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.