It Was EXACTLY Like the National Treasure Movies Except Not at All

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting my family to the National Archives for a family day event and a pre-opening coffee with a curator to celebrate their “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” exhibit.

Immediately upon receipt of said email, I realized that (a) I had never dragged my kids through that particular institution and (b) I should rectify that immediately. Also, (c) I’d never been and I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person.

Our morning at the Archives came around this past Saturday and I was prepared. Museum-type spaces can be tough for my kiddos, particularly Quinn, so I made sure to not use the m-word and I pulled out the other heavy gun I had in my arsenal: I reminded them about the National Archives scenes from the National Treasure movies.

That did the trick.

We arrived to find juice and pastries as well as curator Jennifer Johnson, who gave us a personal tour through the Making Their Mark exhibit, which she had curated. It was really cool. The exhibit is all about signatures, from athletes signing sports memorabilia to Benedict Arnold’s oath of allegiance to a display of pens used by presidents to sign bills into law.

It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. There was a patent application filed by Michael Jackson, a letter from Johnny Cash to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s FBI application, and any number of other fascinating documents and items. All three of my kids were also really interested, which is notable because there are not a lot of things that my three kids are all into.

The backs of my three kids looking at a display of 50 pens in a frame.

One of my favorites was this display of pens that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used to sign bills into law.

One of the exhibits was a full-size door that members of a home builders association sent to President Reagan to draw attention to their economic troubles. Jack took a look at the door, listened to the curator explain that it featured signatures on one side and the address on the other, and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me? I think the president was all, ‘What the bleep is this door doing in my mailbox!’”

Yep. That’s Team Stimey, keeping it classy across the generations.

In my defense, at least Jack says “bleep” instead of actual curse words.

The part of the exhibit that might have captured my kids’ attention more than any other was the auto-signing machine that was set up near the exit. This particular machine auto-signed John Hancock’s signature.

Jack carefully watching the mechanism of an auto-signing machine. There is a pen attached via a mechanism that follows the grooves in a disc that guides the signature.

Jack might have been more interested in the mechanics of the machine than the result.

We still had a few minutes before the Archives opened to the public so the curator took us to the Rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. I may have majorly geeked out there. This may also be the place where I was reprimanded by a guard.

There are no photos allowed in the Archives (barring special permission on a private tour in certain areas), so I’ll give you this image provided to me.

Photo of the Rotunda where there are murals of the founding fathers on the walls and six pages of documents, each in their own case: the Declaration, the Constitution (4 pages), and the Bill of Rights.

It was incredibly cool to see these documents close up. The Bill of Rights is my favorite.

I asked the curator how accurate the National Treasure depiction of the National Archives was and she told me that even though none of the filming was done there, it was actually pretty close. It is here that I might have to admit to you that my kids love those films and that we own DVD copies of both of them.

I am so ashamed.

Anywho, from there, we headed to the public Family Day activities that were taking place adjacent to the Making Their Mark exhibit. There were all kinds of good activities for all ages.

Jack standing at a white board where he is matching photos of and quotes by presidents to their pictures.

Jack matched presidential photos to their quotes and names. He may have needed some help to complete said process.

Sam using a template of John Adams' signature to make his own version.

Sam recreated John Adams’ signature.

Quinn slumped in a chair with a grumpy look on his face.

And Quinn sighed loudly and often.

There were crafts in another room, but the real treasure was the room set up with fountain and quill pens where my kids all learned how to write and draw using a pot of ink. Sam took approximately sixteen years to write a letter to each member of the family and Quinn and Jack drew their cats.

Quinn smiling and holding up an ink drawing of his cat Oreo.

This is a remarkably accurate representation of Oreo. I certainly wasn’t that good with the quill pen.

I was even retweeted by the @USNatArchives, which was also a kind of geeky high for me.

Screenshot of a tweet from the National Archives. The photo is of Jack looking sort of exhausted, patiently filling in his drawing of a cat with blank ink from a quill pen. The tweet says, "RT @Stimey: Drawing a picture of a black cat with a quill pen is hard work. #signatures @USNatArchives"

My kids are adept at cat drawings.

I feel very lucky that my family was invited to this event. As I say, I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the National Archives for a long time and this was the best possible way to have a first visit.

That said, your family can visit this exhibit too. The Making Their Mark exhibit is open through January 5, 2015.There will be more Making Their Mark Family Days on July 18 and December 30. There will be Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs on April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29. For more information about these events, as well as others, go to archivesfoundation.org.

*****

In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Sarah Elizabeth, Laura, my friend Heather and her family, and my young friends Katie and Brooke (and their terrific parents) for their donations. You can make your own donation online.

Exercise and Win

I write a lot about Jack’s hockey team and how much it means to me. As part of that, I also write about what I think it means to him as well. I talk to him about it and I watch him both struggle and triumph at practices and games, but sometimes it is hard to know what he really thinks about his team.

That’s why I was happy to see the paper that he brought home with him from school today. His school is doing its “family life” (read: they’re teaching the kiddos about puberty and adolescence) lessons this week and, as part of that, they apparently had to fill out a worksheet about social groups in their lives. Jack chose his hockey team.

Photo of part of Jack's worksheet. In answer to the question, "How was it formed?" under "Hockey Team," Jack has written "formed by hockey players, passed down to kids."

Actually, the Cheetahs were originally created as a bar mitzvah project. The story of this team’s evolution from its small start to what it is today is a pretty incredible one.

Among Jack’s answers about how much time he spends with his group each week and so on, were some pretty telling thoughts.

When asked what the purpose of the social group was, he didn’t write that it was to learn how to play hockey. He didn’t write that it was to win championships. He wrote that the purpose of the Cheetahs is to, “work as a team, cooperate with others.”

I think that’s pretty cool and says a lot about the coaches of the Cheetahs that this is what 10-year-olds learn from them.

Asked to answer what contributions he makes to the group, Jack wrote, “Everyone gets to play, score—and win.” The kid has been paying attention.

But my favorite answer was to the question, “How does this group benefit you?” to which he wrote, “I get to exercise and win.”

I find my kid so charming.

Jack’s charm aside, though, he’s totally right. That team is full of exercise and win.

See, I believe in inclusion. I would love it if every kid could find a way to meaningfully participate in their community and school sports teams. Some Cheetahs do. We have players who play on those teams in addition to the Cheetahs. But there are some players, including Jack, for whom a typical hockey team as they now exist just would not work.

Aside from the opportunity, I love the role models Jack gets built into the Cheetahs that he wouldn’t get if he were playing on a typical team. I love that he has role models who were kids just like him, but who are now a few years older. Having those older teammates with similar neurology is of tremendous benefit to the younger kids on the team. I hope to see Jack grow into the same leadership roles that I see some of his older peers taking.

A few weeks ago, Jack was having a tough time at practice. He had a mentor (a teenage boy) working with him, trying to keep him engaged and happy on the ice. It was a little bit of a losing battle. For whatever reason, Jack just wasn’t into it that day. No matter what his coach and mentor did, Jack didn’t want to participate in the drills and he was surly as hell. I was pretty sure he would end up coming off the ice early that morning.

Then this older player who was helping out that morning saw what was happening and skated over to the two of them. That player and the mentor came up with their own little drill just for Jack. Within minutes, Jack was laughing and skating and participating and being all-around awesome.

That few minutes really cemented what I love about the Cheetahs. See, the Cheetahs aren’t just about typical teens and coaches helping the players. It is about self-leadership and teamwork and peer mentoring and cooperation and self-direction and learning all of that while getting a great workout. It is about that older player seeing a younger player struggle and stepping up to lead and teach and connect.

In other words, it is about exercise and win.

*****

Thank you so much to Barbara and my mom for donating to this year’s Cheetah-thon! The whole team appreciates it so much. We still welcome donations for this year’s big fundraiser through May. Thank you for thinking of our team!

Wiggles

Today was Jack’s dentist appointment to have his baby tooth extracted. Or at least that’s what I think happened. It’s hard to tell, because no one at the dental office actually used the word “extraction.”

When I walked in, the receptionist confirmed what Jack was having done by saying, “The tooth fairy is coming tonight then?” Everyone else at the practice seemed to call extractions “wiggles,” as in, “We’re just doing the one wiggle today?”

I might have gone with, “We’re just ripping out the one tooth today?” but I guess that’s why I don’t work at a pediatric dental office. It also might be why Jack started crying when I told him what was happening this morning.

Oh, I kid.

Jack did really well. The hygienist gave him gas, which was delivered via a bright pink plastic nose that sat atop his real nose. This only became a problem when they gave him fancy glasses in which he could watch the movie he’d picked out and there were so many things on his face that whenever the hygienist tried to do something to his mouth, she jiggled his glasses, resulting in his crying out, “I can’t see the movie!”

I was pleased that he seemed more concerned about the movie viewing than any discomfort. That said, it wasn’t easy peasy for him. It was hard for him to tolerate the things they wanted to put in his mouth and he sure didn’t care for the numbing needle. (I didn’t either; it was HUGE.)

It also took him some time to adjust to the gas, although once he did, he was doing aaaaall right. He got all floppy like and at one point he got the hygienist’s attention to say, “Do you feel your bones vibrating?”

Evidently he was on the good stuff.

The extraction itself was quick, involved lasers, and wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to Jack.

Even though the appointment obviously wasn’t his favorite hour of his life, he did a great job and he was totally unfazed afterward. He seems to have recognized that this appointment was something that had to be done and that sucked but that he could get through, which, incidentally, is exactly the same way I look at dental appointments.

I ended up keeping him home from school all day so that he could sit on the couch and staunch the bleeding of his gum. He very happily complied.

Jack lying on a couch, head on a pillow, under a blanket, holding a washcloth up to his mouthWe came home and I let him watch a movie—the very movie he’d chosen to watch at the dentist’s office. He made me start it over from the beginning, presumably so he could watch it without having to fight his nose gas for face position.

I’m so happy that’s over. I’m sure Jack is too. I had been nervous about it. Now I’ll have to find something else to be nervous about. As long as the tooth fairy remembers to come, this dental adventure will be all happily wrapped up.

Tournament of Smiles

Special hockey tournaments are great. I’ve never been to a bad one and I’ve been to quite a few. Some, however, stand out as exceptional. The tournament in Jamestown, NY, that Jack and I went to last weekend was exceptional.

Talk about the magic of special hockey. Watching Jack’s team skate, I felt that “my heart is growing in size and capacity for love right now” feeling that I love so much and feel at those most exceptional of tournaments.

I love the intensity of travel tournaments where it is me and Jack pinging from the hotel to the rink and back. The immersion of the experience makes it that much more amazing. Add in the group of players and parents that came along and all was good.

This particular tournament was also fantastic because of the way the coaches divided up our players. The Cheetahs took three teams: an advanced team, an intermediate team, and Jack’s team. Jack’s team—the C Team—featured a lot of newer and younger players, while many of the more advanced kids who had been on the C Team before moved up to the intermediate team.

I missed watching those kids play and missed hanging out with their parents in the stands, but that change made a huge difference for everyone. It let those kids move up and stretch and it gave the kids still on the C Team way more of an opportunity to get their sticks on the puck and really be involved in the games. It was so fun to watch these kids really open up and get into the game. Not to mention that the parents of the C Team are, without exception, phenomenal, fun, supportive, awesome people.

The stands during the C Team games were a heart expanding place to be. It was all about your baby is my baby and the magic of special hockey. Like you wouldn’t believe.

Our trip started out auspiciously enough. One reason Jack loves going on these trips is because he gets to skip school. This trip he even got to skip a standardized testing day. Even better, he got to skip school and go on a trip with his best friend, who was sitting on the bus in the seat right behind him. All was well.

Jack sitting on a bus with a smile on his face.

See? All. Well.

Hey, here’s something. Remember way back when Jack went on his very first tournament and I was worried about what the bus was going to be like? I was concerned that he might barf and then we’d be trapped on a bus with his puke for an extended amount of time? Remember that?

I briefly remembered that fear a couple of hours before we boarded the bus for this tournament. Then I discarded it because we have taken the bus to and from, what, five tournaments over the past four years and he hasn’t horked on the bus even once.

Do you wonder why I bring this up?

You don’t. I need say no more.

All I’m going to add is that the road through the Allegheny National Forest is not one that should be taken on a bus. That’s all I’m going to say.

Also that Jack recovered very quickly and happily bopped along to his iPod for the rest of the ride while I babysat his vomit. Good times.

Jack is sitting in the dark in front of a window with lights blurring by in the background. His face is lit from the light of his iPod.

Music soothes everything about Jack.

I did a lot of thinking at this tournament about how far Jack has come since that first tournament, and not just in terms of carsickness.

That first tournament I was stuck to Jack like glue. I didn’t dare let him out of my sight because he was young and prone to wandering. I worried if he was out of my sight for more than a few seconds. He was overwhelmed and overstimulated and even though I think he appreciated the trip, he didn’t manage to make it all the way through any of the games he was supposed to play at that tournament. He ended his last game midway through by throwing his gloves at the dad by the bench. I’m not sure he spoke to anyone but me for the entire four days. That tournament was magical for a lot of reasons, but it was also super hard.

This year Jack was relaxed and happy. I stayed with him all weekend, but we are at the point where I am comfortable letting him roam away from me. (“You can trust me, Mom,” he even told me at one point. “I know I can,” I responded.) He has friends on the team now and will even talk and play with kids he doesn’t know. (He spent part of an afternoon playing a cannonball-into-the-pool game with a kid on his team he’d never interacted with before. I got splashed.) He not only played all four of his games, but he put energy into them and looked like he really wanted to be there playing.  We were able to collaborate on our schedule instead of one of us being in charge. He was calm and happy. I was calm and happy.

Progress happens, people. It really does. Joy does too.

Jack’s team played four games again this trip. Their first game was versus the Steel City Icebergs. The Icebergs only had three players at the tournament at game time.

Not a problem. This is special hockey.

Several Cheetahs put on their dark jerseys and jumped on the Steel City team. Jack was one of those. He was so into it. Maybe a little TOO into it. He played harder and with more engagement than I have ever seen on him. Instead of his usual lackadaisical skating pace, he chased the puck. He got in the mix with his stick. He paid a huge amount of attention to the game. He worked so hard.

It’s almost like he had been waiting to play against his own team. I wonder if he has some sort of grudge against the Cheetahs. (Kidding.)

Jack in a black Cheetah jersey facing off against a player in a white Cheetah jersey.

I’m pretty sure he probably did some trash talking down there on the ice.

The rest of the tournament was similarly awesome. Everywhere I looked were smiles. The Cheetahs’ head coach was on the ice for every single Cheetahs game of the tournament. That is 12 games in two days. I didn’t see him without a smile even once. I watched players create and deepen friendships and they wore beautiful smiles as they did it. I watched parents cheer on their kids—and everyone else’s kids—and soaked in their smiles. There was so much good energy.

Naturally, there were some hard times. Like itchy toes—Jack’s itchy toes. For some reason last weekend was the weekend of itchy toes, but they were only itchy once he’d put them in his skates and I had laced them up. One memorable game, I had to relace his skates FOUR TIMES.

Also, he made me scratch between his toes because, “Mom, I don’t have long fingernails.”

I forgot to take my camera to the tournament so I only have bad cell phone photos from the weekend, but even so, I managed to capture some of Jack and my idiosyncratic joy.

For example, we both laughed really hard when we saw that someone had drawn faces on all of the little pegs that decorated the top of the hotel elevator walls.

brown wall with a close up of a metal peg on which someone has drawn two eyes and a mouth with a marker.

I like that Jack and I find the same things hilarious.

Then there is Jack’s love of hotel breakfasts.

Photo of Jack at a table. On the plate in front of him is a waffle topped with three small chocolate doughnuts. He also has a cup of apple juice.

The waffle is really more because it is fun to make waffles at hotel breakfast buffets. Still, Jack would peel off about an eighth of the thing to eat.

Pool time is always an important part of hockey tournaments. Sometimes you’ll find most of the Cheetah team packed into one square of water. Sometimes you will find only one player.

A hotel swimming pool. All you see is the still surface of the water with Jack's head poking out in the top right corner. He is wearing reflective goggles.

He’s like the cutest little bug ever in this photo.

We also spent some time cheering on the non-C Team Cheetahs. This is one of the reasons I like the travel tournaments. We always try to catch some games that Jack isn’t playing in.

Photo of Jack eating popcorn and watching a hockey game.

Sometimes it’s good to just be a fan.

Almost as fun as watching hockey is watching the Zamboni.

Photo of Jack's back in uniform as he watches an ice machine clean the ice.

That never gets old.

There was also evidently some time spent rolling around in charcoal.

The front of Jack's white jersey on which is a Montgomery Cheetahs logo and a fair amount of black smudging.

How, when this is only worn on ice, is it possible for a jersey to get this filthy?

Jack also always manages to find whatever mascot is available for hugging, in this case, the Baltimore Saints’ Saint Bernard. (I just figured out why their mascot is a Saint Bernard. The “saints” refers to the dog breed. Duh. It only took me four years.)

Jack with his arm around a mascot in a dog costume with a hockey jersey on.

After I took this photo, Jack turned to the dog and said, “You’re awesome!”

Jack also added to his medal collection. That boy has more hardware than the rest of Team Stimey combined.

Jack in his jersey holding up a medal with a stick and puck on it.

To be fair, he totally earns them.

I look at these photos and I think about Jack’s games and his friends this past weekend and at his first tournament four years ago.

Everything has changed, but still, not that much has. I still find myself stopped short by the realization of how much I love that boy. I am still brought to awe by how amazing my wonderful kid is. I still get so much joy out of the privilege of being able to spend four nonstop days with this terrific kiddo.

And still, four years later, I am so grateful to the people behind this wonderful team that creates these safe places for athletes like my son to be exactly who they are and experience a sport they might not otherwise be able to play. As always, thank you to those people—thank you to the coaches and the team leadership and the people who plan these tournaments. Thank you. I thank you and Jack thanks you.

Jack in full game gear on his way from the locker room to the ice.The Cheetahs are kicking off their fundraising season. Our annual Cheetah-thon will be May 3rd this year. We would love to invite any locals to skate with us and our team that evening. We would also be honored if you would consider donating to the team. This fundraiser makes it possible for the team to practice every week for a nine-month season. It lets this all volunteer-run organization provide a wonderful team experience and the opportunity to attend tournaments like the one in this post at very small costs to special needs families.

You can find information about the Cheetah-thon at this link. You can also donate there. If you do so, please let me know that you have donated in Jack’s name so I can be sure to thank you.

En Fuego

I disappeared over the past few days because Jack and I went to Jamestown, New York, for a hockey tournament. Those tournaments are always amazing and this one in particular was really magical for me. It was just so very good. I really, really felt the magic of special hockey last weekend.

I also felt the magic of catching my kid’s barf in a bag on the team bus—twice—but that is a whole other story.

Regardless of being provided with so many wonderful things to write about, tournaments leave me wiped out and more likely to sit quietly and watch Netflix in my hotel room while Jack sleeps than actually write something. Hopefully that will be rectified by tomorrow evening when I try to put some of that magic into words.

Until then, I will put that magic into a photo of Jack, showing off the new hockey tape he insisted we buy out of the vending machine at the tournament rink that sells everything from skatelaces to…hockey tape.

Photo of Jack all geared up in his game jersey and helmet, holding a stick, the blade of which is wrapped in black tape printed with yellow, orange, and red flames on it.Jack says he’s blazing.

He’s right.

Everything is Awesome, the Dental Version

When you have a slew of kids as I do (in terms of children, three is a lot; trust me), it can be tough to get good alone time with each of them.

There are lots of reasons why alone time is hard to find. Often the three of them are playing together and I am the least interesting one in the house. There are more kids than there are parents, making it hard to divide and conquer, letting each of us take a kid and do something special. And God forbid one of us do something fun with only one kid—then there is hell to pay from the others.

Every once in a while, though, something unexpected provides that elusive quality alone time.

This morning, Jack had a dentist appointment. Something that looked like a chore when I checked my calendar this morning turned into a lovely morning with a kid who is turning into a charming young man.

Jack’s dentist is about 50 minutes away from us, due to our dental hassles from several years ago. Therefore, what to most would be an hour-long visit, for us takes three hours and a lot of gas.

Before we headed off to the dentist, however, Jack and I had to go to our cat-sitting gig, where he lovingly petted the one cat (out of two) that likes us. As the cat rubbed up against him, Jack talked to him, telling him all about our cats and what they had in common with him: “Starfire has a white spot, like you have on your chin. Oreo has patches of black, like you do. Ruby is cunning just like you are.”

It is amazing to hear him talk and see him love and watch his gentleness and care.

Even though I am not a cat, Jack and I chatted for the whole trip to the dentist and back. We spent part of the time with him telling me about Terraria, his new favorite game, and I made a big effort to be interested, even though that game is the most incomprehensible thing ever.

We also talked about school and he spontaneously started telling me about his friends from his classroom: “R is kind and sweet,” “O is a laugh riot,” “Q is smart,” “A plays Terraria just like me,” and so on. We talked about what the rest of the day would be like and what was going to happen at the dentist. We even spent a few minutes on the weather after the radio told us we were under a TORNADO WATCH. In MARYLAND.

(Said tornado watch made me glad I hadn’t let my cat-sat cats out into the outdoors today.)

The dentist was chill too. It was unfortunate that they were so prompt taking us to the back room because Jack only had two or three minutes to play the video games in the waiting room. It was okay though because we had the nicest hygienist and Jack got to watch a movie of his choice (Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kitties) as he had his teeth checked.

The bummer of the morning: My every-six-months lesson in how I’m not helping Jack floss his teeth or use mouthwash enough. Also, Jack has a baby tooth that is blocking a permanent tooth and there are reasons as to why it needs to be gone.

“Try wiggling that tooth to get it out,” the dentist told Jack before saying to me, “He’s not going to be able to get it out; we’re going to have to extract it.” The extraction is scheduled after his next hockey tournament though so maybe we’ll get lucky and it will get knocked out on the ice. <—(bad) joke

The reason I love this dentist office though is because when I reminded the dentist that the reason we drive all the way out there is because Jack was so completely freaked out about dentists when we first started there that he wouldn’t even let them brush his teeth. After an initial second opinion, our next visit was to sedate Jack to put crowns on four of his teeth. I don’t want to send Jack back into that bad space where he is scared of the dentist.

“We’ll work up to it then,” she told me. “We’ll start with the sealant we have to put on another tooth and then we’ll see if he’ll let us numb his gum and we’ll go slow and if he can’t handle it, we’ll stop.”

That “we’ll stop” is a big deal. Although I hope they don’t have to stop because anesthesia for dental work is very expensive and if we have to do it again, I might just tell them to take out all his teeth and put in a full new titanium set.

Jack headed back out to the waiting room video game and I made his next appointment before we headed out in the now sheeting-down rain to get him lunch from McDonald’s drive-thru so he could eat on the way back to school. (Their Happy Meals have LEGO Movie plastic cups in them right now, which is the best “toy” I think anyone has ever gotten in a Happy Meal.)

We kept talking in the car, with Jack chattering the whole way. Jack used to be so quiet in the car that once I wrote a whole blog post about the fact that he had a couple things to say on one particular car ride. Now he is just as loud and nonstop as everyone else in the car. It’s very cool. He has a lot to say.

I walked him into his school, where he saw his PE teacher in the office as I was signing him in.

“Mr. B! Mr. B!” he called to him. Then he waited until he had the teacher’s full attention and said, “Mr. B, everything is awesome.

“Yes, Jack. Sometimes everything IS awesome. Thank you for our morning together, little friend.

The Magic of (Local) Special Hockey

It strikes me suddenly that it has been a week—more even—since Jack’s tournament and I have barely written about it. Well. That should change if only because anything that makes my kid smile like this needs to be written about.

Jack in his hockey uniform and helmet, with a big smile on his face.Although to be honest, that photo just reflects that he was smiling about a video Quinn had made about his nose, which resulted in Jack asking me to make a video about his nose, which led to this, which I share because I think my guy is just so goldarn cute.

 See? Cute.

Um. Oh, right. Hockey.

So, the UCT Winter Hockey Festival took place about 20 minutes from my house a little more than a week ago and it was GREAT. The Cheetahs had four teams playing in the tournament, which hosted more than a dozen teams from around the Northeast.

Jack’s first game was in the afternoon on Saturday, which was a lovely change from our normal Saturday morning routine, wherein we have to have Jack at the rink and all suited up for practice by 7:45 am.

Team Stimey accidentally sat in the bleachers with the opposing team’s families for that first game, which mostly only got awkward when some folks commented on the kid who was lying down on the ice in a big X shape. I think you know whose kid that was.

Regardless, the game was fun, my friend/one of Jack’s former teachers came to watch, and someone won. Or didn’t. Honestly, at Jack’s level of special hockey, sometimes it’s hard to tell. Hey, we’re all winners! Even if we lie down on the ice during the game.

We were thinking about sticking around after Jack’s game to watch some of the other Cheetah teams play (those games do have winners), but Team Stimey (read: Alex) was a little antsy, so we decided to head home until the opening ceremony a few hours later. (The magic of local special hockey.)

We did stop at the playground outside the arena to have a little subzero climbing time, because WHY WOULDN’T WE?! (Because it was subzero.)

Quinn on a playground climbing structure in a hat—smiling.

Even Quinn, who can barely handle the cold of rink-side benches, happily cavorted.

We returned later that afternoon for the opening ceremonies at which each athlete got to walk across the ice and get a medal.

Jack killed time before he got his medal by hanging out with Slapshot, the Washington Capitals’ mascot.

Photo of Jack and his team standing rinkside as a man dressed at a giant eagle in a hockey uniform skates on the rink in front of them.

Okay, maybe not just Jack.

Sam killed time by pretending to be Jack.

Two photos, side by side, the first of Jack in a green coat and hat, the second of Sam wearing the same coat and hat.

Jack on left. Sam on right, thinking he is hilarious.

Quinn killed time by reading a Garfield book. I won’t bore you with that photo.

After the opening ceremony, we followed Slapshot out to the parking lot…

Jack greeting Slapshot in a hallway. Slapshot's back is to the camera and his wing is on Jack's shoulder.

I’m kidding. We just ran after him to say hello in person.

Now, the thing about hockey tournaments is that the games are great and the cheering is fun and the opening ceremony and the medals are a blast, but the real magic of special hockey comes in watching the players be with the other players and their coaches. They find common ground. They laugh. They joke. They spin. They play video games together. And if they are Montgomery Cheetahs at this particular tournament, they DANCE.

The Cheetahs had a party after the ceremony for the athletes and their families. Let me tell you, it got raucous.

Blurry photo of Jack and other kids dancing. A man is standing behind Jack, preparing to lift him onto his shoulders.

I know it’s blurry. But it gets the point across. That is one of Jack’s coaches standing behind him. Shortly thereafter, Jack was up on his shoulders. The Cheetah Nation knows how to party.

Watching all those players connecting with each other and finding their community among themselves? I can’t even tell you how good that feels to watch. Also, if someone organizes all the kiddos into the front of the room and has them sing “We Are the Champions,” well, that will feel pretty good too.

Sadly, there is a harsh alarm after every excellent party and mine went off at the crack of dawn because Jack had an 8 am game on Sunday. We got to the rink on time and settled ourselves (on the correct cheering side) in the bleachers and then Alex demonstrated for all of you exactly how we all felt at that moment.

Alex with the grumpiest look possible on his face.

Grumpy man is grumpy.

It was early, y’all.

Jack, in uniform and on the ice, pressed up against the rink glass with his stick in his hands.

Although to be fair, I’m not sure why we did all the complaining when Jack was the one who had to actually compete in an athletic event at that ungodly hour.

Soon enough though, Alex’s face unscrunched as he watched Jack skate and play. Then we watched Jack hit the puck between the goalie’s legs and score a goal. A GOAL. Those aren’t easy to come by for the more cheerfully lackadaisical players, of which Jack is one.

You should have seen Alex’s face. I was too busy smiling and clapping to take that photo.

Then my longtime commenter/new friend Karen showed up to watch the game. She is a Stimeyland reader and, according to WordPress, was my top commenter last year. It was wonderful to put her face to her words and even better to find out that she is a really lovely person. Big thanks to you, Karen, for putting yourself out there and coming by. It was an absolute joy to hang out with you.

Jack and I didn’t take all his gear off between games, because his next one was at 11 am, so he sat in the cafe and played on an iPad wearing everything but his helmet, gloves, and skates.

Naturally, after wearing them for three hours, he determined right before his next game that THESE ELBOW PADS ARE ITCHY AND TERRIBLE AND I ABSOLUTELY CAN’T TAKE THEM ANOTHER MINUTE ELBOWS ARE OVERRATED ANYWAY!!!

I managed to scratch his elbows until he was okay and he marched off to the outside rink, which was where his last game of the tournament was. Honestly, it didn’t feel TOO cold out there.

Quinn wearing a coat, wrapped in a blanket, and wearing his big hat sitting on a bench.

Although some people vehemently disagreed with that claim.

The outside rink is a very tiny rink, which made for some highly entertaining hockey, full of collisions and spills and lots of action. Plus, the players’ bench was right in there with the spectators so we could cheer on and support our kiddos from close up.

Jack and Alex fistbumping, rinkside.

(That’s a fist bump happening, not a beating.)

Tired as he was, Jack stayed motivated and played all of his shifts. This kid is so amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Jack in uniform on the ice, holding his stick parallel to the ice.

Now we just have to teach Jack to keep his stick on the ice so he can get more puck time.

I’m also proud of Quinn for making it through the entire game, even if he did hog much of the players’ bench in a profound expression of his freezing-cold misery.

Quinn, lying down in his blanket and hat on a green bench.

Alex DID offer to take him inside, but Quinn refused.

After Jack’s game, we headed home, which was a nice little aspect of not traveling for this tournament. (Also nice, running into my friend Andrea, whose son plays for another local special hockey team, but whom I NEVER see.) This tournament was really well put together and a lot of fun. Watching these teams play never ceases to make me extremely happy.

Jack at the outside rink, standing next to a man in a Montgomery Cheetahs jacket as the game goes on on the ice.The real question, however, isn’t about whether the tournament makes me happy. It’s about whether it makes Jack happy. Sometimes he grumbles about going to practice and sometimes he gets grumpy out on the ice, but he loves his team too. He is so proud to tell people that he plays hockey with the Montgomery Cheetahs. Anytime there is a “wear your favorite team’s jersey” day at school, he wears HIS Cheetahs jersey. He is a Cheetah through and through, and we are so happy that he is.

The best testament though, is that when I asked him just a few days after this tournament if he wanted to go to the travel tournament in New York again this year, he thought for maybe three seconds, popped his thumb in the air, and said, “Bingo!”

Jack wearing his tournament medal on his face. :)

Cheetah Pride.