I Think He’s Ready for This

Caps-Islanders check

What it looks like when someone gets “dropped.”

As Ryan progressed through youth hockey the last few years, there was always one overriding concern for us: checking.

About this our worries were no different from any other parent. We just wanted to make sure our son was safe. Given that Ryan got a late start playing the game, the concerns was that he tended to skate with his head down when he had the puck, making him vulnerable to big hits.

At his current (bantam) level, the game is full-contact, with bodychecking allowed all over the ice. Thankfully, we had a couple things working in our favor. One, rather than playing in a traditional bantam league, Ryan ended up in a mixed-age middle school league where contact was either outlawed or limited to along the boards. Open-ice hits are the most dangerous, and they were not allowed in his first “checking” league.

Ryan is also tall for his age, which gives him some natural protection. But his own determination to get both stronger and to improve his hockey skills is the other factor that eased our fears about bodychecking. All Ryan’s pushups, pullups, dips, situps and crunches have burned off most of his baby fat and left him with an upper-body that his fast becoming defined with lean muscle. And it turns out that hundreds of hours spent stickhandling — whether waiting in line for his turn at a drill at practice, in the backyard (even on a frigid day), or in the basement while he watches hockey — have greatly improved his skill in this area.

The result is a kid who is physically stronger and can carry the puck up the ice with his head up while still maintaining control of the puck.

This spring is the first time he is playing in a league that allows bodychecking all over the ice. I’ll admit I cringed while watching Ryan take part in hitting drills in practice. But he dished out a few good hits and absorbed some as well and realized he was fine. Like many of the kids, he was tentative about contact in the first game. He took one check, bounced right up and got back in the play. By the second game he was much more aggressive. He actually looked to finish checks when forechecking in the offensive zone, and delivered a few clean, solid hits while still taking one or two himself.

It was just as I had hoped — that once he had a chance to give and take a few hits, his nervousness about it would dissipate and he might even realize physical contact can be fun, and is one of the things that attracts people to the sport

In the third game, Ryan finally had his moment to “drop” somebody. He delivered a hard, clean check on the puck-carrier, knocking him off his feet. Kids on Ryan’s team talk about “dropping” each other all the time and Ryan was wondering when he would finally be able to say he had done it, too.

This morning, we were talking about that game.

“I really wish I scored a goal,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “You did your part. You played well.”

“That’s OK,” he said. “Scoring is not my role. My role is to drop people.”

Yeah, I think he’s going to be just fine.

Our Journey to Easy

Ryan on the train

Ryan studies his homework on the way to Take Your Child To Work Day

I brought Ryan with me to the office yesterday for Take Your Child To Work Day. It was either the sixth or seventh time I’ve done so.

Since I work in hockey, this day is a Really Big Deal for Ryan, and he looks forward to it every year. Sadly, he is aging out of the program that my organization offers, so this was probably his last go-round.

Here’s the thing about yesterday. It was easy. Zero stress. No worries.

No worries about leaving him alone for hours in the company of strangers. No worries about the rush-hour commute on a crowded train or navigating the streets of New York City. No worries about finding an appropriate place to eat. No worries about him wanting to leave early. No worries about how people react to him.

All of that is a far cry from his first visit, when I met with the head of HR in advance to advise her or Ryan’s diagnosis and unique behaviors and ask if it would still be OK if he attended the program. She was incredibly welcoming. She put him in a group with her own kids so they could collectively keep an eye on him, and he was fine. But I spent that entire day on pins and needles, prepared to make an immediate and early exit.

It was a far cry from subsequent years, when we were joined by Riley and I advised her that she had to help look out for him.

Yesterday, it was back to just Ryan. Riley is in the middle of Mock Trial at school and could not miss the day. There was no pit in my stomach. There was no fear of the unknown. I was taking Ryan to a place where he was comfortable and I knew he would be fine.

Some of that change is Ryan. But a lot of it is me. Part of what I used to worry about was how people would react to my son, who presents as a little different. I have become much more comfortable with Ryan being Ryan — led by his example. I will never apologize for, or be embarrassed of, Ryan’s unique behaviors. After the program ended yesterday, Ryan spent an hour or so in my office while I finished up some things before we could leave. He studied for a while, he watched hockey highlights on his iPad for a while. Then he eyed the empty whiteboard in my office and decided he wanted to create something.

Rather than draw a picture, he began to create, from memory, a hockey play-by-play sheet. When he was done, he had line after line of descriptions of various plays, that looked almost exactly like this, except in his unique block-ish handwriting.

In the middle of this, someone who has never met Ryan before came into my office to ask a question. Ryan was behind me, lying on the floor, adding lines to his play-by-play. I observed my visitor and could tell he had one eye on me and one on what Ryan was writing. I just looked back and said, “oh, he has a brain like a computer. He likes to recreate the stats.” My visitor shrugged, and we resumed our conversation.

Years ago, such an interaction might have led me to some apologetic defense of my son’s unique characteristics, skills and behaviors. Yesterday, I shrugged it off, and so did my visitor.

Just like the entire day, it was easy. Zero stress. No worries.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that “easy” has become our new normal on a day like yesterday. But I don’t want to lose site of the journey it took for both of us to get there.

To the Woman Whose Cab I Stole

Ryan poses with the certificate, his teammates and coaches, and the mayor and town council members. (Note - I have blurred the faces of the other children and coaches.)

Ryan poses with the certificate, his teammates and coaches, and the mayor and town council members. (Note – I have blurred the faces of the other children and coaches.)

So I stole a cab from a woman at our local train station Tuesday. Well, not exactly “stole” — she and I approached the only cab in sight at the same time from opposite sides, but the driver made eye contact with me first.

I’m sorry. I should have apologized. I should have been more chivalrous. This is not my normal M.O., I promise.

But I was desperate.

You see, Ryan’s hockey team was being honored by our mayor at the town council meeting for winning its fall-league championship, and I really wanted to be there. I had literally sprinted from the office to make a train an hour earlier than the one I regularly take.

And the logistics were already complicated. That’s because I needed Veronica to pick me up, and drop me down the street at the mechanic, where our other car sat, waiting to be picked up. A flat-tire on Sunday — that kept Ryan from attending my adult-league hockey game, much to his disappointment — had turned into four brand-new tires on Tuesday. It was that kind of day, and that was before I realized I forgot the spare key, necessitating the rendezvous with Veronica.

As long as the train was on time, it was going to be fine. She’d have time to pick me up, give me the key, drop me at the mechanic, go get Ryan, and all meet at the ceremony at Town Hall.

Except the train wasn’t on time. At first it was just a random slowdown and apologies from the conductor about being held at a stop signal. I nervously eyed the time and started exchanging texts with Veronica. We didn’t have much time to spare.

Then the next announcement mentioned “police activity” at my station. People started checking their phones for an alert from the transit authority. A person had been struck at my station. Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve been through this in my 20 years as a train commuter.

Like most of my fellow commuters, my initial reaction was not one of sympathy or concern. It was one of “how dare you inconvenience me, especially when I have someplace important to be.” I’m not proud of it. But when this happens, it can delay trains for hours. You get caught up in the opinion of the inconvenienced mob.

I don’t know what happened to the person that was struck. I checked the local news sites this morning and only found that someone was hit and taken to a local hospital. I don’t know if it was a suicide attempt. I don’t know if the person passed away.

All I knew at the moment was the likelihood of me getting to town hall in time for the ceremony was ticking towards zero, and I was not happy about it.

After a flurry of back-and-forth texts with Veronica, I told her to just take Ryan to the ceremony. The best-case scenario if she picked me up was that we would just make it, and I knew it was unfair to put Ryan through that kind of anxiety. I told her to take a lot of pictures. I hoped someone would film it.

Of course, as soon as I told her to forget about me, the train started moving again. Whereas the conductor had said everyone would probably have to exit the train in the middle (meaning a long wait to get off) in the end all the doors opened. I looked at the time and realized we would have made it, redoubling my anger.

I remembered that there are sometimes cabs that wait for the incoming trains. I checked one side of the station, then the other. No cabs.

So I began walking home. Angrily.

Just as I set out, I saw a lone taxi turning into the station parking lot. I started to jog, then broke out into a full-on sprint.

I caught up with the cab just as it was rolling to a stop. The driver had his window down and luckily for me, I was approaching from the driver’s side. We made eye contact and I asked about a ride to town hall. In my peripheral vision, I saw a woman approaching from the other side. I’d like to say I did the polite thing and either offered her the car or explained myself, but I did neither.

I got in, agreed to the rip-off price in this meter-free suburban taxi, and pulled out my phone. Google Maps suggested we could make it with about two minutes to spare.

I willed the traffic lights to stay green. I willed the traffic to move out of the way. We pulled up in front of Town Hall at 6:27. The ceremony was to begin at 6:30. I flipped the driver payment and told him to keep the change. I jaywalked across the four-lane road to the front steps of the municipal building (probably not the smartest move as the same building doubles as our town’s police HQ).

As soon as I got inside the door I saw the mayor chatting with the program administrator and several of the boys.

I made it.

And I’m so glad I did.

The boys were congratulated by the town council — which had approved the seed money to start this program as a feeder for our high-school team — and honored with a proclamation. Details of their title-game triumph were read into the official town record. The program administrator was invited up, along with the coach. The said a few words, then called each boy up to receive a copy of the proclamation.

When it was time to introduce Ryan, he said “If you ever get a chance to spend time with this kid, and he doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then there’s something wrong with you. This is absolutely the most amzing kid I’ve ever met in my life. And if you ever get a chance to spend a minute with this kid, you should just take your time with him because it will blow your mind what a great kid he is.”

So, back to that woman at the train station. I hope you got where you were going on time. But I’m not sorry, because I didn’t want to miss out on hearing that.

To Benjamins Friend Jon

Neil:

Reblogging this post from Stimming With Benjamin.

It’s so much easier to root for our favorite athletes and celebrities when we know they are good people. If you’ve been around here for a while, you know what we think of the “hockey people,” who so often fit that bill.

Goalie Jon Gillies just led Providence College to one of the most unlikely national championships in college hockey history, including a stunning upset of heavily favored Boston University in the final. Gillies is a pro prospect whose rights are held by the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

But to Benjamin, he’s not “future NHL goalie Jon Gillies.” He’s just “my friend Jon.”

I’m so happy for Benjamin and his entire family. Congratulations to Jon Gillies and the entire Providence College team, proof that good guys do indeed finish first.

Originally posted on stimmingwithbenjamin:

A few short weeks ago my family waited outside of the PC Friars locker room waiting for Benjamins hero to come so we could say goodbye. You see, over the last three years Jon has done incredible things for our family. Jon has been an inspiration to Ben both on and off the ice. Jon attended Benjamins birthday this past year because that’s what kind of a man he is. Jon has been Benjamins pretend play inspiration on more than a few occasions (The Goalie). Jon has meant more to my family than I could ever explain.
I had asked Benjamin to write a birthday list of people to invite to his party. Third on this list was Jon. He is after all one of Bens best friends. Ask Ben he will tell you. They are old buddies, going back as far as Benjamin can remember. Without hesitation…

View original 204 more words

Joy

Ryan - Joy

Ryan, at a hockey clinic years ago, celebrating as only he can

I did not have a post in mind when I left the house this morning. I had bits and pieces of one perhaps, but not enough of a common thread to pull together. Besides, I had a late beer-league hockey game last night and the thought of a nap on the train sounded appealing. 

But then I read this. More specifically, I read this, a description of the forthcoming book The Obsessive Joy of Autism by autistic self-advocate Julia Bascom.

‘Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happy, so enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious. This is the part about autism that I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose.’
Julia Bascom’s depiction of the joy of autistic obsessions tells a story about autism that is very rarely told. It tells of a world beyond impairments and medical histories, where the multiples of seven can open a floodgate of untranslatable joy, where riding a train can make everything feel perfectly sized and full of light, and where flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel. The Obsessive Joy of Autism will resonate powerfully with other autistic people, and encourage those who have a person with autism in their lives to look out for that joy, to chase it, to get obsessed.

Suddenly, the bits and pieces — the old videos of Ryan I watched yesterday, something I observed while he was watching hockey last night — had a common thread.

Joy.

If you watch Ryan PLAY hockey, his joy is unmissable. It emanates from him at every turn — from the smile that shines through his facemask, to the exaggerated celebrations, to the occasional play-by-play voice that accompanies various drills. 

One could observe Ryan celebrating a goal in a practice drill like he just won the Stanley Cup and think, perhaps that’s a bit excessive. Maybe he’s not doing it how you’re supposed to. And he has had to learn to tone things down a bit. But Ryan is not showing anyone up. He just has an irrepressible joy that cannot be contained when he’s on a sheet of ice playing his favorite sport.

If you watch Ryan WATCH hockey, his joy is unmissable. Watching NHL games each evening is part of his post-homework, post-dinner, pre-bedtime routine. He settles in front of the basement TV, the “hockey room” in our house. One game goes on the television. Another on his iPad. Sometimes a third on his phone. He pops in and out of the study next to the TV room, where there is a computer on which he can type stats when he feels the need. He grabs his hockey stick and works on his puck-handling with a street-hockey ball.

One could observe Ryan as a hive of activity, three games playing on various devices while he types on a computer in the next room or stick-handles through various obstacles, checking the score on each game every few seconds, and think, perhaps that’s a bit excessive. Maybe he’s not doing it how you’re supposed to. But Ryan is just consuming his favorite thing through as many simultaneous contact points as possible, and nothing makes him happier. 

Aside: Yes, there have been times when Ryan’s obsessive love of hockey has boiled over into a negative that have been well documented in this space. The cause of those episodes, I can assure you, is anxiety, not hockey.

I found the videos on my Facebook page when I was looking for a “Throwback Thursday” photo of my kids yesterday. I had forgotten about their existence — clips of Ryan playing in hockey at various clinics when he was much younger. I watched each in succession, with headphones on. One thing stood out. Here, see for yourself:

Did you take from those clips the same thing I did?

Joy.

Those celebrations? Those weren’t a learned behavior. I didn’t teach him to react like that. It was evident from the first moments we took him to a hockey clinic. Every time a puck entered the net, it touched off a wild celebration, and such happiness I barely have the words to describe it. 

Then last night, on a night when nine of the 11 games on the NHL schedule had playoff implications, Ryan came upstairs with his iPad, on which he was watching one of the other two games: Philadelphia-Carolina. I joked with him that not even Flyers and Hurricanes fans were watching that game. 

At that thought, he was incredulous. How could a fan not watch? It’s hockey after all. And for Ryan, hockey means one thing. 

Joy.

And reading the description of Julia Bascom’s book just put a nice little bow on all of it. Ryan doesn’t enjoy hockey in spite of his unique brain wiring. He revels in the joy it brings him BECAUSE of his unique brain wiring.

And that stirs something in me.

Joy.