Last night was just the second since June 9 that my entire family spent under one roof. I was off chasing the Stanley Cup between Boston and Chicago and when I returned, Veronica had taken the kids to visit her sister for a couple of days.
It was a long time apart, but we had technology to keep us close. Still, there is no substitute for the real thing. I missed my family terribly — even as I felt privileged to witness an amazing series up close. I missed my street hockey games with Ryan. I worried that he wouldn’t play without me. Ryan gets so locked into routine that I was concerned he would refuse to play if I wasn’t there — just because it was different.
I was wrong.
Midway through my trip, Veronica sent me a text with the picture at the top of this post. It is of Ryan and our neighbor C. playing street hockey in our usual backyard spot. On the phone, she told me the rest of the story. Ryan was outside shooting on his street-hockey net when he spied C. in his backyard and invited him over to play.
C. accepted — because that’s exactly the type of person and father he is — and happily engaged in what Ryan described as a “scrimmage.” I wasn’t completely replaced after all! Since C. is not me, Ryan insisted they play a different type of game. He told me about it on the phone. “We play offense-defense — no goalies,” he told me. Ryan and I never play “offense-defense” so this was something he invented for C.
They played a couple more times before I came home for good. Each time, C. gave his all to keep things competitive, sometimes leaving drenched in sweat.
I didn’t ask C. to play with my son. He has two children of his own Ryan’s age and plenty to keep him busy. He did it because Ryan asked.
A couple posts back, on the occasion of Riley’s graduation from middle school, I wrote about our school district, its commitment to special education, and how maybe us ending up here wasn’t an accident but something more fateful.
Veronica read the post. She asked if I thought about saying the same thing about our neighbors and best friends. C. and L. live right next door. They have twin girls in Ryan’s grade who shared a classroom with him throughout elementary school. The girls, raised in an extraordinarily compassionate and kind household, looked out for Ryan. They redirected him when he got upset. They intervened on his behalf. They still do so on occasion. L. is a speech therapist. She has spent countless hours helping us review IEPs and making suggestions. And C. has embraced our son, with all his quirks. He puts up with Ryan’s sports taunts any time the Rangers happen to lose a game.
They have never so much as batted an eye at any special accommodations Ryan needed or behavior he exhibited at family events — at which we have frequently been included. We have vacationed together, sharing rental houses and early morning wake-ups — mostly from our kids. They attempted to lift our spirits during an often miserable week vacationing in New Hampshire during which Ryan barely slept.
They have watched Ryan and Riley for us and offered to be stand-in sitters so Veronica and I could have a much-needed date night.
Veronica is right. Maybe it’s no accident that these are the neighbors we ended up with. And they are definitely one of the reasons we still live where we do.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Special needs or no, you need an assist from time to time. Sometimes that takes the form of a ride to school or an offer to keep an eye on your kids. Sometimes it means standing in for a missing dad in a street hockey game.
Like a trusted winger on a well-formed hockey line, we always know where we can find a timely assist. It’s right next door.