There have been times when I have questioned the wisdom of encouraging Ryan to take an interest in sports.
Not many, mind you, as his involvement in hockey has helped create a bond that might not otherwise exist. More than anything, it has allowed us to spend time together. Time in delightful, three-hour blocks unencumbered by autism or ADHD or anxiety or social deficits … you get the picture.
For the most part.
There have been moments when those issues have managed to invade the cocoon of our family’s sports bond.
I hate those moments.
I resent them with an extreme passion.
I find them — to use one of Ryan’s favorite words — UNFAIR.
How dare his anxiety take hold and sap his joy at watching his favorite sport? How dare something that has brought so much good and closeness to our family suddenly put his nervous system on tilt?
The first time this happened was three years ago. It was the first year at Ryan was really in to hockey. He was, like me, a Capitals fan at the time. Washington was locked in a nerve-wracking seven-game playoff series with its arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. We allowed Ryan to stay up late to watch Game 7. We were even prepared to let him stay home from school the following day if need be.
I was over the moon. Not only was my favorite team going to play its rivals on home ice in Game 7, but I was going to get to share it with my son.
Unfortunately, things went poorly right from the start. Washington allowed a quick goal. I assured Ryan it would be OK. The team scoring first had lost all six games in the series so far.
Then the Caps allowed another. Ryan visibly tensed. And another. He was starting to crack.
At 4-0 early in the second period, he absolutely lost it. I had to shut the game off and pull him into a tight embrace in an attempt to calm his screaming and sobbing. He was not upset so much that the Capitals were losing, but that the result was a “butt kick” — far worse in his mind. As I had both pushed him to love hockey and taught him the phrase “butt-kicking,” this was my fault. The guilt was pretty overwhelming.
How could I have done this to my child? I get too wrapped up in the outcome of sporting events. I yell at the TV, I fall on the floor in despair when calls don’t go my team’s way, I curl into the fetal position before a big play. I also know the game is just a distraction, and I’m able to forget it and move on shortly after it has ended. Ryan can’t do any of that so easily. I know this, and yet I had pushed him to make this connection. Seeing him suffer during that game, and knowing it was MY fault was not a good feeling.
We finally got Ryan to bed that night. I assured him attract the result was not a “butt kick.”
I went back to watching the game, far more disheartened about Ryan than about my team. Washington would fall behind 5-0 before scoring a couple of meaningless goals. The final score was 6-2. Those two goals were meaningless for everyone except Ryan. The following morning, when he learned of the final score, he declared the result not a “butt kick” because of those two goals and went about his day as if nothing had happened.
We were reminded of this episode this week when Ryan’s current favorite team, the San Jose Sharks, fell behind 4-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first period. This was a regular-season game, not a playoffs Game 7. But to Ryan, it was a “butt kick.” A major meltdown ensued.
After Veronica had calmed him for bed, he wanted to check the score one more time. When he saw that San Jose had scored a couple of goals to removed this result from the dreaded “butt kick” category, he almost laughed at how upset he’d gotten and went to bed.
These episodes serve as a reminder that though Ryan’s understanding of hockey is incredibly thorough, he does not look at the game the same way I do, or Veronica does, or Riley does.
Our love of the sport is the same … but different.
And that can feel like, well, a butt kick.