Jen Short made me a hockey mom.
|Jen and her team | photo by J. Arnzen|
It was Jen there in locker room #4 with her laptop, not at all bothered that I interrupted a meeting that day I found the rink's open sign lit and came in with questions about getting my kids started in hockey. And boy, did I have questions. She didn't just give me the answers, she helped me do it. She signed us up and put together enough borrowed gear to throw us head first into an already-swinging season so that the boys might at least know some of the rules before an actual game.
She advocated for Clayton, who was younger and should have started at a lower level, but helped me appeal to the board and to convince the coaches to give him one shot to change their minds. If not for her helping to jump-start Clayton's career in a challenge/growth environment, he likely wouldn't be competing at the level he is today. Looking back, it was a ludicrous request and she had an equally ludicrous faith in my kids' potentials for knowing them and me all of about thirty seven minutes.
Jen made me stop being the kind of mom who was terrified to let my kids ride with anyone else on frozen highways for away games. She loved my kids with her whole heart, and while they're not the only kids she pulled in and declared family, she did so in a way that made each of them feel special and important. She insisted that she enjoyed taking Esten because he sat up front and chatted with her while others, zapped and exhausted (100% because they played harder than him, probably), snoozed in the back seat. She was one part second-mom, with her nurturing and life lessons, and one part cool aunt, buying him and letting him spend his money on things he (and she) thought I wouldn't, like an eight dollar necklace and white sunglasses.
Jen was TB's favorite, which any other hockey parent whose affections he has rejected over the years will confirm. Don't get me wrong, he rejected hers, too...but she rejected his rejections. The more he acted shy, the more she'd get in his face until they were best friends. This was a technique she passed on to Jayden, who I hope never ever ever leaves TB alone for the rest of his life.
"I see your best friend, Jen!" I'd sing when I saw her truck as we pulled into the parking lot. He'd dash in ahead of me, circling the periphery, floating closer and closer waiting for her to notice him. She'd say, "HARRISON LEEEEE!! Do you want to go home with me to MY house?" Then he'd chirp "NO" at her, then always asked me on the ride home when we were gonna go to Jen's house.
We have grand views of Waha from our back porch, but we stopped calling it Waha after we met Jen. Instead, it's "Jen's house" and we'd say things like, "oh look! There's snow at Jen's house" or "whoa that lightning is too close to Jen's house!"
She fiercely loved our community and wore it like she couldn't be prouder to live here, the same as she showed pride from where she'd come from before that, too. She didn't just volunteer for hockey, she did it all. She was everywhere, gathering up new friends as she went. She pitched in for fundraisers and filled volunteer spots for causes she wasn't involved with, but she knew and loved someone who was, and that was good enough for her. She showed up to help me for a PTA family skate night, helping me pass out and tie and put away skates for a student body she didn't know.
In the stairwell of the rink in Kennewick, she pulled a handful of us together as we made our way to the bleachers before a game. There was a lump. She wanted us all to know. Jen's the reason I scheduled my first mammogram.
Jen was the one who added me to the Facebook group Hockey Deals and Discounts. While they do indeed offer deals and discounts, they also launched The PenaltyBox Foundation in 2018, providing grants and donations to individuals and organizations in and around a broad hockey community. They also created National Hockey Mom Day, to give thanks and bring awareness to hockey moms across the globe for the dedication those moms show their players, teams, and families in and out of the rink.
It's infinitely sad that she died on this National Hockey Mom Day, because she truly embodied every best thing about a hockey mom.
For the LC Lightning family, this is our most devastating loss ever. Despite having devoted fans, putting in the best players, calling a time out, hoping for a one-timer, we still just ran out of time. We know there's no appealing the score and nothing about it is fair.
There are so many people who loved Jen that it feels selfish to be so gutted to lose her. Our world is darker without her, but man, do I feel lucky to have had her to make my world better in ways that will reach far beyond the time we had. It just wasn't long enough.
Jen had an unofficial designated seat and mine was usually as close to her as I could be. She never got mad at anyone else for sitting in her seat, but it was the place where she'd lay out her blankets before others filtered in. From that spot she always cheered and cheered HARD. She never uttered words of disappointment or defeat. She was such a positive, gracious fan that it was hard to not find even more love for this cold, smelly game just by sharing a wooden bench with her.
That's why I committed some light vandalism at the rink this week. I asked another mom to come too because she and her family were also always Jen-adjacent. And she and her daughter and I chalked and taped and painted and tried to keep the tears to a minimum. And while we feel helpless and sad for Jesse and Jayden and Connor and their family and ourselves and everyone in Jen's orbit, we know that grief is the price we pay for love.
And so, as we try to navigate this world without her, let's look for those best parts of her living on in others, and let's save her a seat.