Supporting the Troops

Support Our TroopsIf I made a list of places that I least look forward to taking Ryan, airports would be right at the top. Airports mean lines, and waiting, and delays. They’re unpredictable. They offer few exit plans. They are crowded with people, each a potential onlooker to an unpleasant situation when things don’t go according to plan. I sat through a 10-hour delay on one leg of my Stanley Cup Final travels and all I kept thinking was “at least Ryan isn’t here with me.”

Airports are a difficult place to blend in with the crowd.

Veronica recently took the kids to visit family — without me, due to conflicts with the hockey schedule. Things certainly went better than our last attempted family flight. But that doesn’t mean they were difficulty free. Upon landing, each kid wanted something different, making it hard for Veronica to keep an eye on both of them.

As she described it, Ryan was also seemingly unaware of his surroundings. He struggles with spatial relationships and will often walk directly into the path of oncoming pedestrians. This is inconvenient on the sidewalk. In a crowded airport, or a shop with lots of fragile things on shelves, or in a shop with lots of fragile things on shelves in an airport, it’s more problematic.

Veronica told me how she observed from afar Ryan stumbling into people and generally causing havoc while she tried to collect Riley.

And then she saw him talking to some adult men, and then shaking their hands. At first she couldn’t see who they were, and wondered why Ryan was talking to them.

As she got closer, she saw they were uniformed members of the military. Ryan returned and proudly told her how he had thanked them for their service and sacrifice, while wearing one of those “you can’t get mad at me because I did something really good” grins.

As she was telling me this story, I smiled on the other end of the phone. I’ve seen the same scene play out several times — in hotel elevators, in the corridors at Devils games, and other places.

It’s one of those moments where whatever lack of social awareness that can impede Ryan in other social situations actually works in his favor. He is not embarrassed or shy. It’s a black-and-white situation for him — see a person in military uniform, look at them and say “thank you for serving our country.” Their reactions — and ours — tell him his approach has been warmly received. Emboldened by this positive feedback, he repeats the action the next time he sees a solider in uniform.

I have seen Riley do the same thing, but she’s less confident about it because she thinks the situation all the way through — How will she be perceived? Will anyone ignore or laugh at her? — the way most pre-teens probably do.

Ryan is unburdened by any such concerns. And it makes the moment that much more genuine, and sweet. It can even take the edge off a trip to the airport.


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