Chasing Perfection

Ryan's autographed Joe Pavelski jersey

Ryan’s Joe Pavelski jersey, newly modified.

If we’re lucky, we all get a few magical, red-letter days. We’ve had the good fortune to experience a few of those with Ryan over the last several years, and many have been documented on this blog.

Trying to repeat the experience can be tricky. The reasons why are obvious: part of what made the original experience so exceptional is its uniqueness and rarity. Meaning both that it might be difficult to repeat and, if it isn’t, the original experience might somehow be cheapened.

Ryan’s favorite team, the San Jose Sharks, just finished their once-annual swing through the northeast. It was on this trip last year that Ryan had the opportunity to meet the team, thanks to the efforts of a friend who works there and the generosity of the players and the public-relations staff.

With the team in town to play the Devils on Saturday and the Rangers on Sunday, we had long-planned to attend both games. I wasn’t planning on any extra curriculars this time. But last week I heard from my friend, who was putting the wheels in motion for another visit.

And so it was that Ryan and I found ourselves driving the Prudential Center early Saturday for the Sharks’ morning skate. He was dressed in his Joe Pavelski teal jersey, having already filled his Joe Thornton model with autographs last year. We picked up passes at the staff entrance and made our way into the mostly empty arena bowl to watch practice. The team’s radio announcer, Dan Rusanowsky, there among the gathered media to make notes for that night’s game, stopped by to say hello. He went out of his way to greet Ryan last year in Philadelphia and did the same this time.

Ryan and Dan Rusanowsky

Ryan and Sharks radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky

He quizzed Ryan about his favorite players and the times he had seen the Sharks play. I resisted my urge (I’m still working on it) to facilitate the conversation. Ryan didn’t need my help. He spoke easily with Rusanowsky, asking him about a player who was no longer with the Sharks and telling him about games we attended last year. Rusanowsky even asked for a picture with Ryan.

Morning skates are brief, and after 30 minutes the players started heading off the ice. The team PR person suggested we make our way to the tunnel outside the Sharks’ dressing room.

Ryan and I looked at all the equipment the team brings on the road — extra skate and stick blades, helmet parts, skate sharpeners, etc., while waiting for the players to finish dressing and exit the room.

The first to emerge was forward Tommy Wingels. Ryan recognized him immediately. Wingels, in a pattern that would repeat, didn’t wait to be asked. He approached Ryan with a smile, a handshake and a warm greeting. He signed Ryan’s jersey and posed for a snapshot.

Next came Ryan’s favorite, Joe Thornton, along with long-time Sharks star Patrick Marleau. Once again, both approached and said hello. Marleau even addressed my son by name.

Ryan with Tommy Wingels, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau

From left, Tommy Wingels, one super-happy Ryan, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau

“Hey Ryan, how are you? Can I sign your jersey?”

I was flabbergasted. I think Ryan was as well. Marleau chatted with Ryan for a moment while others signed, and then he, Thornton and Wingels all posed with Ryan for a picture.

Wingels complemented Ryan on his jersey, and when Pavelski exited the dressing room a minute later said “Hey Pavs, looks like they’ve been giving away your jerseys again.”

Ryan and I laughed. Pavelski approached, signed, and posed for a picture, and then told Ryan “I saw you in the stands, thanks for coming out,” which only added to Ryan’s smile.

In between packs of players, Ryan and I chatted. “Can you believe Patrick Marleau knows your name?” I asked. “Can you believe Joe Pavelski noticed you in the stands?”

Ryan and Joe Pavelski

Ryan was complemented on his jersey choice by Joe Pavelski.

Other players came out and the same scene repeated. The opposite of put out, each approached to offer a smile, a handshake, an autograph and to pose for a photo. In these interactions, I noticed the same thing I saw during that magical day in Philadelphia.

Far from nervous or shy, Ryan was at absolute ease. He chatted comfortably with players. He complemented them on their performances in recent games. He even asked one player he didn’t recognize his name, and then quickly referenced something that player had done in a game a few days ago. I would have apologize to the player, but it was obvious he was not offended.

As the last players walked past, we headed for home. We still had two Sharks games to attend. Saturday night (4-2 win vs. the Devils) went better than Sunday evening (4-0 loss to the Rangers), but really, any games I get to spend with Ryan are a win.

Sharks at Devils

Ryan during the Sharks-Devils game Saturday night.

And meeting the players — again? My son gains so much self-confidence from these opportunities. After we got home from the arena Saturday morning, he actually sent the picture of him with his favorite Sharks to two of his friends via text message. OK, so maybe we encouraged him to send it, but we weren’t responsible for what happened next. He spent the game Saturday night exchanging texts with both boys, one of whom was also there. They arranged to meet up after the first period.

Sunday at Madison Square Garden, when the Rangers scored I looked at Ryan to gauge his reaction. He was already on his phone, sending a text to one of his friends. Ryan stayed positive throughout the  game, even in the final moments of the loss. He kept cheering and never took off his Sharks head hat. He even won over what can be a tough Garden crowd, with several fans admiring his hat and his autographed jersey.

Every time Ryan got a high-five from a stranger; when a Devils fan on Saturday night told him, incredulously, in the corridor “I see you here every game in a Devils jersey!;” when we were stopped by some Rangers fans and asked to pose for a picture in Penn Station after the game Sunday — with each of those moments, I reminded Ryan that sports are social.

With Ryan at MSG

With Ryan, still smiling despite the result, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

“How often do you have conversations with or give high-fives to total strangers?” I asked.

By now, it’s a question he’s used to but it’s a lesson I want to reinforce. Sports provides an obvious common context between groups of strangers that paves the pathway for easy social interaction.

Sports are social. Period. Full-stop.

Our weekend with the Sharks ended with a 1-1 record, another autographed jersey, more memories for a lifetime, and for me, the repeated joy of seeing Ryan at his happiest, in his favorite environment, and among his people. Hockey people. And if you’ve been hanging around here, you know what I think of hockey people.

We chased perfection, and we achieved it anyway.

Ed Note: I would like to offer my sincere and heart-felt thanks to the San Jose Sharks organization, team management, public relations staff, players and coaches, for making Saturday morning possible. You are a credit to the NHL and the entire sport of hockey.

Photo Friday: Sharknado 3


Ryan in his Sharks hat

Hey Jumbo – Ryan is ready to watch you play this weekend.

No time to write this morning. That’s what midnight beer-league hockey will do to you. We have a BIG weekend planned. The San Jose Sharks have come to the northeast, and we’ll be seeing them live against the Devils on Saturday and the Rangers on Sunday. So Ryan’s choice for “hat day” at school was an easy one.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Go Sharks!

Goals: His vs. Ours

city-on-the-horizonGoals can be a tricky thing. Their very nature implies looking ahead, sometimes way ahead, and that’s something we mostly try to avoid around here.

Of course, for as much as we try to live in the moment, it’s impossible to avoid completely looking ahead, and that’s where things can get complicated.

There is a giant caveat to this idea, however, and it’s this: if the goals are Ryan’s, as opposed to our goals for him, it completely changes the equation. Ryan set a goal to get stronger this summer, and achieved it through daily work and dedication. He has a goal to play hockey in high school and is attacking it in the same way: by diligently practicing the skills at which he needs to improve.

There is a significant event coming up at the end of this school year for which we would love Ryan to take part with his classmates. Veronica and I have discussed it, but only briefly, almost as if we don’t want to discuss that which makes us uncomfortable. If it were today, he probably wouldn’t take part. But it’s not today, and June is a long way off. Lots can happen between now and then.

Yesterday, for the first time, Ryan’s attitude towards the event showed signs of changing to the point where he might make it one of his goals to take part. He’s gone from outright dismissiveness to mild curiosity to (now) possible interest.

From what we know of our son, if this becomes something he wants to do, he will find a way to make it work. We will help him get there, of course. We might even give a gentle push in that direction. But we have learned that he has to be invested in a goal before a push from us, no matter how gentle or firm, is going to matter.

From experience, many times over, we know that pushing him to pursue one of our goals for him is a recipe for frustration and failure. Whether it’s riding a bike, or learning to control a habit or behavior that made us uncomfortable, none of these saw progress until they mattered to Ryan. And once they did, the development came quickly.

So I will hope, and encourage, and maybe even nudge, Ryan in the direction of this school event. We will do whatever we can to help nourish his interest, and if it grows, we will involve all the necessary people to give the support that will make it possible.

But only if it matters to him.

It’s a lesson learned through lots of trial and error, emphasis on the latter.

And We Danced

I am not a great dancer. I might not even be good. I’m certainly not good like, say, Dennis Norfleet:

Dennis Norfleet: Atomic Dog

Dennis Norfleet. (gif courtesy of

Norfleet is a slot receiver/third-down back/kick- and punt-returner for Michigan. You put him on a field in front of 100,000 people, and he’s going to dance. It doesn’t matter if Michigan’s winning or losing or if he’s having a big game. He’s irrepressible.

Friday night, Veronica and I went to the wedding of one of her co-workers. It was full of good food, good company, and great tunes to dance to, courtesy of a DJ who got everyone on the floor. I love to dance at weddings. Dancing is funny. If you’re like me, it’s a subject that causes much angst in your teens and twenties. You worry about how you look out there, exposed. You worry what other people think of you. And then you hit a certain age and you just stop caring about any of that, because you realize that dancing is fun.

We had a lot of fun Friday night, as much because of the texts we received as the wedding. The texts were from our sitter, and from our friend, who was hosting a party for her middle-school age kids. Both Riley and Ryan were there, Ryan only after much objection. But once there, he was “right in the mix” with his peers. He had a great time — he even told us so.

Then on Saturday, both kids had a friend over, and the four of them actually played soccer together without any fights breaking out — a minor miracle. Ryan had gone skating (to make up for missing the Friday night session) where he bumped into one of his hockey teammates, who asked if he could come over to our house. That it was a spontaneous occurrence made it even better.

Sunday Ryan had another friend over, and they played hockey, played video games and watched football together.

Other bits of goodness that matter in our house: The NHL season is underway. The Sharks are 2-0. The Devils are 2-0. The Capitals shut out the Bruins on Saturday.

And then there was Michigan, and the aforementioned Mr. Norfleet. The Wolverines managed to put a little water on their Dumpster fire of a season with a narrow win over Penn State. After all the controversy and losing in recent weeks, it was great to see the players and students celebrating under the lights at Michigan Stadium.

Some players didn’t wait for the postgame to celebrate. Players like Dennis Norfleet. He just does. not. care. what you think of him, he’s going to dance anyway. He even requested the stadium PA play one of his favorite songs, “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton. The song blared any time Norfleet lined up to field a punt or a kick. This was the result, and it’s a pretty good metaphor for how I feel about this weekend’s developments:

I have two middle school-aged children. They’re of the age where most kids worry a lot about what other people think of them. And it’s not lost on me that Ryan, because of the way his brain is wired, probably cares a heck of a lot less than most kids. Still, navigating social situations is tricky, and it’s trickier still if you’re worried about always making a misstep in front of your peers. Those fears tend to fade over the years, as they have for me.

Clearly it didn’t take Dennis Norfleet until his 30s to stop caring what people think of his dance moves. I wish I had that confidence at his age. I certainly hope my kids will.

The Meaning of a Picture

Michigan at Rutgers

Michigan at Rutgers, minutes before kickoff (photo by Ryan)

Something interesting happened at the Michigan-Rutgers game Saturday night. No, not Michigan’s loss. Those are becoming routine. No, not that Michigan put 10 men out on a special-teams play, again. No not that Michigan mismanaged the clock, again. You get the picture.

No, this interesting thing happened before the game. We had settled into our seats and were waiting for the game to start. Ryan had his headphones in and was listening to music to “get fired up for the game.” Music, first from his iPod, and now transferred to his phone, is a comfort mechanism. More than anything, it allows him to easily pass the time when he has to wait for anything — something that was never easy before.

So listening to music was not the interesting part. Ryan was listening on his phone because he got a new smart(ish) phone for school this year. He said he wanted one because all his friends had phones that could surf the internet. He was using an old hand-me-down (dumb) phone and this was the first time he expressed interest in wanting something different. We agreed, and got him a very basic smart phone.

He uses it to text, and listen to music, and check scores, and look at NHL stats when he wants. Like music, that helps him pass the time more easily, whereas he used to get very agitated when he had to wait. We saw this on the post-game bus ride Saturday night.

But a few minutes before kickoff, Ryan found a very different use for his phone. He pulled it out, found the camera app, and took a few photos of the field. He asked me for help, because I’m pretty sure this was his first time using this, or any other, camera.

It got me to thinking. I have read various criticisms of how our digital photo and video and selfie-obsessed culture leads to all of us witnessing significant events through tiny viewfinders or our phone screens, and not in the wondrous, super-HD, widescreen view that our eyes offer.

This has never been the case with Ryan, who has never expressed a desire for photo keepsakes of important memories. I treasure some of those shots — of him skating at the Winter Classic, or meeting his favorite San Jose Sharks, but he rarely expresses interest in looking at the pictures.

Maybe there’s a reason for that. I talk often of Ryan’s “photographic” memory. His recall of statistics, dates, long-ago conversations, and all manner of data can be astounding. Maybe that extends to his visual recall? Could it be that he never cares about pictures because he recalls significant events in the same level of visual detail? I don’t know. I just know that I found it very interesting that he was taking photos because it was such a rare event.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe he saw others taking pictures on their phones and decided to do the same. I don’t know if he ever even looked at the pictures — most of which were taken with such haste that they were completely out of focus. There is only one time that I can recall him caring about looking at pictures, and that was of one of our sports outings, so maybe my theory is all wrong.

But maybe I am on to something. Maybe he doesn’t take pictures because he doesn’t need to take pictures. So why take them Saturday night? With their ability to be instantly communicated, pictures today are a social medium. Ryan desired a better phone in part for social reasons. Maybe he was thinking beyond his own memories, and wanted pictures from the game to share?

I don’t know. I could be completely off base with all of this, but any time my routine-oriented son does something radically different, there’s usually a reason. If there doesn’t seem to be one, it’s usually because we haven’t been able to figure it out yet.

So I’ll continue to wonder about these pictures, all part of trying to figure out how my son experiences life, and how that differs from the way I do.

I’ll tell you one thing that I have learned to be true. No matter how his experience may differ, it is most definitely not less, just different. And quite possibly better.