Jack and I are in Lake Placid, New York, right now with his special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs. It is likely, if you have been around Stimeyland for a while, that you already know of the Cheetahs and the joy, opportunity, and community that they create—no more so than when out of town on a tournament.
These tournaments often mean far more to me than just watching my kid play a team sport. (Which, in and of itself, is kind of a big deal.) I was reminded of that this afternoon on our million-hour bus ride from DC to Lake Placid when I took a minute to sit back and notice some changes in Jack, long before he put a single skate on the ice in New York.
Jack has been playing hockey with the Cheetahs for three years now. He has been to special hockey tournaments in Boston, twice in Jamestown, New York, and now this one in Lake Placid. Two years ago when we went to Boston, we had a profound experience. I mean, it was profound like nothing I’d experienced before. But it was so goddamned hard at the same time.
Jack didn’t want to skate complete games at that tournament. He was dysregulated and overwhelmed. He didn’t know any of the other kids very well and therefore spent almost the entire weekend glued to my side—except when he was running off through crowds, leaving me to chase after him. I cried a lot of tears of stress that weekend and was buttressed by the community and my friends. I came away from that weekend with so much respect for the team, the players, the parents, the coaches, and for Jack.
The next year in Jamestown, I still cried a lot, but they were mostly tears of joy and amazement at the spirit of camaraderie and support between the players on the ice as well as the parents in the stands. It was a completely different experience, albeit with the same result: profound respect and gratitude to be a part of this group of people.
That tournament (and its sequel in Jamestown last November) showed me just how far Jack has come in the past couple of years.
I have no idea how the rest of the tournament this time is going to go, but I watched something today on the bus that made me take a moment to marvel at how much more interested in socializing Jack has become. Jack has always been lucky to have friends and he is very lucky to have a best friend (who is also a Cheetah, but didn’t come to the tournament this time). He is still very dependent, however, on scripts and familiarity. Back and forth unscripted conversation, especially with someone he isn’t already close to, doesn’t happen a whole lot.
A fellow parent first pointed it out to me. “They’re having a conversation,” she said, pointing at her son and mine giggling and talking as they played a game together on her son’s iPad. I sat back and took in the situation—Jack and a few of his teammates engaged in spontaneous conversation. I would watch him engage in this again later in the hotel swimming pool.
On the bus and at the pool, I watched Jack step out of Team Stimey’s safety zone to meet his teammates halfway. Instead of making them come to him, he went to them. This afternoon on the bus, Jack didn’t glue himself to my iPad in the seat next to me as he has in years past. He spent time walking up and down the aisles. Instead of staying in our two-seat world, he branched out, leaning over groups of kids playing games together, watching what other kids were doing, and sharing his own thoughts.
Frankly, it’s okay with me if Jack doesn’t like small talk with acquaintances. I find that kind of interaction to be extremely difficult as well. Regardless, it is often necessary and, with the right acquaintance, sometimes turns into something awesome. Also, there is no better way to discover new and fabulous things in the world than to hear someone else’s viewpoint. I’m glad that Jack is learning that too.
Now, certainly this isn’t all due to the Cheetahs. Jack has gotten older, he’s become more interested in other people, his abilities to cope and interact are greater, but I know that this team and its safe, supportive environment has been a big part of the development of his worldview.
I’m probably going to write a lot more about this tournament—and I plan to make a million and six Miracle on Ice jokes—but I also know that no matter how the hockey portion of the tournament plays out, Jack’s success in learning to be comfortable in a large, team environment like today’s bus trip has already made this trip (and the hours of practice and building blocks to get here) worth it.