For some strange reason, Max is a gigantic Baltimore Ravens fan. Actually we know the reason. When Joe Flacco was their QB, he was number 5. That’s Max’s favorite number. I don’t think any other QB at the time had number 5, so Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens became Max’s favorites. Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks were dead to Max. That’s just the way it was going to be.
Fast forward to the 2019 season, the Baltimore Ravens were scheduled to play the Seahawks in Seattle. After all the trash talking that had gone on in the Youngquist home the years prior, there was no doubt we would be attending that game. We had never been to a game, and figured it would be pretty tough to get decent tickets. We threw it out on Facebook, and as it turns out, one of Max’s champions and a close friend of the family, came through with some tickets.
As game day got closer, others got wind of our upcoming event. Another one our family friends is close with the assistant to the general manager of the Seahawks. John Schneider, Seahawks GM, also has an autistic child and was influential in putting together a sensory room in CenturyLink stadium for people with sensory issues. When he heard Max’s story and found out Max was coming to the game, he and his staff provided pregame sideline passes for Max and me. Yeah. Freaking awesome!
We stayed in Seattle the night before the game because game day was actually Jamie’s birthday. So it was easy to explain to Max why we were doing something special without actually telling him the plan. If we had told Max we were going to see his Ravens live, we wouldn’t have been able to deal with the anxiety leading up to game day – a lesson we had learned years earlier, over and over, the hard way. So all the way up to that very morning, we were able to keep it a secret.
On the way to the game, Max went nuclear on us because his plan that morning was to go watch the Great Wheel go around, and that’s not the direction we were headed. Before the freak out got too intense, I had to sit him down and let him in on the real plan. “Dude. You have to calm down, take a big breath, and listen to what I have to say. We’re not going down to the waterfront to watch the Great Wheel. We’re actually going to see your Ravens play the Seahawks.”
He stared at me silently for a good 10 seconds. “What?” he finally said. “Yeah, dude. We’re going to the game.” “Mom, is he serious?” Jamie immediately said, “Yeah, buddy! What do you think? Should we go?” He looked back at me with the same stare. Ever so slowly, a giant grin grew across his face. I said, “One more thing, buddy. We’re going down on the sidelines before the game to watch the players warm up.” I think all of it was too much to comprehend all at once. He had that deer in the headlights look all the way to the stadium.
I’ll wrap it up here with a few comments. The sideline passes were epic. The game for Seahawks fans sucked (they lost if you don’t follow the NFL). The game for Max was the best thing ever. He did so much better than we could ever imagine. To watch the kid stand up in his seat, among all the Seattle fans, and cheer on his team without a care in the world was pretty special.
For us, the moral of the story, and what we tell any other autism parent, is “don’t be scared to try the ridiculous.” In fact, it’s going to be a chapter in my upcoming book. For most kids, including Max, going to the loudest stadium in the NFL with people screaming all around you is usually a big no no. But we had rolled the dice and tested our limits before. We had tried the ridiculous in other things. We were equipped with all our tools, and all our back-up tools. And we were mentally prepared to pull the plug altogether if need be. But the point is we weren’t scared to try.
If you’re a parent of an autistic kid, and it’s still early in your journey, this story might seem out of reach for you. And it might be. But there may be some other ridiculous thing that you will be able to do that you never thought possible. The point is that you can’t be scared to try. Start small. Get bigger. Surprise yourself. Let your kid surprise the heck out of you. Don’t fear it. It’s the stuff that’ll end up in your memoirs. And it’ll be awesome.
To check out one of our ridiculous efforts that went a little awry, see this post.