By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
My weekly tennis matches with the guys was yesterday, and believe me, I was prepared.
No, I hadn’t practiced my serves, my groundstrokes, or even my volleys. I wasn’t even trying to build up a psychological edge to overcome my weekly tennis opponents. Actually, my preparation had very little to do with playing tennis at all.
Instead, most of my preparation involved coming up with friendly insults that I spew forth at the most opportune moment in the match.
You see, as most guys know, whenever you get together with a bunch of married guys, particularly if the occasion involves sports and/or pizza and/or beer, the bulk of the evening is spent less on the stated activity itself and more on our ability to degrade each other in the most inventive ways possible.
It helps that we all like each other.
Our evenings usually entail the following series of steps:
- Play a point as best we can.
- Follow up the point with a witty insult, usually involving someone’s manhood, using repartee as visually descriptive as possible.
- Play another point.
- Follow the insult up with some creative way of linking your opponent’s poor play due to the lack of said manhood as described in step number two.
- Repeat process until someone is declared the winner.
You may think it sounds like some misguided machismo by a group of middle-aged men just trying to escape daily life. I’d love to debate that point with you, but what can I say? It’s probably true.
But last night was different.
Last night, since my wife Maya was travelling on business and my son Tyler was busy with an early evening class, I had no one to watch my other son and daughter, Ethan and Savannah. There wasn’t enough notice for me to find a babysitter. But instead of cancelling on the tennis group, I just decided to bring Ethan and Savannah with me.
We have triplets. Ethan and Savannah are autistic. Tyler is a typical 16-year-old.
Ethan and Savannah are two of the most good-natured and gentle kids you’ll ever come across.
They love music, swimming, and usually go through the day with smiles on their faces. They certainly have their challenges, but the ability to love life isn’t one of them.
I had taken Ethan and Savannah out before to see if they would like playing tennis. Neither one showed much interest. I suspect that has to do with the inherent need to be competitive when you’re playing tennis. As far as I can tell, neither Ethan nor Savannah have any impulse or need to beat someone else at anything.
I knew that Ethan and Savannah would be just fine watching their dad play tennis for a couple of hours, just enjoying the cool evening breeze that evening.
That night, our group played on three courts – four players on each court. I was playing on the middle court, and Ethan and Savannah were sitting one court away, near a fence, on some folding chairs I had brought for them.
As I walked out on the court, as I sometimes do when I go into social situations where I’m trying to avoid any possible misunderstandings or mixed messages, I mentioned to one of the guys that Ethan and Savannah were my kids and they were autistic, so if they were to speak to them and they didn’t respond or didn’t respond appropriately, they would understand why.
My friend smiled, looked at me and said, “Oh I know! Hi Savannah! Hi Ethan!” – easy enough.
For the next hour, everything was routine. We all played our matches, and maybe there was a little let-up in the witty repartee seeing as there were impressionable minors on the court, but that was to be expected.
It’s what came next that came as a surprise.
Being a special needs family, the normal reaction when we’re in a social setting with people who don’t have any experience with it, is that they tend to show compassion and patience, but not much interaction. I can understand it – they don’t know exactly what they should do, so they tend to keep their distance. It’s almost a cordial indifference.
But in the middle of my match, as I got ready to serve, I looked over to the court next to me. I saw Ethan and Savannah on the court, holding racquets, with two of the guys standing behind them, clapping and cheering them on.
“Go Ethan! Hit the ball! You can do it!”
“Way to go, Savannah! Hit the ball!”
Two of the other guys were across the net, with big smiles on their faces, just as eager to cheer the kids on. Ethan and Savannah, for their part, were laughing with glee and jumping up and down, not knowing exactly how to hit the ball, but happy all the same just to give it a try.
Turning back to start our game again, I missed my serve, but that was the last thing I was thinking about at that point. Everyone on our court turned to what was happening, and they started cheering on Ethan and Savannah, too.
I was watching a group of grown men cheer on kids they had never met before, giving up their time to play tennis to give these kids a chance to play – and they all relished every moment of it. Needless to say, I was more than just a little choked up.
After the match, as I was all packed up and ready to go, I turned to the group and said, “Thanks guys, for doing that. I tried teaching them how to play tennis, but they never seemed interested. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you guys just did.”
They smiled and said it was nothing. But they’re wrong. It wasn’t nothing. For me, what I saw last night – well, it just meant everything. (end)
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.