Self-advocacy. Self-awareness. Verbal tools to express both. The willingness to do so, unprompted.
These are among the silver linings we found ourselves recounting this weekend, after Ryan opened up about getting picked on at hockey practice. He told us a few kids constantly tell him he’s no good, he shouldn’t be on the team, that no one likes him. He confided that he doesn’t have friends on the team and he tries to keep to himself.
The revelation arrived like a swift kick to the gut, taking my breath away and sending a wave of emotional pain and anger through me.
I felt violated.
It’s such a double-edged sword. A few years ago, I’m not sure Ryan would have recognized being made fun of, let alone been able to tell us how it made him feel. This time, it came spilling out of him. He is deeply hurt that some of his teammates do not accept him. He feels let down by hockey, and by sports. He asked if this is how Richie Incognito treated Jonathan Martin. But for all our pride in Ryan’s ability to recognize the issue, advocate for and express himself, the overwhelming feeling is one of sadness.
I am confident we are addressing the situation properly through coaches and league administrators. Ryan’s former coaches, who are still involved in the program, immediately stepped up to intervene. We are not giving up on hockey.
Ryan is good enough to play at this level, which leads us to believe he’s getting picked on because of his social awkwardness. That’s what hurts perhaps the most of all. Ryan told us, quite directly, that he realizes the more people spend time around him, the more they don’t like him. He told us he thought that by being on a team, and proving he could play, things would be different.
After this revelation came out on Friday afternoon, I was determined to find some happiness this weekend. We finished our backyard street hockey series. I lost — despite my best efforts to push the series to a deciding 83rd!!!! game, I couldn’t beat him. We celebrated Veronica’s birthday by watching the Devils unexpectedly beat the Penguins Saturday night (I know, I married very well). Yesterday was a great day. You know how I know? The first time I left the house was to pick up a pizza for dinner with Ryan. That came in between watching football, college basketball, and hockey together.
We found shelter from the storm. We did so by taking refuge in that which binds us — sports. Which is why it is so hard to accept that on-ice teasing by his teammates threatens to chip away at Ryan’s love of hockey.
“I thought teammates are supposed to stick up for each other,” Ryan said at one point on Friday.
Oh, my son. You know more about being a good teammate than most will learn in a lifetime.