Back From the Brink

Wile E Coyote and Road Runner
In this scenario, the Road Runner is the Florida Panthers, Ryan is Wile E Coyote, and the cliff is 10 shots on goal. Keep reading, it’ll make sense.

Ryan was on the brink of a meltdown last night. The Florida Panthers had only two shots on goal after the first period of their game against the New York Rangers, putting them on pace for fewer than 10 total in the game, one of Ryan’s triggers. Unbeknownst to us, Ryan was in his room, obsessively refreshing the stats while the rest of us watched a different game downstairs.

We let our guard down. It was more than a week since Ryan’s last episode with hockey stats. We went to a game on Saturday. Veronica and I were even discussing reducing his anti-anxiety med this coming weekend.

Ryan’s pained cries of concern snapped us back to reality. We jumped into action, calmly talking him into turning off the computer. We coaxed him downstairs and went over the coping mechanism he memorized with his doctor.

Ryan stopped just short of a full-on panic attack, pulling himself back from the brink. We assured him Florida would get 10 shots because everyone always does. He looked at us suspiciously and declared that if we were wrong, “I’m never watching hockey again!” I asked why he would punish himself for something beyond his control, but that wasn’t how he looked at it. His meant his threat to punish us if we failed to deliver on something we promised. I stuck to the company line: Florida was going to get 10 shots. I wasn’t worried.

I lied. I was terrified.

My brain simultaneously flashed back to the “but I thought parents could always fix it” episode, while at the same time plotting how I could hack all the box scores to give Florida 10 shots even if it fell short. I deeply did not want to disappoint him. I rolled the dice, knowing the odds were in my favor. I did not want to think about the consequences of being wrong.

Ryan eventually agreed to some pre-bedtime reading, and was even engaged with the book. As has been our usual routine, he asked to check the stats one more time before lights out. The Panthers still had fewer than 10 total shots halfway through the second period, but Ryan processed their pace and declared himself no longer worried. He went right to sleep.

Veronica and I, meanwhile, took up his vigil, furiously refreshing the stats on my phone. When Florida finally hit 10 midway through the third period, I threw up my arms and said “yes!” as if my favorite team had just scored a goal. They finished with 16, clearing Ryan’s magic number with room to spare.

Another disaster avoided. But were we just lucky? Or is Ryan genuinely making progress? Earlier in the evening, we thought perhaps the entire episode was passing. Watching him get upset all over again, we did a 180: everything was the same, but we had just come through a lucky stretch where no team threatened one of Ryan’s trigger numbers.

Once Florida cleared the hurdle, we discussed it some more, landing somewhere in the middle. This issue is not behind us. It has not “passed.” And yet, progress was undeniable. Two weeks ago, Ryan covered himself in blankets, cowered in fear on the couch, and refused to eat even before the games began. That was every night? If a team threatened one of his triggers, he began crying and screaming uncontrollably, his body tense with fear.

Last night we saw clear signs of anxiety and anger, but not the abject terror of before. He helped talk himself through it by remembering the keys the doctor gave him. And he still wants to go to the Devils’ final home game this week.

I look forward to the day when Ryan can laugh at the fact that these stats gave him such trouble. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than we were a week ago. Until then, looks like we will be keeping a close eye on the stats.

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