The hustle and bustle of family life is usually like a constant hum for many Alberta families. They run from school to hockey practice, packing up for road trips and out-of-town games, switching out bags for swimming lessons and throwing pocket snacks from the pantry into coats, before hopping into the car to get to gymnastics lessons on time.
That was life in a nut-shell, for Kristen and Trevor Ackerman and their family of 3 kids, before COVID-19 changed it all.
“We could not have ever predicted what this year would do in terms of locking down our social and extra-curricular lives,” says Kristen Ackerman.
The Ackerman’s two boys are serious about hockey. But with a head injury this year for their oldest son that pushed his hockey season sideways and then their middle child deciding to commit full time to goaltending, just as the hockey season was cancelled due to COVID, the Ackerman’s knew their kids needed something.
“I had been begging Trevor for years to take the plunge and put in a backyard rink,” says Kristen. “But he was worried what it would do to our grass and that it would never get used with our busy lives. Then I came home in September on our 11 year wedding anniversary and he had it staked out in the yard. That’s love!” says Kristen.
In fact they even personalized their home ice rink even further with a moose and bear at centre ice – the nicknames for their two boys who now are each other’s only team mates along with their little sister who used to cry when she strapped on her skates, but who now has grown to love it.
Local rink builders and companies that sell backyard rink kits have been run off their feet this winter and trying to buy a rink kit online has become a sport in itself. With public ice rinks limiting access, icy toboggan hills and then a ban on outdoor gathering over the last two months, the decision to add an entertainment zone to the backyard seems to be an easy one for most families. Look down any fence line and you’ll see people have taken matters into their own hands, and have flooded their own backyards.
Before the winter of 2020 arrived, Erin and Brad Harsch knew their ODR would be a life-saver during the pandemic, whose family has had a backyard rink every year for the past 5 years. In fact, when they moved into their home 10 years ago, they knew their backyard would one day be an ice rink for their kids, even though their oldest son at the time was only 2 months old. They included a gas fire pit because they knew they’d want to sit around it during the winter to warm up beside the eventual back yard rink.
Erin says the rink construction has been a labour of love for the whole family.
“It started as dad’s project, but it is now everyone’s responsibility. Everyone who uses it, builds it, shovels it, and floods it. It’s usually a 3 generation job of Grandpa, Dad and kids.”
While they are loving their time together in the yard, what the Harsch’s are missing this year, is the community togetherness of their backyard rink.
“Our yard (in most years) is an open-gate policy. If you want to skate…. come on in… whether we’re home or not. Our neighbours have had full access. We are missing that now,” she says.
Both families say their backyard rinks have changed everything for them in this pandemic year.
Erin Harsch says, “It has enriched our lives during such a difficult time in so many ways; fresh air, quality family time, an escape from reality and sharpening our skills with so much repetition. We can be on the ice for hours and not even notice it. It’s all red cheeks and helmet hair…. all the way!
And for the Ackerman’s, and their first time rink? Kristen says, it isn’t perfect, it’s definitely a work in progress, but it is perfectly imperfect - much like their year managing COVID.
“We are the house that was always busy. Full of friends and laughter. Covid reminded us that, while we enjoyed the constant bustle of friendships, we always had the best relationships of all within these walls. The kids have grown closer. The empty time is filled with the sound of blades carving up the ice. Crackles from a fire. Music pumping from speakers. The sounds of sibling rivalries echoing for neighbors to hear. I never thought that in a time where we are staying apart, we are actually connecting in ways we don’t even know.”
Kristen has great advice for other families thinking about making an investment to renovate or add a backyard entertainment zone.
“If you are worried about killing your grass or the work that maintaining a rink entails, I hope you hear me when I say, ‘IT IS WORTH IT! Take the risks. Make the memories. Get outside!’”
COVID ON THE HOMEFRONT: Kerri-lyn and Jason Holland with Holland and Associates and REMAX/Rivercity would love to hear how you are changing, renovating and updating your home to better connect and manage the challenges of COVID ON THE HOMEFRONT.
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