We are at a hockey game. Nothing unusual about that.
It is the last game of the season and there will be no playoffs for our local team. We had decided to make a day of it. We splurged on better seats, souvenirs for the kids, and a pre-game meal at the restaurant next to the arena.
As always when we are at a hockey game, we are just a normal family, except that our kids know the game better and pay closer attention than most of their peers. That word, “normal,” has a lot to do with why we are here.
As Ryan’s interest in hockey grew, we became more willing to spend on tickets because of that normalcy. At a hockey game, we don’t stand out. We are all together, engaged in the same activity. Riley, who loves to remind Ryan that she was a fan before he was, enjoys the games as much as her brother. I cannot put a price on those precious blocks of time spent with family, doing something we all love.
And so we had bought a ticket package for our local NHL team, and things had gone swimmingly. But now it was the last game. And then it was the last period. When the PA announced that it was the last minute of play, we stood with the crowd to cheer the team off the ice.
I had been looking at the clock the whole third period, watching the time tick down and thinking of how much happiness attending these games had brought all of us. I was a little sad to see it end. But when the clock ticked below one minute and switched to counting off in tenths of a second, seemingly accelerating the end of this wonderful experience, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
My chest heaved and my eyes watered. I turned away from the rest of the family, not wanting them to see me, but also because I was so unprepared for this wave of emotion and wanted to regain my composure. It was too l late, I was busted. Veronica asked why I was crying. I struggled to get the words out. I stared back at the clock racing ever faster towards 0:00. I pictured a giant hourglass, with the final few grains about to slip through.
“I don’t want this to end,” is what I think I said. By this, I didn’t mean that game or even that season. This meant the experience. The time together with the four of us. The normalcy. The bond.
That was it, more than anything. I have written many times about the bond that hockey has given our family. Ryan’s interest in the sport has given me more quality time with my son the last three years than in all his years before. It has taken us on grand adventures and allowed us amazing experiences.
And yet, I was afraid.
Afraid that Ryan would wake up one day and decide he had moved on. Decide that hockey was no longer his thing. Decide perhaps that he’d like to go back to garages or lining up cars or some other interest I could not share. Some other interest that threatened to create a gulf between him and the rest of the family.
Well, it is a year later and we once again made a day of attending the season finale. There were no tears this time. A year later and Ryan’s interest has only deepened. He has even mocked me for worrying about him losing his love of hockey.
With the Sharks and our local team in the playoffs, there will be more games to attend and to watch. It will end at some point in the next two months, but when it does, I will not cry this time. Ryan has told me, as only he can, not to worry. In his words, “we will always be a hockey family.”
And that is music to my ears.
Update: I remembered tweeting something about this topic last year. So I went back through my timeline, using the outstanding site All My Tweets, and found the following, sent out over four tweets on June 16, 2011, the morning after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals:
I’m a sucker for championships. Always gets a little dusty in my house when they hand out the hardware. End of NHL season is harder. Over last 3 yrs, my son w/#asd and I have formed a bond over hockey that I wasn’t sure would ever be possible on any topic. So at end of each NHL season there is nagging fear that by Oct. he’ll move on to some other obsessive interest that we won’t be able to share and loss of that bond would devastate me. He tells me it won’t happen but I worry. Hurry up Oct. and get here already, ok? #autism #asd