Ruined by the Smallest Detail

Ruined. But not for the reason you think.

Once in a while there is a moment that crystallizes Ryan’s struggles. When it occurs, even in the middle of a meltdown or challenging behaviors, it’s all we can do to hug him tight and try to tell him it will be OK.

Saturday was full of trying moments in our house — with both kids.

We have decided — in part after reading this article — that this will be the “summer of responsibility” for our family. Veronica and I need to do more than just pay lip service to teaching the kids to be more responsible and participate in various family chores and obligations. We need to enforce these things, including being patient while they get things wrong a few times before they get them right.

Predictably, it hasn’t gone over well, especially with Ryan. So when we decided to devote Saturday to some long-overdue spring cleaning, he was not much of a willing participant. There were shouts and general stubbornness, but eventually Veronica and he cleaned out his room together. As a reward, we gave him some time to do whatever he chose.

The problem is Ryan’s interests are so limited (hockey, hockey, and hockey) that he quickly gets bored even with his favorite activities — at least when we prevent him from spending hours doing repetitive behaviors like typing standings. He finally agreed to play a long-ignored hockey board game.

But Ryan can never just play the game — he needs to set it up as close to a real NHL game as possible. He picks the teams, decides who will be home and away, sets up a box score and does play-by-play. The preparations can often take longer than the game.

I attempted to speed this process along and get him to play the game, but the process would not be rushed. He was busily preparing the box score on a sheet of notebook paper at the dining room table.

Now, I was raised by a mother who kept lots of antiques in the house and had rules about how to take care of them. One of those was you never write directly on the table, lest your writing leave an imprint on the surface. I’m sorry to say we have not been as successful enforcing this rule with our kids. I’m pretty sure a forensic scientist could recreate five years of elementary school homework upon a close examination of our dining room table.

Still, this is the “summer of responsibility,” so I interrupted him to ask that he put some more paper or something under the sheet he was writing on.

Instantly, he crumpled the nearly complete box score into a ball and screamed at me that he would need to start over. I told him that was “ridiculous.”

Poor choice of words.

Veronica rushed in to soothe the situation. She saw the look of distress in Ryan’s face and held him in a tight embrace. His tears were flowing even as he was trying to escape the hug to get a new sheet of paper.

I realized this was not the time to argue, but I didn’t want to give in to this compulsion either. Ryan will often start things completely over — a Wii NHL2K game, typing standings, a game of air hockey — if you so much as interrupt him for a moment. It’s a struggle for him, but we try not to allow it. The world will not always be accommodating to his need for constant do-overs when things don’t go exactly as planned. I smoothed out the crumpled page — and placed it on top of a notebook on the table — and told him it was still good.

He insisted it was ruined and demanded to start over with a new sheet (and different teams, even) — but not for the reason I imagined.

It wasn’t that the page was wrinkled. He didn’t particular care about that. If you could see some of the erased and re-erased homework assignments he’s turned in over the years you would agree.

Ryan wanted me to understand that he couldn’t continue with the original page because I was making him put paper under it, and that would make the pencil marks look different.

It would, of course. It’s a detail so small that most of us would never notice. But when you use a pencil on a single sheet of paper on top of a hard wooden table, it looks different in shade and in the sharpness of the strokes than it does if you put that paper on top of something softer, like a notebook or magazine.

In Ryan’s mind, this “ruined” his project. He even scribbled a bit to show me how different the pencil marks would look.

We are well acquainted with Ryan’s extreme eye for detail, whether it’s his recall of entire hockey seasons or seemingly small moments that he reminds us of at the most surprising times. And yet, it still amazes.

At this protest, all we could do was hug him, try to soothe him, and allow him to continue the way he chose.

Our children will eventually need to learn to bend to the world that will not always order itself for them. But it’s a lesson that can only be taught slowly, over years, and not in moments of great distress.

In those moments, all we can offer is a tight embrace and some soothing words.


11 thoughts on “Ruined by the Smallest Detail

  1. I constantly struggle with finding the balance between assimilation and letting my son be comfortable in his own skin. You’re right, the world is not accommodating. I want home to be haven. But I also need to teach him how to cope when things inevitably go awry. Thanks for this post. 🙂


  2. l would just like to point out that you are an incredible father and you are accomplishing amazing things for your boy. And in the process, the rest of us are better for you sharing your journey, too.

    Thank you.


    1. I don’t know that I felt so incredible in the middle of all that, but thankfully had my better half to step in and soothe the situation. Still, your words are very kind, and much appreciated. Thank you for reading.


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