All on His Own

Ryan wrestling
Ryan prepares for his first wrestling match.

There is a natural parental pride when a child pursues a parent’s interest, be it a line of study, a hobby, or a sport. Ryan didn’t exactly come by his love of hockey by himself, and that’s OK. I am proud that he has found the same love of the sport that I have, and I hope it will give him the same lifetime of fulfillment that it has for me.

But there is also great pride in watching your kids branch out on their own — whether it’s a different interest, activity, or sport.

“I need you to sign this,” Ryan said, shoving some sort of permission form into our faces. “I joined the wrestling team.”

I could barely contain my incredulity.

“You did what?” I stammered in reply.

“I went to the interest meeting after school and I want to join the team. You need to sign this slip,” he said.

Veronica and I exchanged one of those many wordless exchanges that have happened over the years. Without saying anything, we knew that a) we needed to support him in this moment, and b) we would definitely be discussing this with each other that night.

We told him how proud we were of him for branching out into a new interest. He kept stats for the team last year, and activity his case manager felt would combine his love of sports and statistics. Little did we know a greater interest was born.

Ryan told us why he wanted to wrestle. Since he wasn’t playing on a travel hockey team, he thought wrestling would help him stay in shape and get stronger. Adding strength has been a goal of his since the summer, one he has pursued with his typical single-minded, bordering-on-obsession, focus.

Later, Veronica and I discussed the pros and cons. The more I thought about it, the more I thought the sport might be a really good fit for Ryan. It’s a team sport, but individual at the same time. It requires discipline, focus, strong will. It requires participants to learn precise maneuvers by repeating them over and over. There is no doubt it would help him get stronger and stay in excellent physical condition during the hockey season.

The cons came down to one — we worried about his self-confidence. Entering a new sport, one in which he had zero experience, we worried that he would struggle and suffer a blow to his new-found, and hard-earned, self-esteem. What if we worked his butt off in practice, only to get crushed in actual competition?

We decided it was a risk worth taking. We consulted with his coach, who knew Ryan from last year and has special-ed teaching experience. We consulted with his case manager. We felt comfortable with his decision. We were thrilled that it was just that: his decision.

Ryan has had more of his life directed for him than most people his age, as we sought to create structure and support that would allow him to fit in and achieve alongside his peers. I think that effort was both necessary and largely successful.

At the same time, it is incredible to watch him grow into his own person, one who is comfortable with who he is and who can make his own decisions.

The wrestling season started and Ryan told us how much he enjoyed practice. Feedback from his coach was all positive. He has only wrestled twice (several opponents did not have a match in his weight class) and is 0-2. But far from being crushed by the losses, he is encouraged by his progress. After getting pinned in his first match, he proudly told me how he went the distance in his second, losing only by points.

To me the wins and losses don’t matter. Of course I want him to have success for him, but I can see the payoff of this effort. He is getting stronger. I can’t toss him around like I used to. His self-esteem certainly hasn’t taken a hit, and may even have been boosted. He feels like he fits in on the team.

I am as proud of him for this as for anything he has done.

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