Repeating the same activities year after year stands as a convenient way to measure Ryan’s progress.
Ryan has played in our town’s summer street-hockey league for five seasons, and he has come a remarkably long way in that time. His coördination, his social skills, his understanding of how to be a good teammate — all have come miles.
Last year was a real breakthrough. After three straight years of being a minor contributor on teams that finished last or near-last and were often blown out, Ryan ended up on a new team, with a new coach. I reached out to set up “the talk,” and found him wonderfully receptive.
He coached all the boys with enthusiasm and structure and the results were clear. Ryan’s team, the Islanders, lost just two games on its way to the championship.
Back with the same coach and several of the same players this year, the Islanders were dominant. They went undefeated in the regular season (including one memorable contest with Ryan in net) and rolled through the semifinal game to reach the championship.
Not only that, but Ryan was a major contributor. After a rain out left the team shorthanded for the championship, Ryan played the entire game without a break. He was aggressive and engaged throughout. He also showed off quite a bit of skill. It seems all those hundreds of hours shooting and playing in the backyard have paid dividends.
It was a tight contest, but Ryan’s team got the early lead and never looked back. They won, 5-3, to clinch their second straight title. Soon I gathered with the other parents to take pictures of the boys with their trophies and to thank the coach for the way he worked with the kids all year.
It was very similar to a year ago, but there would be one thing different.
Coach asked if Ryan would be coming out to celebrate the championship with ice cream. I remembered the same question from last year. Ryan didn’t want to go then. Going would mean being up later than he likes and so he refused. I suspect the concept of celebrating with teammates didn’t mean much to him. In the black-and-white equations he uses to guide himself through life, going for ice cream meant a disruption in routine, and so the answer was no.
I assumed the answer was going to be the same this time. But I should know better. Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago that my son surprised me with a spontaneous, all-day outing to a baseball game?
I started to tell the coach “thanks but no thanks,” much to his disappointment.
“He’s gotta come celebrate with the team!” he told me. “I’m not taking no for an answer!”
So I got hold of my senses and decided to ask Ryan, whose decision it should have been all along. I found him celebrating with Veronica and Riley and put the question to him.
He looked at me a paused for a moment to consider it, before emphatically declaring “YES!!!” just as he had when I offered the Yankee game on Saturday.
“I want to celebrate with my teammates!”
Veronica and I shared a look, as we have learned to do without speaking during these small, but oh-so-not-small moments. Forget his schedule. Forget being up late. He wanted to be with his peers. There was no question we were going.
Ryan proudly carried his trophy into the store, and found a place to sit with the other boys. He talked to everyone about their stats in the game. The TV in the shop was showing the Yankee game, and when A-Rod came to bat, Ryan joined all the other boys in booing him.
“Mom, did you see how I booed A-Rod just like everyone else?” he said to Veronica, and she smiled one of those happy/sad/happy smiles … the one that I know exactly what it means. It means, “Did you see that? Wasn’t that incredible?” mixed in with a little of “I wish it wasn’t such a big deal for him” but overwhelmed by pride and happiness for Ryan. I agreed completely.
When we got home, even though his normal bed time had already passed, Ryan insisted on staying up and writing a recap of the game. What he produced was brilliant in so many ways, but my favorite passage was the following:
The last time the Islanders were shorthanded, was also against the Rangers on the fifth game of the regular season. The Islanders had a couple of people going on a trip including their goaltender. However, Ryan volunteered to play in goal and he was phenomenal stopping about 11 of the 12 shots he faced. The Islanders earned a well-deserved 4-1 win against the Rangers. That also showed the character in this undefeated team.
I love that, even several weeks later, Ryan is still proud of his achievement in goal.
So much of this street-hockey season was just like last year. The ending was the same. Except it was different in a small way that was anything but small to us.
And that is worth celebrating.