Chirping … and Skating Away

Like many sports, hockey has a wonderful, descriptive language all its own.

Players refer to each other solely by nicknames, with all long names shortened and all short ones lengthened so that Kovalchuk becomes “Kovy” and Ott becomes “Ottsy”. A goal can be a “snip,” a “snipe,” or a “tuck-in.” A shot that goes just under the crossbar is “top shelf” (where “Mama hides the cookie jar”). Jerseys aren’t jerseys but rather “sweaters,” a nod to the time when they actually were sweaters to protect against the outdoor cold. Games aren’t played in arenas but rather “barns.” Players don’t get changed in the locker room, but the “dressing room,” or just “the room” for short.

If you rub your sweaty, stinky glove in an opponent’s face, that’s a “face wash,” but be careful, if the referee calls you for a penalty you might have to sit in the “sin bin” (penalty box). A really talented player might use his “twig” (hockey stick) to “dangle” (stick-handle around) a helpless defender and “light the lamp” (score a goal).

I could go on, but I should probably get to the point of the post. Of all the colorful language used in hockey, I think my favorite phrase is “chirp.” Hockey players spend plenty of time talking trash to one another, only it’s not called talking trash. It’s called “chirping.”

A particularly good example of “chirping” courtesy of Scott Hartnell.

Ryan has a bit of an issue with chirping. Not in his hockey games, but around the house.

Any time Riley argues with us, or is upset about something, Ryan will needlessly join the conversation, which has the effect of dropping a lit match on gasoline-soaked tinder. Going back to hockey terminology, he’s acting as a “pest” or an “agitator,” a player whose job is to get under the skin of the opposition. An ideal pest will annoy an opponent to the point of drawing a reaction, and then skate away as if nothing had happened. If he really does his job well, he’ll earn his team a power play when the opponent is penalized for retaliation.

Some coaches love having a pest on the roster, but we really don’t need one chirping his sister in our household.


Sean Avery (right), perfect hockey pest, elicits the desired reaction from Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (left).

Yesterday, during dinner, Riley wasn’t happy with her portion. She felt like Ryan was unfairly getting more — never mind that he’s nearly two years older, considerably larger and always eats more. She wasn’t happy. She complained about it. She got overly upset when the sum of our reaction was “relax.”

It all would have ended there without incident, except that Ryan turned pest. From the basement, where he had gone to watch hockey (the main TV being occupied by March Madness — the only time of year another sport trumps hockey in our household) Ryan began taunting his sister. He mocked how upset she was and called her a crybaby. Predictably, Riley reacted by yelling at Ryan and suddenly it. Was. On.

I didn’t handle it particularly well. Veronica had taken the time to make a lovely meal and was hurrying to finish before her favorite basketball team came on. Riley’s complaints were ridiculous (we told her she could have more if she finished, knowing she wouldn’t), but would have passed if not for Ryan chirping her from the basement. I angrily called him upstairs.

This was the second near meltdown in an hour. Ryan had been in his room, playing with the Hockey Guys. He was re-enacting moments from some game or another and providing play-by-play, at the top of his lungs. We have a small house. There is literally no place you can go to escape the noise. Volume control is one of Ryan’s main issues, and we try to work with him patiently when this goes on. But patience has its limits, and the cacophony of noise is a severe test.

In that hour before dinner I had gone into his room four times in the span of about 10 minutes to ask him to lower the volume. I had asked nicely, not getting angry or upset or raising my voice. Ryan hates when we “speak sharply” to him (his words). It’s a running debate in our household, with both kids, that goes something like this: if you hate being spoken to sharply, why do you always ignore us when we ask nicely?

In this instance I was doing better than usual at remaining patient, but after the fourth trip upstairs, I followed through on what I had told him on visit three and said he had to stop playing Hockey Guys. I still had not raised my voice or spoken sharply. Ryan looked at me, drew in a deep breath and screamed something like “I’m angry!” He was telling me he was about to lose his cool.

We have worked extensively with him on recognizing the moments you feel like you are losing control of your emotions and how important it is to make good decisions in those moments. That if he really loses it, a little problem can become a big problem. A screaming, cursing, door-slamming, throwing-things fit will bring some sort of consequence, either a limit of computer time or some other restriction. We talk about “letting little problems be little problems.”

It doesn’t always work. But in this instance he stopped himself after yelling just a few words and calmed down. I told him how proud I was.

Fast-forward an hour, and the same child is pouring gasoline on the fire of his sister’s impending meltdown. We were about to get things calmed down when I asked Ryan to apologize to Riley. She’s been through this routine many, many times. She asked him if he meant it.

Maybe it was because he wanted to annoy her. Maybe it was because he has difficulty lying. But when he answered “not really,” and the situation began to bubble over again, I started to lose my cool, my patience having been exhausted during those four trips to his room. I began to yell. I wanted to know why he thought it was a good idea to get involved. Why he would insert himself into his sister’s issue when he had been happily eating dinner and watching hockey? I asked if he enjoyed being “spoken to sharply” instead of being left alone to do what he wanted to do.

Typically, when I lose my temper, all hell breaks lose. My yelling begets even louder yelling from Ryan and a full-scale meltdown. It’s a pretty good reminder that my yelling is not a good idea. But I have a temper that I don’t always control. When patience runs out, I sometimes falter.

For the second time in an hour, Ryan kept his calm, and his calm spilled over to me. The yelling stopped and within a few minutes I realized how great it had been that Ryan had made good decisions when he could have otherwise made the situation much worse.

I made sure to praise Ryan for good decision-making in the heat of the moment, not once, but twice. I recognize these as signs of progress.

To return to hockey terms, he was the ultimate pest. He chirped his sister … and skated away. I suppose I was proud.

This is what it must feel like to coach Sean Avery.


8 thoughts on “Chirping … and Skating Away

  1. Love the “pest” term….Tate is definitely the “pest” in our house…although our youngest is a close second. I have a temper, too, and I use “angry voice” more than I should. Love that Ryan was able to maintain his cool…even when you were starting to heat up. Stories like this give me some hope that Tate will some day be able to do the same…


  2. Ok, I’m going home and searching for the nanny cam tonight! You described just about every night in my house: from A’s complaints of not getting enough food, to L pestering his sister (and vice-versa now), to L having no concept of volume control when he speaks and hating when we raise our voice, to having a short fuse. Patience and keeping our cool, yeah we’re all working on that.

    And, why don’t they listen when we ask nicely?!?! I think they’re ‘chirping’ us. Little buggers…

    I’m proud of Ryan for learning how to keep his calm! Definitely progress!! And answering ‘not really’, I’m going with trying to annoy his sister – just a hunch.

    Great post! It’s reassuring to know we’re not alone. Reading it in black and white, I can see that the lessons we try to teach L, we should also be learning ourselves. Hmmmm…

    PS – JUST figured out that if I tell L “Whisper”, he takes it down many decibels. Concrete. Duh.


  3. Love this post! I can see and hear it in my mind. Much of that is just family. Hang in there….it does change. (Notice I didn’t necessarily say better or worse…but it does change.)


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