read more: Boston Herald

It’s March — the time of year when hockey moms across the commonwealth (indeed, across much of North America) start to feel bitter. Not just bitter cold. Bitter, as in tired and a little resentful.

By now, the kids have been playing hockey for six months. And the season that started the first week of September still isn’t over for another several weeks.

For half a year, we’ve been setting our alarms for as early as 4:30 a.m. to get our kids on the ice for 6 a.m. games in Malden or Marlboro. It’s often dark when we get to our first rink of the day, and it is dark when we leave the last.

Like the old Dunkin’ Donuts mascot “Fred the Baker,” we rise dutifully before dawn, staggering down the stairs, muttering “Time to Make the Donuts” before pulling on North Face hats over unbrushed hair and heading out to warm up the car.

The car. More like a gas-guzzling tank, really — because no self-respecting hockey mom would buy a vehicle that fits fewer than three kids and their hockey bags or one without the 4-wheel drive necessary to get the kids to the rink through sleet and snow.

For parents of more than one hockey player, “divide and conquer” is the rule. Often entire weekends go by where husbands and wives talk only by cell phone to find out the score and how the team played.

But like New Englanders who make a pastime of complaining about the weather, hockey parents complain, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why? Because our kids love it, and we enjoy watching them play as much as we love the life lessons hockey teaches.

Like many youth sports, hockey teaches teamwork, sportsmanship and perseverance.

But hockey also toughens kids up and encourages self-reliance and resilience.

In hockey, 8-year-olds routinely carry equipment bags larger than most of their friends and get dressed by themselves in locker rooms without any parents.

Whether because of the early hours, demanding schedule or the nature of the sport itself, there are no dabblers in youth hockey. This unique commitment creates a bond among teammates — a camaraderie cemented by time in the locker room with nary a grownup in sight and by weekend tournaments in places like Rochester, Lake Placid or Waterville Valley.

In turn, these relationships instill hockey players with a quiet confidence that comes from knowing they have friends and teammates outside of the socially complicated world of school.

Most importantly, all those long car rides give us parents time to find out what’s really going on in the lives of our middle schoolers and to impart those few words of wisdom to a captive audience.

And so, despite our complaining in March, when we’re standing on the sidelines of a rainy soccer field in May, most hockey moms will speak wistfully of the climate-controlled hockey rink. (It’s cold, but it’s consistent — and we know how to dress for it.) In May we will miss the sport that starts on time and ends on time; we will miss the long drives that give us time to connect with our kids one-on-one; and we will miss our friendships with moms from other towns whom we see only seasonally.

So this weekend, when that alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., I’ll remind myself what we love about this sport, and I’ll say out loud, “Time to make the donuts!”