In the midst of our airport saga last week, there were moments.
Moments of happiness. Of pure joy.
Moments that came of Ryan’s mind, his unique imagination, his passion and focus.
Moments that only he could produce.
And those moments deserve to have their story told.
I need to back up. In the late fall, Ryan and I completed our second lengthy backyard ball-hockey series. This one was a best-of-83. Yes, you read that correctly. He chose 83 because it was the closest odd number to 82, which is the number of games an NHL team plays in the regular season. Each game takes perhaps 15 minutes to play, but they’re not done when a winner is declared. Ryan immediately races to his room, types up the final score and stats on his computer, updates the standings, and saves the file in a folder.
We would play one game most weekday nights, and four or five on a weekend. There was a multi-week break that followed a bout of whiplash I suffered in a beer-league ice hockey game. The series took a couple of months to complete. It was close throughout. I’d like to say that was by design, but I can no longer win any game I try to. I wanted to push it to the full 83 games, but in the end Ryan beat me three in a row to take the series something like 42-39.
As with our previous long series, there were stakes — referred to by Ryan as “the bet.” Once again, the loser had to do anything — within reason — that the winner desired. When I lost the last series, my sentence was to spend two-plus hours serving as the color commentator on an extremely detailed Hockey Guys game broadcast.
This time, Ryan had bigger things in store for me. He carefully plotted — but refused to divulge my fate. Weeks went by with weekend scheduling conflicts that made it impossible to complete the bet. Finally, it was agreed I would perform my duties during our trip last week, both at the airport, and on the plane. Ryan was beside himself with happiness. He finally told me what it was: I had to spend three hours engaged in one of his favorite activities: typing imaginary hockey standings and box scores.
Ryan has spent thousands of hours creating these files. There are hundreds and hundreds of them on his computer. All carefully formatted, they contain the NHL standings from a given date from some point in the past five or so seasons. They are sometimes completely made up. They are sometimes exact copies of the real standings from that date. They are a product of his OCD, yes, but also his remarkable memory.
They are his stim.
Clearly, he enjoys the activity, but there have been times they have pushed him over the edge. Still, we have learned to “respect the stim,” as it were. We encouraged him to branch out from standings, so he began creating box scores for individual games that look very much like the ones he love to browse online. Lately, he has taken to writing game stories that are incredibly realistic.
As he explained the bet to me, I thought about what it would be like to step into this part of his world. A piece of me looked forward to it. Would I find it engaging? Would I learn something about my son in the process?
Ryan prepared a series of documents for me and copied them to my laptop. A couple of hours into our airport wait, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t start. So I did. He was thrilled. He was so excited to explain to me what to do that he ran through it too quickly for me to follow. I realized there was a lot more complexity to what he spends hours upon hours doing than I had known. I was given a series of game “results” and a list of starting goalies. I had to update the standings based on that date, and produce a box score for each game with the proper goalies.
I asked about writing recaps, the way he has done. Ryan told me it was my choice. I started my work, with Ryan correcting me many times as I updated standings. He laughed with each mistake I made. He wanted me to do it EXACTLY the way he does — right down to sequence and minor things such as retyping vs. copying and pasting. When I protested, he agreed to allow me to do it my way as long as the result was to his satisfaction.
I decided to write the recaps, figuring it would be more fun than just typing numbers. Maybe it was the ridiculous situation we were in at the airport, but I was in a silly mood. In one of my games, a referee told a goalie we was old and should retire. The goalie cursed him out, resulting in a penalty that decided the game. In other, players referred to future events they couldn’t possibly have known about at the date these games were played. I mixed in some of my favorite phrases and opinions about certain players that I knew Ryan would recognize. When I got to the Sharks game, I had the players saying they held their shots-on-goal total down because they didn’t want to upset their biggest fan.
After I’d finished a couple of them, I invited Ryan to inspect my work. As he read, first a smile crossed it face. Then it grew, and great waves of laughter spilled out. His entire body was shaking. He laughed so hard he started to cough. He read certain sentences over and over, aloud. Keep in mind we were sitting at a very crowded airport gate, full of miserable, delayed passengers. Suddenly, this boy among them was having the time of his life. I started to laugh, too. It was impossible not to enjoy the display of so much happiness coming from him.
I knew people were looking. I did not care.
It didn’t last, of course. Our flight was cancelled and Ryan’s mood soured in a big way. But the bet was concluded at home Friday amidst more fits of laughter. It helped pick us both up after the disappointment of the cancelled trip.
It was something else, too: an invitation. An invitation to step into a world I had only observed, never experienced. Did I come away enlightened, with some new level of understanding about why my son finds it so engaging to spend hours typing hockey statistical minutia?
No, that’s not it. I just came away with a healthier respect that it’s important to him. That he finds comfort, and clarity, and regulation in those rows and rows of numbers.
I am sure we will continue to struggle with what place to give such activities. We have gotten better about recognizing what they are and giving him space to engage in them. But we also see what happens when he spends too long at them, and so we know that limits have to be placed. We explain why, and he seems to understand.
I’m thankful to Ryan for opening this window for me — and for allowing me to run with it in a silly direction. The resulting laughter was a much-needed gift in a time of high stress. Still, when I finished, and the bet was declared satisfied, Ryan had a message for me.
“Next time, will you take the recaps more seriously?” he asked.
I explained that I simply wanted to make him smile when we were all so miserable. He accepted it, but I told him that yes, next time I’d be more serious.
Next time, I will show proper respect for the stim.