time on the road getting -- in different orders, depending on the day -- from school to rink to home to rink to home, Michaela puts in the orders of a full-time job playing hockey, bracketing her academic commitments. Her duffle bag, which comes with her from place to place, is about the same size as her brother. When asked if she felt exhausted, her answer was telling in its expression: she slowly nodded her head yes.
To be sure, Michaela loves the game of hockey. If that much weren't evident by her commitment to it, it was at dinner by her remarks while keeping an eye on the game between the Rangers and Flyers, which she and her brother sat facing.
Patrick, however, seems a bit less run-down and, as a result, a bit more enthusiastic. When Jim checked an email and saw his son may actually have two games that weekend, Patrick's reaction was to pump his fist and say slowly, as young boys do, "Yessss." His bedroom may as well be a wing in the NHL Hall of Fame, with Bruins garb and NHL wallpaper dressing its every corner. His December birthday falls right in the heart of hockey season. His ideal celebration? The in West Roxbury - a day-long street hockey tournament with all of his friends. "We tell them on the invitation it's from noon until four," said Mary. "But they usually get dropped off around 10 and stay until six."
Uniquely positioned in the family structure is Megan Keenan, who has never played the game. Megan, 17, is the oldest and also attends Mt. Alvernia. A softball player, she is a tremendous resource to the family during hockey season, particularly when she helps the family out by cooking dinner. And despite her seeming bemusement at the intensity level the hockey lifestyle requires, it gives her a certain amout of wisdom about how the game works. She's the one to settle arguments between Patrick and Michaela about who's better in which facet of the game. It serves her well socially, she said, when she can explain to friends what's happening in Bruins games.
When they get a second away from the game, Jim and Mary seek recreational fun: they are both on adult hockey teams, despite neither having played while growing up. "I love it," said Mary. "I never understood why everyone who played hockey was so crazy about it until I played it."
As a coach for both teams, things never slow down for Jim. As he scrolled along through his Blackberry emails from parents who might be late to practice... or who might not make it... or who might make it - but might be late - but might not make it, he said, "It just keeps coming. You can't look away."
The coaching role would have seemed totally foreign to Jim when Patrick first started skating at 3-years-old (Michaela followed shortly after, when she saw how much Patrick enjoyed it). "When you first arrive at the rink, there's kind of an intimidation factor," he said. "You see these [coaches] in their fancy jackets. Eventually, you figure it out and they ask you to help out. Then they say, 'Hey, maybe you should coach a team.'...Before you know it, you're the guy with the fancy jacket asking newer parents to help out when only five or six years ago you were in that spot."
As they ate, Jim remembered that the kids had dentist appointments that Thursday.
"We have to cancel," he said. "That's hockey."
"Are you sure?" Mary said. "I think it's next Thursday."
"I think it's this Thursday," said Jim.
"I put it on the fridge," Mary said. "It's next Thursday. I think we're okay."
There, eeking out space amongst hockey schedules, was the dentist's note, saying the appointment was the next week, at a time when there would be no hockey, and that it therefore would not have to be canceled.