Monday, May 2, 2011

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times...

So, this weekend. I've been searching for a word to describe Jack and my trip to Boston for his hockey tournament and the best I can come up with is "intense."

My emotions were so close to the surface for all four days and culminated in my telling Alex through tears last night, "It was this amazing weekend full of incredibly amazing things and some really, really hard things, but it all took place in this soft nest of people who embraced us."

It was staggering, really.

Also, except for the time that Jack was on the ice, he was glued to my side for 84 hours straight. Like, he didn't even use the second bed in the hotel room because he wanted to be close to me. That kind of glued to my side. Oh, except for when he was trying to flee from me in crowded places and I had to chase him down and hold him with a vise grip on the back of his shirt. That adds a special element to the togetherness.

I laughed a lot on this the trip. It wasn't all THE MAGIC OF SPECIAL HOCKEY and WHY WON'T MY KID PARTICIPATE IN THE FUCKING MAGIC OF SPECIAL HOCKEY, OH CRAP HE'S THROWING HIS GLOVES AT ONE OF THE DADS this weekend. I have seen these parents and these kids for an hour every week for the entire school year, but this weekend is maybe the first time that I was able to get to know them a little better. There are some amazing—and really fun—families that are part of Jack's team.

There are a couple of those families that read this blog, including the director of the team, and I just need to take a minute to say from the bottom of my heart: thank you. I can't imagine how much work went into planning this weekend and keeping this team afloat, all while taking care of your own children. So thank you. Just thinking of how grateful I am to you brings tears to my eyes. The director, the coaches, the mentors, the other parents, the folks who planned the trip from finding a tournament that our team could reasonably do to ferrying 24 special needs families to and from the arena several times a day...thank you. I can never know how hard you worked to make this happen, but you will never know just how grateful I am.

My friend Sue, whose son helps mentor a different special hockey team, suggested a twitter hashtag (which creates a common term for people to search tweets about a specific topic or event—or, if you're a smartass, to make a joke) for me to use for Jack's team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, on their trip to the Special Hockey International Tournament. My use of her hashtag in the following tweet kind of sums up my tournament experience. Laughter and tears this time, people.

This weekend was incredibly overwhelming and complicated for me. It was also a hell of a lot of fun. And it was really hard. I have a mish mosh of emotions about it. I kind of have to get some of them out of me, so here goes.

I know that some of you are wondering if we made a scene by throwing up all over the bus. I am happy to report that neither Jack nor I barfed all weekend! I was prepared with bags and wipes and all, but they were unneeded. In fact, the bus was kind of awesome. I was prepared for chaos, but it was actually kind of fun. Jack was a champ, although he did play a lot of Nintendo DSi. And if you're looking for a group of young people who are steadfast Nintendo fans, well...

Hint, hint.

I do have to say, thank GOD for Jack's DSi (and my DSi and the Nintendo 3DS—I am nothing if not prepared), because Jack was incredibly out of his routine this weekend and that little game system saved my ass more times that I can mention. (Full disclosure: I am a Nintendo brand ambassador.)

We got to the hotel Thursday afternoon and had about an hour to check in and relax before we headed to the arena. Sadly, Jack's equipment bag had accidentally been offloaded at the hotel so he couldn't play in the game that was scheduled for his team that night. I think this actually turned out to be a good thing because, as it turned out, the three games he was scheduled for on Friday and Saturday were plenty of hockey for him.

We attended the opening ceremony right after the game, and a situation less ideally suited for a child with autism, you could not have created. Jack and the rest of his team had to stand in a group and wait for their turn to go on the ice and the place was PACKED. Jack did a lot of spinning to self-regulate. I got a little nauseated just watching him.

It was all worth it though, because watching Jack get to take part in a ceremony like that? I don't know that I ever imagined that happening for him. It was really phenomenal.

We got back to the hotel after Jack's normal bedtime and I made an executive decision that sleep was more important than food, so I gave him a package of snack food and sent him to bed.

 Over the next couple of days, the Cheetahs played seven more games. Jack's squad played two on Friday and one on Saturday. The B Team, the more skilled players, had three games Friday and one on Saturday. The coach skated every one of them. There was some incredible sportsmanship on display during these games and a couple of the match-ups, particularly those of the B Team, were awesome hockey.

Jack skated in all three games he was scheduled for, but he didn't finish any of them. During the first game, he tried to escape from the ice when he decided he was done. During the second game, he hung out on the bench and let himself be cheered up by one of the dads—after he hurled his stick on the ice. During the third game, he fucking lost it. I was called over shortly after I saw him heave his gloves at the dad trying to help him over on the bench.

It was a little tough to watch him so adamantly not participate. When he was on the ice, he did great. He even managed to hit the puck a couple of times. See, he likes hockey, but the problem is that he is slower than most of the other kids and can't really participate in the game like them. Plus, he's been playing almost every week since September and he's tired.

"I hate hockey!" he yelled just before I took him to the locker room during his third game. "It's too hard!"

I kept telling myself that most of these other kids have skated longer than him and had a lot more experience. I listened to the parents who told me to sit tight and let the dads on the bench take care of him. I heard them when they told me about their own or other kids who behaved similarly in the past, but who are now happy, energetic, skilled players. I told myself that Jack was getting the team experience and the pride, even if he wasn't playing like the rest of the kids.

I KNOW all these things, but it still felt like a stab in the heart when I watched him struggle. I felt, at the same time, both hopeful and terrible. And I was the idiot with tears in her eyes the whole weekend. Again. My emotions were so close to the surface the entire time.

Jack got a little break on Friday to swim in the hotel pool with a bunch of the other kids. I hope that moments like that let Jack see the faces of his teammates and get to know their names a little bit instead of just seeing them as padded-up skaters that share the ice with him on Saturday mornings.


I also got a little break after that terrible third game on Saturday when Alysia of Try Defying Gravity, who is my three-quirky-boys twin in Boston, came to hang out with her oldest guy for about an hour.

Jack and Gerry.

That beautiful woman cheered me up more than almost anything could have. She and her kid are awesome. Jack barely managed to interact with her son at all, but I get that he was super overwhelmed. Without even knowing that she was doing it, Alysia basically talked me off of a ledge. I loved her before, but I love her even more now. Even if she arrived without any margaritas.

Some of the families decided to head into Boston that night to do some sightseeing and hang out. Jack was still pretty tightly wound, so we split off from the group and walked along the harbor for a couple of hours.

Jack so needed that time to decompress, I think. It was great for me too. We walked all the way down to where the Boston Tea Party boat was supposed to be but wasn't, encountering some disappointed British people at the supposed location.

Jack, who had spoken barely at all for three days, chatted the entire time we walked. He spent about an hour pretending to be from another planet and asking about all the things he saw.

We had a blast. I had thought about staying with Jack at the hotel instead and maybe taking him back to the pool. But it turns out that some fresh air, some exercise and some alone time with me was just what he needed.

So, yeah. It was a lot to take in—for both of us. I realize that this post is a little incomprehensible, but that's how it felt for me while I was there. It was an emotional, fantastic, heart-wrenching, tremendous weekend. I got to know a lot of the parents and kids better over the past few days and, as it is whenever you find a new group of people who gets it, it was eye-opening and unforgettable.

Here's the thing: I'm not about to lose this community. I will sign Jack up for hockey again next year. We will take it slow and see how he does. Hopefully as he improves, he'll get more excited again.

I'm letting him process this weekend himself for a little while before I try to talk to him a lot about it. When I do, I hope that his take away is similar to mine: It's complicated, but it's good to be part of a team.

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