I brought Ryan with me to the office yesterday for Take Your Child To Work Day. It was either the sixth or seventh time I’ve done so.
Since I work in hockey, this day is a Really Big Deal for Ryan, and he looks forward to it every year. Sadly, he is aging out of the program that my organization offers, so this was probably his last go-round.
Here’s the thing about yesterday. It was easy. Zero stress. No worries.
No worries about leaving him alone for hours in the company of strangers. No worries about the rush-hour commute on a crowded train or navigating the streets of New York City. No worries about finding an appropriate place to eat. No worries about him wanting to leave early. No worries about how people react to him.
All of that is a far cry from his first visit, when I met with the head of HR in advance to advise her or Ryan’s diagnosis and unique behaviors and ask if it would still be OK if he attended the program. She was incredibly welcoming. She put him in a group with her own kids so they could collectively keep an eye on him, and he was fine. But I spent that entire day on pins and needles, prepared to make an immediate and early exit.
It was a far cry from subsequent years, when we were joined by Riley and I advised her that she had to help look out for him.
Yesterday, it was back to just Ryan. Riley is in the middle of Mock Trial at school and could not miss the day. There was no pit in my stomach. There was no fear of the unknown. I was taking Ryan to a place where he was comfortable and I knew he would be fine.
Some of that change is Ryan. But a lot of it is me. Part of what I used to worry about was how people would react to my son, who presents as a little different. I have become much more comfortable with Ryan being Ryan — led by his example. I will never apologize for, or be embarrassed of, Ryan’s unique behaviors. After the program ended yesterday, Ryan spent an hour or so in my office while I finished up some things before we could leave. He studied for a while, he watched hockey highlights on his iPad for a while. Then he eyed the empty whiteboard in my office and decided he wanted to create something.
Rather than draw a picture, he began to create, from memory, a hockey play-by-play sheet. When he was done, he had line after line of descriptions of various plays, that looked almost exactly like this, except in his unique block-ish handwriting.
In the middle of this, someone who has never met Ryan before came into my office to ask a question. Ryan was behind me, lying on the floor, adding lines to his play-by-play. I observed my visitor and could tell he had one eye on me and one on what Ryan was writing. I just looked back and said, “oh, he has a brain like a computer. He likes to recreate the stats.” My visitor shrugged, and we resumed our conversation.
Years ago, such an interaction might have led me to some apologetic defense of my son’s unique characteristics, skills and behaviors. Yesterday, I shrugged it off, and so did my visitor.
Just like the entire day, it was easy. Zero stress. No worries.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that “easy” has become our new normal on a day like yesterday. But I don’t want to lose site of the journey it took for both of us to get there.