The day after a favorite sports team’s season ends brings with it a special kind of mostly meaningless sadness. I say mostly meaningless because, unless you’re a gambler, the outcome of a game rarely has lasting implications for fans. That doesn’t make the heaviness-of-heart any less real.
Yesterday, in a day Veronica and I have dreaded for 16 years (more on that in a bit) our respective favorite college basketball teams, Kentucky and Michigan, faced off in the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
The tension began building as soon as the brackets were announced two weeks ago, and Michigan and Kentucky were placed in the same region. It increased with each passing round as the Wolverines and Wildcats moved towards an improbable meeting. Veronica, Kentucky born and bred, is every bit the
crazy passionate, yell-at-the-TV fan I am. I prefer college football to basketball, but March Madness is the peak of her sports year (or at least it was until she became a hockey nut). Both of us wanted this game, bad. We weren’t at all sure we could watch it in the same room and be civil to one another.
In the end, we watched together, and we were mostly even decent to each other. Kentucky won at the last second by sinking an incredible shot and moves on. Michigan lost and saw its season come to an abrupt end. Veronica celebrated; I despaired. That’s the way sports go. Friends and family inquired about the state of our marriage via text and social media. I can report that we remain happily married, but one of us has a heavy heart this morning.
The last time Michigan and Kentucky were paired in the same bracket was 1998, the year we were married. Had seeds held, they would have played in the third round, about three weeks before our wedding. I’m not sure we would have made it to the altar had Michigan not crashed out of the tournament early, in the second round.
(I kid. Sort of. That was a tense time. Veronica watched Kentucky’s tournament games — the Wildcats would go on to win the whole thing — wearing oven mitts so as not to chew on the nails she was growing out for the wedding.)
We made it through OK this time because it was a great game between two great teams, won on a near-impossible shot. There was no controversy. Two really good teams went toe-to-toe for 40 minutes and Kentucky was one shot better. In basketball, as in life, sometimes you can do just about everything right and the dude still just hits the shot. You have to learn to take it and move on.
We also made it through because we received a reminder, just before tipoff, that we are forever teammates in the raising of our children, and in looking out for Ryan.
Ryan had hockey practice yesterday during the game, his third session with his new town team. Due to the extreme basketball conflict we arranged to have him picked up by our sitter after I dropped him off.
He also had practice Saturday, and there was an incident in the locker room that Ryan told me about. It was minor enough for me to hold out hope that it was playful teasing among teammates. It was serious enough to get my full attention that maybe Ryan was being targeted — again.
My plan yesterday was to take him to practice, make sure he got on the ice OK, and then head home to watch the game on a slight DVR delay with Veronica. Right after Ryan went into the locker room, he came running out to find me with a question. I don’t feel like going into detail, but right away my radar went off that he was being set up. And he was. I returned to the room with him to find he had been the subject of another practical joke/bullying/teasing (take your pick) incident.
There was a moment as I saw a room full of kids laughing at my son that rage welled up inside me. I calmed myself enough to issue a stern warning to all the kids present that I did not want to hear about a similar incident happening again.
I’m torn. We will not tolerate our son being picked up or the target of running jokes, simply because he trusts people and makes an easy mark. He’s good enough to be on this team, better than a good chunk of the players on the roster. He’s earned his place. He deserves respect and inclusion from his teammates. But, but, but … the event was again just innocent enough to make me think it could be harmless locker room hijinks. I don’t want to make him a bigger target or get him ostracized by making a larger deal about it than warranted.
I hate the situation. I hate my doubt. It makes me question everything. Are we being over-protective? Are we being protective enough? Are we being naïve to think Ryan can ever be fully accepted by his teammates on a “regular” team?
No. I will not allow that level of doubt to take over. We will figure out what to do. ALL of us, Ryan included. Veronica and I will take whatever steps — no matter how uncomfortable — to make sure the situation is properly addressed. Starting right then. Starting right there.
I got Ryan alone and talked to him about it. He was quick to defend his teammates, but I don’t know if that’s a defense mechanism, or confusion interpreting my signals. I suspect he thinks I’m mad at him or that he’s done something wrong, when nothing could be further from the truth.
After getting the kids’ attention with my warning, I stepped out of the room and waited for the coach. He walked past me and I hesitated. This was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it, but it was no time to back down. I owed Ryan at least that much.
I stopped the coach and asked for a few minutes.
I explained — in greater depth than I had at the first practices — Ryan’s social challenges. I explained the back-to-back incidents. I told him of my conflict about not wanting to blow things out of proportion, but I also told him that all my son wants is to be accepted. I asked him to keep an eye out for anything. I resolved to talk to Ryan when he got home.
And then I stewed. I needed to vent, to talk it out, and there was only one person in the world I wanted to talk to: my partner in this parenting journey, Veronica.
I called her and explained the whole thing. I explained my actions and my reasoning. I told her about the incident the day before, which I had kept to myself to not upset her. We commiserated.
The Michigan-Kentucky game was forgotten. My enemy for the day was once again my teammate, my partner, my best friend, my sounding board, my counsel, my co-advocate for Ryan.
Sports is a distraction, and it served as one yesterday. For the first time since we met, Veronica and I were on complete opposite sides of a game.
When it comes to Ryan? That will never happen.