Thanksgiving Family Football

Touch Football
A family touch football game on Thanksgiving (note: not my family). Image from

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, full of time spent with family and friends, a plentiful feast, and football.

We had all of that, and then some, with plenty of highs and lows thrown in for good measure. There were a few really trying moments, including one courtesy of the New York Jets, who allowed three touchdowns in under a minute against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night, sending Ryan over the edge.

The high points were more subtle, things that we otherwise might — but long ago learned not to — take for granted. For me the highlight came Thanksgiving afternoon, between our arrival at my brother’s home and the time the turkey (and Ryan’s pizza) was served.

Ryan told us all week he was more excited than ever for the holiday because for the first time he cared about all three Fs: food, family AND football. We had the Lions game on the radio in the car on the way down, and my sister-in-law made sure to have the TV on the proper channel in time for our arrival. Ryan sat down to watch the games, but also engaged with his cousins, including his only male cousin on this side of the family who asked him to bring his Football Guys so they could play together.

Riley ran off with her female cousins, twins just a few months older than Ryan. There was little interaction between the two groups unless one of the girls wandered near the TV and received an update on the game from Ryan.

At some point in the afternoon, while waiting for dinner to be served, Ryan’s male cousin asked him to play outside. A game of football was suggested. The girls enthusiastically agreed to participate. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I was thrilled that Ryan was willing to ditch watching TV in order to play with his cousins, but I also knew I’d have to monitor the situation carefully. Many a game has broken down very quickly over Ryan’s insistence on imposing numerous and strict rules on the contest. I didn’t want his cousins to lose interest when he tried to get everyone to make the game just like a real NFL one.

Luckily, the five cousins made for an odd number so my participation was welcome. We set out cones to mark the field and worked out some basic rules: boys vs. girls, two-hand touch, two completions equals a first down, etc. I talked Ryan out of insisting upon kickoffs and extra points.

This was a rare treat. I grew up next door to an enormous family that always invited me to take part in their family touch football game on Thanksgiving and it was a highlight of the day. I had never had the same opportunity with my own kids, mainly because Ryan was never interested.

Before we started, I gathered all five kids around me to go over the rules. I told them we were playing for fun, and tried to discourage any manner of taunting, fighting, or rough play. I mentioned that touch football was an important part of the holiday tradition and how thrilled I was to play with all of them. We put our hands in, promised to be nice to each other, and chanted, “one, two, three, FOOTBALL!”

With that, we began. To my complete surprise and utter delight, the kids followed my directives — for the most part. There was some arguing over rules, fairness of the teams, and who should play quarterback. The boys took a big lead, and the girls came back to tie, then take a lead of their own. At that point the game broke down, over a combination of fatigue, hunger, and disagreement. Ryan had a few challenges, but managed to keep his composure even after I allowed a questionable touchdown by the girls to stand. He calmed down and remained in the game and ended up both catching and throwing touchdown passes.

The game lasted perhaps thirty minutes before it broke up, but it ended without major incident. Everyone wet back inside and back about their day without any lingering hard feelings.

Soon we were all at the table helping ourselves to piles of food. Though Ryan passed on all the typical Thanksgiving items, he was right in the social mix with all his cousins at the kids table, happily enjoying his pizza — the one we made him call his aunt to ask permission to bring. She is unfailingly accommodating to Ryan, so of course she agreed, and her son also opted for pizza over turkey.

The evening would end with Ryan screaming at the TV over the Jets and Riley bailing out of a sleepover with her cousins due to an upset stomach. It had begun with a series of chaotic events before we even got out of our own house. But despite those trying bookends, it was an unqualified success.

Autism has changed our family’s path in many ways. It was delayed us having some typical family experiences, and postponed others indefinitely. But it has also given us a greater appreciation of little moments and small victories that might otherwise pass without much observation.

A family touch football game is just the latest item on the list. In this season of reflection and of giving thanks, I can’t think of anything better to stop and appreciate.


6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Family Football

  1. Isn’t it wonderful when we have these moments among the chaos and hustle and bustle?! Love that the football game worked out!

    I thought of you as we watched that Jets/Patriots game on Thursday. It is difficult to watch one’s team of choice go down–hard. I had that feeling last night. *sigh*


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