Ryan and I were at it again yesterday, taking in the Saints-Jets game at MetLife Stadium. He wanted to go despite it being a last-minute, unplanned outing. Despite having a lot homework to do. He was willing to go early to tailgate and stay until the last snap. He threw the football. He played bean-bag toss. He ate burgers and steaks at the tailgate.
Each of those would be considered a Not Little Thing in our house. The tickets were offered by a friend on Saturday afternoon. Ryan was busy studying and doing homework when the offer came. Veronica didn’t think he’d want to go because of the amount of work he had to do and because it wasn’t part of his weekend plan. I was pretty sure he would. So we asked, and he said yes with enthusiasm.
The tickets came with a parking pass, so I checked with my friend C., who hosted us at two tailgates last year, if he would be at the game. He was going, and parking in the same lot. The tailgate was on. I told Ryan this meant leaving the house at 10:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game — and there was no objection. He asked what time we’d be home, but did not flinch when I guessed 5:30 p.m. That he shrugs at spending seven hours at an activity outside the home is a change from where we were a few years ago. How many experiences did he miss out on because they required too much deviation from his preferred schedule? We’re not in that place anymore.
He willingly got to work on his homework early Sunday so we could be ready to go in time, and did not protest when I told him it was time to stop checking NHL stats and begin revising his English paper. He wanted to go to the game and was willing to do what was necessary.
We weren’t in the parking lot 30 seconds before he wanted to get the football out and start throwing it. This is also a triumph. Throwing any sort of ball has never come easily for Ryan. We have to break it down into small, repeatable steps and practice until it becomes routine. A football, which requires a specific grip and release point, is even trickier. It’s a work in progress, but just last week he asked to practice in the backyard because he wants to do better when they work on football in gym class. Now, here I was, playing catch with him in a sea of Jets fans in the parking lot, enjoying the fruits of his labor. (He only hit one car! Yes, it was a Mustang 5.0. Thankfully, the owner wasn’t nearby. Moving on.)
Ryan also loves bean bag toss (or “cornhole” depending on what part of the country you’re from) and he’s quite the ringer. Watching him put three in a row in the hole against me yesterday, I thought back to years ago, when one of his early OT’s suggested bean bag toss as an excellent activity for developing fine-motor skills. We raced out to buy a set, which mostly went unused because Ryan had no interest in it.
Eating steaks and burgers at a tailgate? That would have been impossible two years ago, when Ryan neither ate any form of meat that wasn’t a piece of processed bacon or a chicken nugget, nor would he eat or drink anything outside, for fear of getting bugs in his mouth. As I watched him ask for C. to toast the bun on his second burger yesterday, I was pretty sure that particular issue is in the past.
The game was the easy part. Since his first interest in hockey materialized, it has always been easy to take Ryan to sporting events. He watches from start to finish, remaining highly engaged throughout. Even though it had been more than a year since our last visit to MetLife, he remembered the location of the out-of-town scoreboard and noticed that the Jets have changed how they display in-game stats. I swear, nothing gets past that kid.
The game was fantastic, a tightly fought battle in which the Jets secured the upset win in the final minute. Ryan rode the wave of emotion with the crowd. I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. If you told the younger me that I’d be screaming and cheering on the Jets at this age, I would’ve called you crazy. But the Jets are my son’s team and so they are now my team by proxy, because I took as much enjoyment out of watching him celebrate yesterday’s win as I ever have watching “my” teams.
Ryan’s celebrations were marked by my new favorite Ryan thing. After celebrating a good play with me, he turned to find neighbors in the crowd with whom to exchange high-fives. I’ve seen this at enough different sporting events now to know it is not a random thing. He loves the instant connection with otherwise strangers, which is, just, you know, the best thing ever.
All of these moments provided wonderful memories yesterday, and they are the reason I will share as many of these experiences with Ryan as time, money, and his willingness allow.
But they will not be my main takeaway from yesterday. No, that came during the game, when I was telling Ryan how much I love taking him to games and how easy it is for me to root for his teams because I want him to be happy with the outcome. I told him how I’d rather go to a game with him or his sister over just about anyone on earth. I couldn’t help it. I got a little emotional. I spent so much time bonding with my dad at sporting events and it took a lot longer than I imagined to get to this space with my son. I never want to get to the point where I take these outings for granted, because we’ve both traveled a long path to get here.
When we’re having conversations like this, I usually don’t ask Ryan if he thinks about having the same experiences with kids of his own. When the topic comes up, Ryan almost always says he’s never going to have kids. His reasons are usually that babies are annoying, cry a lot (crying babies are one of the few sounds to which he has a sensory reaction), and a lot of work. We try not to focus too much on it because it inevitably leads to uncomfortable thoughts about how his life as an adult is going to play out. Will he find companionship? Get married? Have kids? I try to live more in the moment than that, but it’s not easy when he addresses the topic so directly.
But this time, Ryan had a surprise for me, and it will provide my lasting memory of yesterday’s game.
He told me that when he has kids, and emphasized that he said “when” and not “if,” he said he would take them to games like I’ve done for him. “But,” he said, “if my kids are Ducks fans, I will NOT root for the Ducks!” I laughed, because laughter kept the tears at bay. Ryan’s favorite team of all is, of course, the San Jose Sharks, and the Anaheim Ducks are their rivals. Ryan hates the Ducks. He was meeting me halfway, telling me he’d have kids and take them to games but would never go so far as to root for the Sharks’ rival.
That was one glimpse at the future that I didn’t mind, not one bit.