Yesterday was a crappy day. Meltdowns, objects thrown, cursing, screaming, crying fits. A total loss of control over seemingly minor developments beyond Ryan’s control. Worse, I was not around to help, having been at work and then off visiting a relative in town. But I can’t write about any of that today. I don’t want to dwell on the negative, and doing so based solely on second-hand accounts feels disingenuous. So I choose to write about something else, something a little more positive even if it feels odd.
It is well documented in these parts that Ryan is a hockey fan. That we are a hockey family. Beyond that, I am a fan of just about all sports, as is Veronica. As such, we have been watching plenty of the Olympics in our house.
It is difficult to get Ryan to watch any of it. He prefers replays of Stanley Cup playoff games from this spring on NHL Network. But I’m not giving up. He once shunned watching hockey, too, and look how that turned out.
Years of attempts to get Ryan to engage in new experiences have taught me a few things. You have to take a different approach with him. If I just tell him to sit on the couch and watch something with me, he’ll either outright refuse or quickly grow disinterested. And by “quickly,” I mean in 20 or 30 seconds.
The only hope of success is a two-pronged approach. One, I have to find some aspect of the new experience that relates to something he already likes in an easily connectable way. Two, I have to find some interesting detail of the new experience for Ryan to focus on.
Even then, there are far more failures than successes, but each time he consents to even trying something new cracks open the doors to his world view just a little wider.
The only minute successes we have had with the Olympics are with field hockey (obvious) and water polo (less so). With the former, the word “hockey” was enough of a lure to draw Ryan’s interest, and we found ourselves searching the deep recesses of the cable guide to find a game for him to watch. By the time we found the right channel, the games were over for the day, but he was intrigued enough that we can give that one another try.
With water polo, we focused on two aspects we thought would appeal to Ryan. One, NBC’s broadcast team for the sport features Mike “Doc” Emrick on play-by-play. For those that don’t follow hockey, Doc is the most famous hockey announcer in the U.S. He is to hockey what Vin Scully is to baseball, what Al Michaels is to football, what Marv Albert is to basketball. He is in the hockey Hall of Fame broadcasters’ wing. Making the connection stronger, Ryan has also met him (I have collaborated on some work projects with him over the years) and he knows all about Ryan’s extreme hockey fandom.
Doc’s voice is unmistakable and synonymous with hockey. He rises to a crescendo when the action heats up in a way that draws you into the broadcast. It sounds exactly the same calling water polo. As soon as I heard his voice, I called Ryan into the room.
I told him to listen and asked if he recognized the voice. He did. This interested him a bit, but as soon as he saw it was a totally foreign sport, he was off doing something else. Veronica tried next. Water polo is a terribly rough and penalties for things like attempted drowning are called every two minutes or so. The penalized players have to swim off to a tiny “penalty box” set apart from the “field” by red lane lines. This was similar enough to hockey for Veronica to call Ryan back into the room to observe. His interest rose a little more, but not enough to get him to sit down and watch the entire match.
Still he kept checking in on the game (which featured Team USA) to check the score. When he heard one of Doc’s signature goal calls, Ryan checked to make sure it was the Americans that had scored.
When the game ended, there was another, unexpected chance to draw Ryan’s interest. The pool-side reporter was Pierre McGuire, who does reports from in between the benches during NBC’s hockey telecasts. Before every NHL game, Pierre interviews one of the star players just ahead of the opening face off. He concludes every single one of these interviews by telling the player to “have some fun out there.”
Now, we watch A LOT of hockey games in our house. Waiting for Pierre to drop his signature line at the end of each interview has become a little game in our family, a small detail to watch for and keep the kids’ interest. Every time he does it, both kids howl with laughter.
And so here was Pierre, in London, standing beside a pool, talking to a water polo player. I called the kids in. Riley came, Ryan didn’t. We waited. He asked several mundane questions of the player before concluding the interview with “have some fun with this, ok?”
A-ha! Not an exact match, but close enough. Riley thought it was hilarious. Ryan heard the laughter and came into the room. I rewound the interview for him and he too laughed.
A connection? An interest? Maybe not yet. But it’s a spark. I suspect that if I turn on water polo this weekend, Ryan will be intrigued enough to see if Pierre will do it it again. Maybe he’ll watch a little more this time.
It’s not much, but like I said, we are attempting to broaden his world view one fraction of a degree at a it me. If Doc and Pierre and water polo can help get us there, I’m all for it.
Post-script: Tuesday morning, as I was leaving for work, I told both kids I wouldn’t be home for bed time that night since I was playing hockey after work. Upon hearing this, Riley told me to “have some fun out there.” Man, do I love that kid!