It’s a trip we’ve taken just about every year since our kids were very young. The house is always overflowing with kids, presents and food. The kids all play together, but Ryan was usually off on his own, either checking NHL standings on his Nana’s computer, typing standings, playing with his Hockey Guys, or watching NHL Network. Occasionally, he would try to engage with his cousins but would quickly lose interest and return to his own activity.
This was our first visit in two years, and Ryan was … different. He looked forward to the trip with an exaggerated excitement that was easy to dismiss as false, except that it wasn’t. It was similar to how he kept proclaiming his excitement for Thanksgiving this year because he wanted to play football with his cousins — and he did. For this trip, he kept saying how much he wanted to play with his cousins. Including Ryan and Riley, there were eight kids in all, four boys and four girls, all between the ages of 10 and 16. Ryan assured us he was going to play with them and in fact, when we arrived several hours ahead of everyone else, he was bitterly disappointed.
Veronica and I waited for everyone with nervous anticipation. Ryan’s level of eagerness was a bit over the top. Plus, he has a history of trying to impose elaborate rules on any group play situation, and quickly abandoning when the other kids predictably lose interest.
But Ryan quickly proved that he had a more open mind this time. He agreed to play whatever the other kids wanted, at least most of the time. There were no attempts to turn everything into hockey or to dominate the rules that would govern the contest.
When all the kids disappeared into the backyard to play some kind of made-up judge-and-trial game, Ryan initially resisted but quickly got bored by himself and ran off to join the others. I expected him back in a few minutes, but he lasted over an hour. (Also — he apparently sentenced everyone to hell during his turn as judge. Umm, moving along.)
The highlight for me was a five-on-five, boys vs. girls basketball game on the second day, with Veronica, her sister, and I joining the contest. It was reminiscent of our Thanksgiving touch football game, and every bit as fun — at least until we had to drop my sister-in-law off at the E.R. for x-rays on an injured wrist. What can I say? We play for keeps. I’m pretty sure I have few marks from the 43 times Veronica fouled me under the basket.
Ryan (and Riley, for that matter) didn’t last long at basketball, opting for the playground after a few minutes. But the brief time we were all together on the court is one I will always cherish.
This trip is always a tough one, between the flight, the long drive, the crowded house, the disrupted routines and temporary sleeping arrangements. Watching Ryan isolate himself in earlier years was not easy. Seeing him jump right into the fray this year was a pleasant surprise, and a reminder that though we may not notice the progress when measured in daily increments, the longer lens of years makes it impossible to miss.
Sure, the good feelings temporarily evaporated a bit between the mini-meltdown of not being able to listen to the Jets game in the car in the way back to the airport and the full-blown explosion at having to wait an hour for our bags only to have one of them go missing. (It showed up later that night.)
But those incidents are not what I will remember from this trip. I will recall Ryan’s huge smile as he chased after his cousins yelling, “Guys! What are we doing?” I will also remember the way they all listened, accepted and accommodated him without anything more than an occasional eye roll at an overly repeated question. It was wonderful to witness, and well worth the effort to get there.