It has been, at best, an uneven summer.
Ryan is managing his anxiety about moving to a new school in the fall. He tolerates camp, although “likes” would be too strong. On off days from camp, he tolerates going to the town pool.
On the other side, we continue to deal with challenging behaviors: defiance, cursing, an occasional explosive temper, an inability to shift activities. At both camp and the pool he shows little inclination to interact with other kids, often choosing instead to wander the grounds of either place singing to himself or acting on scripts from his favorite TV shows and hockey games.
Hockey remains a bright spot in our lives. (Despite ongoing labor negotiations that threaten to delay the start of the new NHL season this fall. I am doing my best to brace both kids for that, with limited success. If the talks reach an impasse I think the best bet might be to stick Ryan in a room with both parties. That would probably lead to an immediate agreement.)
But I digress. Ryan had a friend over for four-plus!!! hours the other day, and it worked because the whole thing was centered around hockey: air, Nok, street, Wii, and board-game hockey.
Then there is street hockey. This is the fourth year that Ryan has played on a team in our town league. It is at the street-hockey “rink” where I can see the most tangible evidence of Ryan’s immense progress.
Ryan’s first year of street hockey was his first-ever experience with team sports. We were very nervous about how to handle it. We didn’t have “the talk” with the coach. I may have mentioned something to him in passing about a lack of eye contact, but that’s it. Ryan always looked forward to the games and practices, but his level of engagement varied greatly. He would zone out in the middle of games. He showed no aggression whatsoever. Not aggression as in violence, but aggression as in fighting to get the ball or contesting the other team as it tried to score. He would often just get out of the way.
He also had a great misconception about his own ability. He would get angry when the coach substituted for him. He sometimes complained, loudly, when the other team scored while he was on the bench. When his team fell way behind in the first game, he verged on a meltdown about the score. Veronica jumped into action, drawing stares from the other parents as she went over to the bench to lecture him about there being no crying over the score.
I distinctly remember attending his games that first season with a pit in my stomach. The same one I used to get at birthday parties and other social situations where I felt like I was going to be in constant apology mode for my son’s behavior.
There has been lots of progress since then, with Ryan for sure, but also with Veronica ad me. We are much more comfortable advocating for him in all situations. We have become more proactive about addressing challenging behaviors and seeking extra help.
As a player, Ryan barely resembles the disengaged boy of three summers ago. He is not distracted during games. He does not complain when substituted for. He celebrates appropriately. He still hates to lose, but his reaction to allowing a goal is within the bounds of reasonable. He is aggressive, contesting loose balls and diligently picking up his man on defense. He can accurately critique his own performance. After the first game, a 13-3 win, he blamed himself for one of the goals allowed because he had turned the puck over.
He is also a much better player. He’s more coordinated, understands the game better, and all those hours shooting at the net in the backyard have improved his skills with the puck.
Another thing he has developed is pride in his own toughness. Tuesday night, he was hit in the eye with a shot (thankfully his sports glasses protected the eye from injury). He did not shed a tear. He sat our for a few minutes with ice on his face and then eagerly returned to the game.
When his team lost, he did not have a meltdown. He is excitedly looking forward to his next practice and game.
We tend to view progress in the microscopic units of minutes, hours, days. A lousy day or a tough couple of weeks can very quickly lead to feelings of helplessness and depression, as in “how is this ever going to get better?”
So it can be a welcome distraction to view progress over years, not days. Instead of watching Ryan under a microscope, it’s like seeing his life story played out on a big screen, with several years compressed into a few minutes.
When viewed like that, the changes are remarkable. They don’t necessarily make the tough moments any easier, but they provide a very welcome distraction.