There are a lot of things that happened to Jack and I as we traveled to Massachusetts for Jack’s special hockey tournament today. But mostly what happened is that I felt the powerful embrace of community.
I don’t know how many teams are participating in the Special Hockey International Tournament, or how many players. But I do know that when you put them all on the ice for an opening ceremony in front of a cheering crowd and sing three different national anthems, it is a powerful thing.
Canadian athletes are here (I had to give one of them 50 cents because the vending machine didn’t take Canadian quarters, eh?), British athletes are here (best team name: Werewolves of London) and, of course, American athletes are here.
I stood in the stands watching my son twirl in his repetitive spins on the ice as an arena filled with people who get what he was doing sang the national anthem. I got tears in my eyes as I thought of how important it is for my autistic son to have the opportunity to hear a crowd roar for him—and for kids and young adults like him. I thought of how amazing it is that there are teams and organizations for these kids, who not that long ago weren’t even welcome in schools.
I am so grateful that Jack gets to experience this. I am so glad that *I* get to experience this.
We had an equipment glitch tonight, meaning that Jack’s gear was accidentally left at the hotel instead of taken to the arena, so he and I spent his game watching and cheering instead of playing.
We cheered when a small member of the opposing team hit a puck toward our goalie, who let it slip by him for a point that probably meant a lot more to that small kid than it did to our side. We cheered when one of our players fell down and a player on the other team helped him up. We cheered for the kindnesses and inclusion I felt all day.
I felt that kindness and inclusion when the team dads took charge of Jack in the rest stop bathrooms. I felt it when the coach put his hand gently on Jack’s shoulder to guide him into the opening ceremony so I could watch from the stands. I felt it when a 17-year-old teammate chased Jack down and brought him back to me when he was trying to edge away. I felt it when the sister of a teammate helped me play Simon Says with Jack to keep him entertained and happy when we were waiting for his team to change out of their uniforms.
But here’s the thing: I’m not the only one who felt it. Jack felt it too. Yes, there were times today when he was kind of a pill, and sometimes he doesn’t seem as engaged in his team as much as the other players are. But I heard him yell, “I want to sign up for hockey again!” after we got to our hotel and I felt his calm happiness on the bus all day and I watched him finger the Montgomery Cheetahs trading pins he got today and I could tell he felt it too.
I see the kinds of young men that these special needs hockey players are becoming and I hope for the same for my son. These teenagers are thoughtful, caring, helpful and have so much to offer. If Jack turns out like them, I’ll be thrilled.
I spent the day today glancing at Jack and thinking, “I am so in love with that kid.” But I am also so in love with this team that embraces him and pushes him and, mostly, makes him part of something.