On the surface, it doesn’t sound like much.
Sunday, Riley had a late-afternoon soccer game, and I had an early evening adult league hockey game. The choice for Ryan was simple. Either attend Riley’s game, or mine. It was an easy choice for Ryan. He declared he would attend my game, and keep score — something he had done once before. There was one key difference. That was a family outing, this time it would be just Ryan and me. And I’d be kind of, you know, occupied and all.
No big deal, right?
Except for us, it was a very big deal. We haven’t taken Ryan a lot of places where he would have to occupy himself. He doesn’t exactly do well with waiting. I could see him the entire time, of course, but he would have to fill the time before and after the game while I got dressed and undressed in my hockey gear. During the game, he’d sit in the bleachers with his homemade score book, tracking the shots on goal and the scoring chances.
This really was a major step in independence. If anything went wrong, I could of course step off the ice and deal with it, but I was very much hoping that would not be the case.
We drove to the rink together and talked about the game. I got him some food from the snack bar for dinner, figuring that would keep him busy while I dressed. I popped out of the locker room a few times, only to find him happily munching away on chicken nuggets.
Just as I prepared to take the ice, Ryan came into the rink area, score book at the ready. He told me which statistics we would be measuring. He stood at the glass, book leaned against it so he could record shots without taking his eyes off the action. During the brief warmup, I made sure to shoot a few pucks towards the spot where he was standing. As they bounced harmlessly off the Plexiglass in front of him, he startled, then smiled and laughed, so I did it a few more times.
Ryan was fine. He was completely engaged in his task. He was quiet (he had threatened to do play-by-play which I’m sure would have gone over less than smashingly with the few other wives, girlfriends and family members watching the game).
At the end of each period, I skated over to him, opened the rink door and asked for an update. He gave me the shots and the scoring chances. At the end of the second, when we were already well behind, Ryan told me, “Dad, your team is doing AWFUL.”
He’s nothing if not honest.
When the game ended, a loss big enough to be called a “butt-kick,” I promised Ryan I’d change as quickly as possible so we could go home. I asked him to wait in the lobby for me. I raced out of my gear as quickly as possible, knowing these few minutes would be the biggest challenge of the evening for Ryan. But when I stepped into the lobby, hockey bag and sticks in hand, I found him sitting still, quietly looking over his score book.
“Hey buddy,” I said — momentarily forgetting that he hates to be called “buddy.”
“Dad, you guys were terrible.”
A woman sitting nearby couldn’t help herself. She laughed.
“I can’t really argue,” I told both of them.
He gave me the final statistics and we headed to the car. I was beaming. I was so proud of him for sitting quietly, not being bothered by the wait, and paying attention to the game.
It was the most deliciously normal thing in the world.