Summer is not my favorite time of year. I hate the heat and humidity of the northeast. I hate there’s no hockey or football to watch or care about daily. And as I’m sure many special-needs parents can relate, the unstructured summer schedule is not always easy for Ryan — or for us.
But I do enjoy some aspects of this time of year. The slower pace of both work and home life is appealing — no scrambling to finish homework and race to activities. No “school projects” — among the scariest phrases in the English language to any parent. I like that Ryan is a little more willing to be flexible. He stays up later. He worries (a little) less about sticking to precise schedules.
Because there are fewer demands on the ice-rink schedules, my adult league hockey games get scheduled at more reasonable hours. No more 11:20 p.m. weekday-night starts until the fall. Sunday, I had the earliest game I can ever recall: 5 p.m.
Our team captain organized a post-game barbecue to be held right in front of the rink. I mentioned this to Veronica and asked if she would bring the kids to watch me play. Her eye roll told me all I needed to know, as in, “Are you kidding me? You were gone for three weeks, leaving me alone with the kids and now you want me to bring them to watch you play hockey (not very well) and then take them back home and put them to bed so you can hang out with your friends eating and drinking?”
So, she might have had a point. Or five. Time for a new approach. I checked with Riley. She didn’t really want to go. I’ve taken Ryan to my games by himself before. He keeps score and tracks the shots on goal quite happily. But staying for a postgame cookout was a new wrinkle. I told him he could have a hamburger and since the game was so early, we’d still be home in plenty of time before bed.
He agreed, but was hesitant about staying after. He offered a deal. “I’ll stay,” he said, “but only if YOU play well.” He meant me, not the team. I hadn’t been on skates in four weeks. I was not optimistic about holding up my end of the bargain, especially since after moving up to a higher division this season AND losing a few of our best players, we were in last place.
But Ryan wasn’t backing down. That would be the agreement. I asked how my performance would be evaluated. He told me he would judge me on effort. Thank goodness he didn’t say “on skill.” Effort, I can do.
He tried to back out in the afternoon. He really did not want to stay after the game. I thought about leaving him home, but Veronica correctly overruled me for the second time. She reminded me it was a chance to hang out with my son at a hockey rink. If he didn’t want to stay for postgame burgers, too bad. It was worth the try.
She was right. I love having him there. He stands right at the glass, fully engaged in the game, keeping track of stats on his carefully prepared scoresheet. I did everything I could to tilt the odds in my favor. Postgame burgers were going to be his only dinner option. I told him it was a boys-only hockey outing, no girls allowed. His interest perked up.
We got to the rink and I showed him where his name is listed on the wall for having won the most-improved player trophy. Ryan’s face lit up with pride.
Ryan popped into the dressing room to warn me again that we needed to play well and avoid his shots-on-goal triggers. My teammates laughed at this added pressure. Ryan smiled at the occasional profanity. It was like being admitted to a secret club.
In truth, I wanted him to see the atmosphere of the dressing room and the postgame gathering. On the drive over I explained how I played hockey as much for the social aspects of “hanging out with the fellas” as for love of the sport. I told him that, invariably, when retired NHL players are asked what they miss most about the game, they say “being around the boys in the room.”
Ryan kept me updated on shots totals between periods. He laughed that I had been completely responsible for a goal against. Thankfully, we avoided all his triggers. Even though we lost, 5-1, he said I had played well enough for him to stick around.
Here came the tricky part. I knew it would be 30 minutes or more before any food was ready. Could I convince him to wait?
It turned out to be easier than I thought. He brought is iPad, and happily watched NHL highlights on the rink’s WiFi network while waiting. He didn’t complain about the delay, and didn’t force me to leave the second he finished scarfing down his burger.
I even convinced him to try a bite of a cheeseburger. I had to bribe him with a new Wipeout episode on iTunes, but he still willingly tried a new food. Definitely worth the $2.
We chatted easily about the game and the stats on the way home. I asked him if he thought he might play adult league someday. He’s 12 now — we have some 22-year-olds on our team. In ten years, I’ll be in my early 50s. We have a couple 50-year-olds as well. I walked Ryan through the math.
“Maybe in another ten years we can play on a team together,” I told him.
The smile that crossed his face was the best moment of the entire evening.