One Simple and Unstoppable Mile

Blog 132

It started a few weeks ago. It was simple and yet as soon as I heard it for myself, I will tell you, it felt every bit of impossible.  That was when my spectrum kiddo’s P.E. teacher informed me that the mile test was coming up.  He asked if my boy normally participated in that kind of state testing.   I will admit his question was not a surprise.  It was a surprise to no one that my boy and physical activity try never to stand too close together for long.  My boy, with autism in his genes, avoids sweating at ALL cost and, in his defense, I will admit coordination has not always come easy to us.  In his ultra-honest-spectrum-view of life he sees no good reason for running.  It’s okay for other people but, for him, there’s just no reason to go there.  In his words, “Mom, running hurts.”  If he were his own boss, if the big decisions were all up to him, he would lay in his bed or sit on the couch and enjoy his Nintendo 3DS or Wii all-day-long every single day.  Nintendo coordination, on the other hand, he has no problem mastering.

Lucky for me, he is not the boss man just yet.  Thankfully, that is still my job and I am admittedly pretty darn good at being the bad guy.  My three kiddos have all agreed that if you look up “mean momma’ in the dictionary you will find my mug… front and center.  Let me also add…that is perhaps the only thing my three kiddos agree on.  I do try to make it positive and let them “earn” their electronics time by doing their chores, being respectful to their teachers, completing homework and making good choices.  We don’t always hit the mark but we set the bar high.

So, clearly, my boy is all about the electronics and NOT at all about P.E. but, nonetheless, the school has its standards and even though his teacher knows my boy is not a streak of light on the track, he kindly let me know they still had several weeks left to help prepare him to achieve the goal.

The goal, he informed me, was a 13 minute mile. Ouch.  I wished him good luck.

I won’t even go into how impossible I thought that sounded for a boy who can swim like a fish for twenty laps but whose fish-ness does not translate well onto dry land.  The same boy who sweats like a iced drink sitting in the sunshine even when he is sitting in the snow.  I simply put my faith in the teacher and decided I would not stress my boy out by focusing too sharply on it.  It would be what it would be.  Pass or fail…we are who we are.  There are many things I can fix and change and help better but I wasn’t really sure this was one of them so I let it rest.

The next week I asked my boy how it was going.  He let me know he got close but he only made it three laps.  He said it was just too hard.  In contrast, his teacher said, “I know he can do this.  He is losing the battle in his head.  If I have to, I’ll run it with him.”

The next week I decided it was best not to ask about his progress.

Then, the week after, this thing happened.

I picked my boy up from school and when my boy got in the car, I asked him like I normally do, “How was your day?”

To which he gave me his normal reply, “It was good.”

To which I always ask, “What made it good?”

And then it kicks into his memory and his voice raises and he tells me, “Because I passed my mile today!”

“Really?” I ask, “How’d that happen.”

“I got a boost, ” He tells me.

It was an understatement to say I was elated.  I was also kind of gobsmacked and realized I wasn’t even sure what the word “boost” really meant.  It wasn’t until I emailed a thank you to his teacher that I found out the real story.  I always knew our P.E. teacher was a good guy but it wasn’t until I got his email that I realized what a champion and true educator this man is.

It turns out the day my boy ran the mile was a pretty outstanding day on our middle school campus.  While most of the world hears of bullying, fighting, and social awkwardness within the walls of a middle school, something entirely different was going on at my boy’s school.  The day my boy ran the mile, kids stepped up.  Thirteen and fourteen year olds, vilified in the media as compassionless, merciless and cruel, were anything but that.  That day an entire P.E. class of middle school kiddos and their spectacular teacher had this gold-medal-humanity moment.  The kind of moment that will live on in their hearts and will hopefully breathe in them every time they see another human being who is somehow different or weaker than they are.  It was the kind of lesson no textbook could teach or test for.  It was simply the kind of unintended lesson that springs unexpectedly from a great leader, a man who teaches with his heart and who values every child, and that only his life by example can bring forward.

That day my boy ran the mile, an entire class of P.E. students (seventh AND eighth graders) stood together for the greater good of a classmate.  That day a group of kids stopped seeing just a severe speech delay and quirky spectrum issues and instead they saw a friend in need.  An entire class came together so that one boy’s struggle could be strengthened and his confidence in his own ability could be bolstered.  On that day, when my boy attempted to run the mile again, kids stepped up, by choice and not force, in ways that even adults don’t always choose.

You see, during every lap of his mile run, his fellow classmates stood by his side and ran with him by choice.  They ran beside, in front of and beside my boy and they encouraged him and cheered him on like his teacher had never seen before.  My boy is an underclassman, a seventh grader, and even eighth grade classmates had his back that day when they gave him his “boost”.   All four laps, with friends by his side, were completed that day.  My boy had 13 minutes to run those four laps, something he had been unable to do all school year long, but that March day, with his classmates at his side every step of the way, my boy shattered that goal with a time of 12:03.

The words of his teacher said it better than I ever could:

“I don’t even know where to begin. I was so proud of him and the rest of my  class yesterday. I love my job, but yesterday is the moment you dream about and live for as a teacher.  The hearts, the effort, and the respect these individuals and myself  have for your young man is awesome.”

In the end, it genuinely was simple.  Different is not less, autism is just a wiring issue and kindness is simple if we let it be.  Kindness, friendship, love and equality are all simple if we let them be…just as these kids and one champion of a teacher and mentor demonstrated on one middle school campus.  There is nothing more unstoppable than the simplicity of a mile run when your peers and your champion stand beside you, run with you and cheer you on through the rough spots.  Something each of us can and should take with us into life each and every day.  Life’s challenges really are all simple and we are all unstoppable if we dare to be so bold.

Autism: The Boy and The Wave

Blog 56

Each year at the elementary school it happens.

The teachers immediately voice their concerns, share their reservations about my son.  They share how the seemingly “checked out” little man is not ready for “their” class.  He is not ready for the rigor they tell me.  They don’t think he can keep up and they voice all of these concerns before they have ever gotten to know him.

By now I am used to the reservations about my quiet and sometimes differently wired boy and I don’t push back anymore….instead I wait.  I have learned to wait for it.  Wait for them to come to their own conclusion.  Wait for them to make the gasping discovery on their own and realize he is more than what they have imagined autism to be.  He is more than they have been taught in their teaching classes.  He does not fit well into their text book definition of who he should be because he is more and sometimes less than the definitions of autism they have memorized for exams.

So I wait for it.

The gasp usually arrives sometime in the fall.  Typically around October or November.  It always arrives before Thanksgiving.  It arrives on a startled face with big eyes and a wacky smile and it arrives on shuffling feet as they dart out to catch me during pick up.  It looks bright and it sounds inspired when they give me the back handed compliment that I have now memorized.  Their words line up as, “I wasn’t sure he belonged here when he first started but,” and before they finish their sentence they look me in the eye like they are telling me brand new words I have never heard, and then they finish with, “he is really smart.  That boy is brilliant.  I couldn’t see it in the beginning but I see it now.”  And I don’t use stern words or a holier-than-thou tone when I respond because I have waited for it.  I simply say, “I know.  He’s remarkable.  That is the beauty of my boy.  He has a quiet brilliance and if you are not careful, you can miss it.  I’m glad you see it.”

A wave of relief washes over me at this point.  The kind of wave that ushers rests.  The kind of wave that feels safe.  The kind of wave that quietly assures me, “You can stand down now.  They understand.”  They have been witness to his sparkle and they have arrived at a new and brilliant understanding of autism.  They will go on to teach others and they will never again assume that a quiet child is less because they can finally see that different is not less.

In that moment I understand that they will not only become a better teacher but they will go on to save other kiddos by loving who they are and giving them that chance they did not want to give my son.  The next time they will assume competence rather than crying foul and predicting failure.   This kind of wave that washes over me is one that says this teacher finally understands in their own heart what real autism awareness is, beyond text books and studies, and my boy and the wave have just transformed one more non-believer into a seasoned ambassador for autism awareness.  The kind of ambassador that will stay behind after my boy leaves their class at the end of the year and who will become another cornerstone of autism awareness, understanding and equal value for all students.  And all because one radiant child who was differently wired from the rest showed that there is not one simple version of autism that deserves to be educated.  Every child is an original and able and should be equally valued.  And I am encouraged because I know, with  statistics now announcing 1 in 88 children are affected by autism and an astounding 1 in 54 boys, there will be many more kiddos coming after my boy and they will need this teacher, this new autism ambassador, to ride that wave and to recruit more ambassadors so that equality and assuming competence is something that will be part of every child’s education.

The Upside of The Anxieties

I will admit anxieties and insecurities are mostly bad.  They are not good character traits, they are not helpful, they do not make my day better and yet, the reality it, they live in me and they move me.  They are part of my day-to-day and while most of the time they do not paralyze me, they do have a way of steering my choices.

I know this is a reality, I accept that I am not free of them and, in general, I have overcompensated enough with friendliness to keep them from completely overtaking my life and leaving me a crumpled mess under the quilts on my bed.  I will not hide from the world in complete retreat but I have found ways to tweak my existence so that the anxieties and insecurities in me can find a way to coexist in my life.

That is almost entirely why I run in the dark.

In case you didn’t know (because you sleep through the darkness until morning light)  the world is not awake during those darker hours.  A few scattered souls appear during my dark walking/running hours but I will emphasize it is very few.  I see a few lights on in kitchens and a few trucks on the road but, mostly, it’s just me, the cats and the frogs outside on the road.  I am used to it, I like the quiet and I am quickly discovering there is an entire world of animals that enjoy a whole lot of excitement during the dark hours of morning when all the people are gone.

Today, my anxieties and those animals kind of collided and, in a surprising turn of events, the anxieties and insecurities paid off in spades!  Surprising, I know, but it really can happen that way.

I am used to the cats about the neighborhood.  They used to scatter when they heard me hobbling about on my morning walk.  In their defense, I can only imagine how scary I look and how terrifying I sound as I scuffle and gasp.  Recently they seem to have come to accept that I may be an over sized animal of sorts and, happily, they no longer scatter when they hear me coming.  I used to take it personally that I scared them all.  Now they continue their naps on the sidewalk, they sit and watch me go by and there is one black one that will even come out into the street to say hello.

Today, as I was running by a familiar corner, I was startled when I heard a rustle in the bushes.

Noises, at 5 a.m. and in the dark, always get my attention.  I may like that early morning, cover of darkness for running but, for safety reasons, noises just freak me right out.  I was relieved when I saw the fluffy Siamese that lives on the next corner walk out and stand in the grass.  He did not immediately run away  and that made me smile.  I stopped my forward motion, jogged in place for a moment and said hello to the neighborhood cat from the road.  I appreciated that he no longer ran from me and I wanted him to know.  I stood there talking to the cat and jogging in place and then this crazy thing happened.

My eyes began to focus.

I was less than two minutes into my run and just eight houses away from my own home when my aging and fuzzy eyes began to focus a bit more.  As I stood talking to the Siamese cat, I realized it wasn’t a cat at all. It was a fox!

Wowza….I continued to talk to him and he continued to listen and we both just stared.  It was a HOOT.  He was fresh, fluffy and really quite pretty and I realized, my insecurities and anxieties brought me to him.  Had I been “all that”, secure and completely confident, I would never have been upright at such an hour and would never have been privy to such wonder.

My dark hours serve an obvious purpose in that they let my jiggle and struggle and gasp hide under the cover of darkness so that, thankfully, I am hardly noticed.  Yes, I struggle, yes I am imperfection personified, yes I am a lousy runner but, despite all the imperfections, goodness reared its head and shared with me a truly cool moment.  Now, had I been younger and had my eyes still lived with better vision, I might have enjoyed the moment for longer but, because of my fading eyes, I had a WOWZA moment that perfect and immediate focus would not have allowed me to experience.  Life is good.  The good and the not so perfect all mingle together for goodness and I loved my little fox.

With eight more houses left in my running goal and two and a half more miles to walk, I said good bye to the little guy and stumbled back into a sort-of-run that seemed a lot like my animated walk.  It occurred to me as I got my slow pace back that a big smile and renewed spirit sure can help boost your pace.  I ended up counting twenty two houses straight that I ran past this morning without walking.  It was more houses than I had set for my goal and, with the smile plastered across my face, I hardly felt it.

If the fox is out tomorrow, I think I could even run thirty houses straight!  Who knows?  Inspiration can do crazy things :).

Conquering The Front Door

Autism is not an easy place to live.  Some days it is hard to breathe from all the anxiety and fear that live right beside it.  It wears you out, tears you down and sometimes leaves you in a puddle on the dining room floor.

Running, like autism, is also not easy. It is actually hard, it takes time to develop and it hurts in the beginning.  Some days, it hurts a LOT.  The cool thing is (yes, I said the “cool” thing because there is the cool thing about running…wait for it) that running, when applied to an autism filled life, will  temper the physical and emotional exhaustion that fills the parents who are immersed in it, 24/7.

I decided I have to start running again.  It has been five years since I divorced and five years since I have been a runner (  I also use the term “runner” loosely).  It has been five years since I was at what I consider to be a healthy weight for my body type.  Let me tell you as well that “running”, to me, is considered many things.  I whole heartedly believe in animated walking which is something that resides between walking and running and it is a pace I like a lot right now.  A wee bit faster than walking, a little bouncy but not an actual run.  It’s a good place to start.

And…so I started.

I did my animated walking for six houses .  SIX houses.  SIX in a ROW.  You may not see the triumph in that but, after five years of taking care of kids and doing very little cardio, six was stellar.  It’s a start.

It’s my beginning.

The truth is I was really just happy to conquer my front door.  Some days, when I attempt to run, the door is my toughest opponent.  It’s easier to roll back over, crawl back in, and stay snuggled in the warm spot.  It’s very challenging to choose the cold air, the dark street, the failure that will come after so many years of not exercising..

My front door is a tough opponent.

But, as I stepped into my bathroom to locate the running clothes I’d set out the night before, I could easily see the fluff around my middle, the flags that have begun to wave from beneath my once tiny arms and the padding that has attached itself to my thighs.  I won’t even go into how much I love slip-on shoes these days because I can avoid bending at my cushioned middle which is not such a comfortable feeling at all.  In light of my body and its current state, I put on the tight black running pants, the jog bra and the sizable shirt to hide the overstated curves that I am not proud of.

I stepped out of my bathroom, found my shoes and straightened my backbone because I am tougher than the door.  I have given birth to three children, survived a season on a wildland fire crew, I have cowboyed up and moved all over this country, starting over new each time, and I have taken on autism with all my being… and I can conquer the front door too!

So I opened that door despite the anxiety that was bubbling up and screaming out to me that a smart girl would just crawl back into bed and into a warmer and safer option.  And, despite the gremlins in my head that were yelling that I would fail and I was not good enough anymore, I  stepped through my front door.  When I closed it back, there I was…I was standing on the fresh air side of night.  I took a deep breath and I reminded myself that I am a grown woman, I am strong and a silly thing like a an animated walk/run is not going to stop me from getting my health and my body back because my children and their futures are worth every step.  I repeated the mantra that was building up in the anxiety bubbles: I do not have to be perfect but I do have to be healthy.

And, I ran.  I ran for six houses and then I gasped for air, admitted to myself it was not going to be a quick road back to finding my running legs and I set my ego down on the curb.  I began to walk.  My old attitude of “if you have to walk you are a quitter” is GONE.  I admitted to myself the slow road back to health is my path, moderation is my friend, and I will not pretend this is going to be easy.  It’s going to be hard, it going to hurt and it’s going to be worth every step….because being around until my children are old and gray is my goal.  The only thing I have to do each day is conquer my front door.

Tomorrow I will shoot for ten houses and if I go twelve without falling over in exhaustion into the neighbor’s yard, I will consider it a great success.   And, after my ten or twelve houses tomorrow, during my dark morning hours, I will appreciate the fresh air, the cats milling about and the frogs that frequently hop out from wet gutters.  Because, the real hard truth here is, I am healthy enough to take a walk and I live in a place where I do not have to be frightened to go outside of my home.  I am not in a war zone, my legs both work so, truly, there are no excuses. The next day after that I hope to be able to run eighteen houses and maybe I’ll even run for seven minutes straight.  Who knows?  And, even if I can’t, I’m going to walk the rest of the way and appreciate the fact that, even when I am out of shape, I can still walk and breathe and listen to the sounds of the early morning darkness.

I really hope you will take a chance and get out there too.  If you can…you should….because life is too short not to:).

Rebel With A Cause In The Land of the Jiggly Shades of Gray

autism sparkles-60For a few years, I will admit I lived in a hole.

I did.

It wasn’t a denial hole.  It was more of a “I-don’t-know-where-we-fit-in-so-we’ll-simply-fit-together” kind of hole because even the doctors, at the time, were more confused than helpful. We simply didn’t fit easily into the classic autism mold nor did we fit into the black and white world of typical development so we took ourselves out of the mix and fell uncomfortably into the autistic shades of gray.  A place where the labels that generated such fear could not stick definitively to us, nor could those labels overwhelm or define us.

It was pretty clear, within the autistic shades of gray, the doctors over a decade ago did not  have their finger on the pulse nor did they have a comprehensive game plan to plug us into.  It was admittedly difficult for the medical community since autism is not a disease.  It wasn’t simple that way.  It was not like attacking a well choreographed disease whose protocol was firmly established. Autism, though as feared as any disease has ever been, was a whole lot different.  It wasn’t necessarily life threatening but it was life altering to say the least.  It was not contagious and yet the fear that surrounded it spread like wildfire through families.  By the time my boy was four, our heads were spinning with all the differing opinions a myriad of doctors held in regard to my boy.

Autism was becoming like jello.  There was nothing firm about an autism  diagnosis

Gray and jiggly, pervasive and yet still hard to nail down.  We’d heard doctors rally from yes to no and then to turn around to hear a third doctor’s emphatic “good-God yes” and a fourth announce “I don’t think so”.  I stopped counting our evals at seven.  Eventually, after a life time of never questioning the authority of doctors, of never saying no, my boy and I took our leave.  We stepped off the merry-go-round in order to concentrate on the boy and his needs.

Although I’ve never been one to ride the wave, to fall in with the majority or to skate along with the trends, at that moment in my life I was also not quite a rebel.   At the time, when autism first knocked on our front door, it was not always easy to stand alone.  It was not easy to buck the system, to fight, to push back and question those who shall not be questioned.  It was not easy to always be unpopular but, in time and because of the many good men who choose to do nothing, I came to find out…it’s good to be the rebel.

Actually, looking back and being very honest with you now, I will say that standing up and saying no, questioning and asking why, were very, very good.  You may have been taught, as I was, not to rebel but, I assure you, autism and the those Jiggly Shades of Gray, are the very place where rebels are needed. Rebels, when autism is your cause, are necessary.  It goes against the way I was raised back in the day but it is indeed some very good stuff to behold the Rebel With A Cause in the Land of the Jiggly Shades of Gray.

Standing up and asking questions, questioning the establishment, is the only way to really fight autism.  Knowledge, as they say, is power.  Knowledge and rebellion will open your eyes to the endless shades of jiggly gray that pervade autism.  And, as is often the case, what the doctors don’t know, you can find answered with other seasoned rebel-parents, online, in blogs or right within the eyes of your child.  Ten years ago, the internet was not the gem that it is for parents today.  A Google search for autism left me uninformed and mostly empty of useful information.  For me, circling our wagons and stepping off the merry-go-round and into the autistic shades of gray was the best thing I ever did.  I did not shun therapy at all but I looked at my child and consulted my own common sense before I made any decisions for his needs.

What I found inside The Jiggly Shades of Gray is simply, there is not a lot of black and white to be located…nor should you expect it.  There is, on the other hand, a whole lot of waiting and patience and repetition and love.  It is all at once complicated and yet simple.  It is not the medical rocket science I was led to believe in the beginning and yet it takes everything I am to keep the light radiating inside the Jiggly Shades of Gray.  It is indeed about perseverance, love, a lot of jiggly gray and mountains of hope.  No black.  No white.

I see my job in this life inside The Land of the Jiggly Shades of Gray where solid answers and maps are hard to come by, as his advocate, his cheerleader, his therapist, his navigator and his visionary side kick.  I try to look forward and to marry that forward vision with the reality of who he is.  My role is to build, to teach and to sculpt him into his very best self and to marry the autism into the rest of the boy that he is.  Yes…autism and those Jiggly Shades of Gray are in him still but we try every day to help those shades mix into the life that he lives so that all you see is the boy.  The autism is there…oh YES….it’s in there with its quirks but it is not all of him.  If I do my job right, I will help grow my boy, as well as his sister and brother, into adults who can be independent, who can live lives that fulfill them and who can be individuals who can navigate this life safely.  And, if I am very good, the essential essence of who this spectrum kiddo is will rise up and step forward into the whole world.  As he navigates his independent self right out into the whole wide world, the world will see how much sparkle and grace exist in The Land of the Jiggly Shades of Gray and, instead of pointing fingers from the Land of Black and White, maybe they will want to come in and take a look around at some of our lovely autistic shades of gray.

Of course, this is my dream and, at thirteen, we are not yet at the jumping off point where he takes his independent self out into the Land of Black and White but we still work every single day to get there because he is worth it and I believe, in my heart of hearts that kids like him are the bridge between the Jiggly Shades of Gray and the Black and white and their sparkle holds the key to uniting us all.  Let the mommas dream on.

Reasons To Love Autism: Moment # 56

autism sparkles-128

My boy always surprises me.  Just when I think I have autism cornered, that I know it inside and out, he throws me a curve ball.  That is just one of the many things I have come to love about autism, this spectrum and my boy.

Tonight, autism and my boy’s ability to leave me gobsmacked sounded like this.  Simple and yet profound.

My boy: What are we having for dinner?
Mom: Chicken and dumplings.
My boy: Oh boy, that’s my favorite!
Mom: But you never liked it, Buddy.  For the last ten years you’ve said no.
My boy: Really?  I think I like it a lot  now.
Mom: What changed?
My boy: I think my taste buds are starting to have a taste for it!

Never give up on autism, never assume or paint it into a corner and never give up on your child’s potential to knock your socks off with their brilliance…autism changes, it moves, it grows, it turns on a dime….just sit back, be patient and let it do its thing ❤
Sparkle On, my friends ❤