"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Big Push

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
We’re on each other’s team
~ Lorde, Team

Screws in shoes

Screws in shoes

Spring is coming very slowly to Minnesota, in drips and drags, which means that soon I can begin running outdoors again. In anticipation of still snowy paths and icy patches, I modified an old pair of shoes to prevent me from slipping. To make your own, predrill holes in the soles and then insert small screws until they are about ¼” from being completely screwed into the shoe. I have found that this modification works better than boots or Yaktrax for gripping slippery places of the trail.

Last fall I promised my boyfriend that I would stop running half marathons. When I returned to his house in ice cube form after my late October one, he took me in with one glance and said, “You don’t look good.”  I told him, “I tore the bottoms of my feet on the big hill after Mile 11,” to which he grimaced and replied, “I don’t think you should run any more long races.” Upstairs in the shower, sitting with my head between my knees while the hot water warmed me up, I told myself that he was right. Why do I do things like this? Why race? Why compete? What am I trying to prove?

The point is not to compete or prove anything. I run because I love the combined mental and physical challenge. I knew the hill was coming after Mile 11, and, having run it in previous races, I knew what I was in for. The elevation increases by 100 feet within half a mile, and most of us choose to run it. I pushed myself because I knew after the hill I had less than two miles to the finish. At that point it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until the end. So close, and so tired, but nothing compares to crossing the finish line and knowing that I had accomplished my goal despite the voices in my head and the physical ache. Now spring is coming, fall is far behind me, and I am once again ready and eager to begin training.

“I’ve never had anyone do this that quickly.”

Our clinical study site.

Our clinical study site.

That statement was not made in response to my running. I’m a middle-of-the-pack kind of girl, each and every race. My son Tim recently participated in a clinical study on memory. This study is part of an ongoing research program by a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies the relationship between attention and autism. For an hour of Tim’s time once or twice a year, he earns $10 each session and enjoys being the center of attention. He does computer simulations, looks through diagrams, adds and subtracts, and recalls images and patterns. Everything is timed which helps provide statistical information. In his most recent clinical study, I overheard the doctor make the above comment when Tim was doing a number puzzle.

The clinical studies are usually done at our home or at the University. We tend to flip flop depending on our schedules. The first time our doctor came to our home for a study was approximately three years ago when Tim was in seventh grade. At the end of the study, she took a few minutes to talk to me with her recommendations. Her advice was that Tim should be taking college courses, not withering away in a middle school classroom. She stressed that intellectually he was ready for college and keeping him where he was would not be beneficial to him. I agreed but didn’t know how to start the conversation with the staff at the public school he attended.

This is an example of one of the patterns Tim had to copy using blocks.

An example of a pattern Tim copied during his clinical study using blocks. You can purchase this and other puzzles at Marbles located at the Mall of America.

Now Tim is in tenth grade and will begin taking college courses next fall in Animal Science as part of his regular school day. At our most recent IEP meeting, his teacher, staff, father, and I discussed him starting college early. We were all in agreement, and this would not be happening if we were not all on the same team. Tim’s teacher commented that she is reaching the point where she has nothing left to teach him, and it is time for him to begin transitioning to college. Tim will be taking one college course each semester, and by the time he graduates from high school he will already have four college courses in Animal Science on his transcript.

I wasn’t sure any of this would ever happen. When Tim started middle school three years ago, I participated in some workshops for parents of special needs children that his school generously set up. One moderator made this remark to our group that has since tumbled around in my head:

“Your child is not entitled to the best education possible. Rather, he or she is entitled to an education that is appropriate for his or her needs.”

As difficult as this is to hear, it is true. Reading it in writing makes me cringe. Not every person is meant to go to college, just as not every person is meant to get married, have children, travel the world, be an athlete, raise chickens, you get the point. I started to hold the thought in my heart that Tim may not go to college. Mentally I was Mile 7-8 of 13 miles, where you’ve come a long way, but you’re starting to feel tired, your feet are starting to ache, and you are well aware you still have a long way to go toward your goal.

Now we’re at Mile 11 with Tim regarding his childhood. The final part is one last push toward college, and then he enters the next phase of his life as an adult. The hill I had been fearing for years is no longer insurmountable. We just have to dig deep and run up it. Tim has come so far, and both his teacher and I have seen enormous mental and emotional maturity in him this past year. Even though Tim is nearly good to go, this is no time to rest. We have SATs and ACTs to prepare for, colleges to visit, applications to write, and choices to make. And what an exciting and delightful time it will be.

Here are some websites that may be helpful in researching colleges for students who fall on the autism spectrum:

  • AHEADD – Achieving In Higher Education (http://www.aheadd.org/): Provides coaching, mentoring, and self-advocacy for students with special needs.)
  • USCAP – US College Autism Project (http://www.usautism.org/uscap/): Provides support for students on the autism spectrum to help ensure they have both a successful college experience and a successful transition to the working world after graduation.
  • ISER – Internet Special Education Resources (www.iser.com): List of college programs to help students with the transition to college, independent living, college planning, and much more.
  • College Lists (http://collegelists.pbworks.com/): Nationwide list of colleges that have support programs for students with a former diagnosis of Asperger’s. Augsburg College (http://www.augsburg.edu/) is one of them if you live in the Twin Cities.
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Why I Run

I tried carrying the weight of the world. But I only have two hands. ~ Wake Me Up, Avicii

This is the last hill!

You’re almost there!

Keep going!

View of the finish line from the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stonebridgedapper/5073429919/ )

2010 photo of the finish line as viewed from the Minnesota State Capitol. The Cathedral of St. Paul is in the background. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ stonebridgedapper/5073429919/

Those were the last words I heard from the spectators before turning onto John Ireland Boulevard and seeing the finish line in front of the Minnesota State Capitol. I ran down the road, waved to my parents at the TV cameras, and stepped on the pad that marked my time. Ten miles had passed by in what seemed like no time at all as I ran with 8500 other people from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul as part of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend.

My morning started at 5am. I rolled out of bed, put my running clothes on, and drove to my girlfriend’s house in Minneapolis. We walked two blocks from her house to catch the city bus to the light rail station. When we arrived at the light rail, we stood waiting with other runners who were still groggy with sleep and huddled under the heat lamps. The light rail dropped us off in front of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis at 6:20am, where the Medtronic TC 10 Mile race began. We were all divided into corrals based on our estimated pace time. As we sorted ourselves out, most of us were jumping up and down to ward off the morning chill.

My girlfriend was worried about the race. She had given birth three months before and was still recovering. We both knew I would finish before her, so we chose a meeting spot in front of the State Capitol Building in downtown St. Paul. As our corral was told to approach the starting line a few minutes after 7am, my final words to her before breaking into a run were “This is going to be an awesome race. I can feel it.”

I was right. The race was absolutely beautiful. After the first few miles our course followed the last six to seven miles of the marathon, which started an hour behind us at 8am. During my run I saw downtown Minneapolis still slumbering (if that’s possible!), I ran along the Mississippi River on both the west and east banks, I saw the sky change from dark to dawn over the Stone Arch Bridge, and when we turned onto Summit Avenue in St. Paul, I was greeted with a face full of bright morning sun. Summit Avenue, a pristinely tree-lined avenue of Victorian homes, was a steady uphill for five miles until half a mile before the finish. There were spectators along the entire course, and their cheers and continual words of encouragement made me feel like I was doing something phenomenal.

The finish line with the Minnesota State Capitol in the background. https://www.tcmevents.org/blog/2013/08/30/259/the_road_to_the_starting_line

The finish line with the Minnesota State Capitol in the background. https://www.tcmevents.org/blog/2013/08/30/259/ the_road_to_the_starting_line

The best part about running that morning was that before I started I had made a decision. My decision was to let things go. This was my day to trade mental baggage, remorse, grudges and resentment for the physical bumps and aches that come with distance running. After this run, there was no more carrying the world on my back. No more continuously pushing mental boulders uphill like Sisyphus. No more negativity. No more blaming other people for my misfortunes or unhappiness.

Between Miles 4-8 I ran every bit of mental clutter into the ground. When it was gone, my feet were getting sore they way they always do around Mile 7, and I had soaked my clothes with sweat despite the cool morning, but mentally I was light as a bird and felt part of myself take flight. I waved to my girlfriend’s husband who was watching with their baby at the Lexington Parkway and Summit Avenue intersection and told him that she was back there somewhere but doing great. I watched out for one of my other girlfriends who was at the last mile marker with a cowbell.

Then there was the last hill. And the turn. And the finish line with the State Capitol spread behind it. And as I crossed the finish line with a newly clean mind and heart I thought to myself, “This is why I run.”

  • The annual Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon has been named the Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America. The 10 Mile Race isn’t too shabby, either. For more information on the marathon weekend, which drew approximately 28,000 runners total, click on on https://www.tcmevents.org/events/medtronic_twin_cities_marathon_weekend/. In addition to the Marathon and the 10 Mile Race, the weekend also has a 10K and a 5K Run/Walk. Family Events include a Mile, Half Mile, Diaper Dash, Toddler Trot, and Mascot Invitational.
  • Kare11 (NBC) streamed the finish line for the 10 Mile and Marathon live on race day on their website (www.kare11.com). You can  still watch the finishers by clicking on their video archive at http://www.kare11.com/news/article/1041585/396/Find-your-finish-at-the-TC-Marathon.
  • YouTube also has video footage for races of all sorts sponsored by Twin Cities In Motion at http://www.youtube.com/TCMRuns.
  • Twin Cities In Motion has events year-round for people of all athletic abilities and ages. Check them out at https://www.tcmevents.org/.


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Running Resources

It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop. ~ Confucius

As our short Minnesota summer is starting to wind down, I’m beginning to wind up. I have three races in the next eight weeks, two half marathons and a 10-miler, that I have been training for since May. My daily schedule consists of work, Timothy time, and training. Training, training, training. My boyfriend made me promise him that when I finish my last race at the end of October I will take the next month off. No exercising beyond climbing, yoga, and an occasional hop on a semirecumbent bike. I agree with him, that after all of this running hither and thither, to and fro,  fore and aft, is finished I need to take a few weeks to let my body recover and repair. Timothy agrees as well, reminding me that in late summer/early fall I turn into a crazy person when it comes to my running schedule.

In the meantime, however, run I do. This entry is devoted to my experience in training for long distance races. Where I run, how I run, and when I run. What I wear and what I don’t wear. What I do and do not eat.

For starters, let’s discuss The Schedule. Anyone who has trained for an event, whether it’s by foot, bicycle, water, or a combination, knows that you need to be prepared. You need to be disciplined with your training because come the big day you want to have FUN with it. There should be no grand surprises about what your body is capable of or how long your endurance can last. I make my own running schedule, which consists of three runs a week: one long one, one medium one, and one short one. I have been doing 9-12 miles for my long run each week, followed by a 10K (6.2 miles) for the medium one, and a pound-the-ground-go-as-fast-as-you-can 5K (3.1 miles) for the short one. I do three runs a week, always with a day between runs, and on the non-running days I do activities such as an elliptical trainer, rock climbing, yoga, or simply a nice after-supper stroll through my neighborhood.

I recently came across a schedule from Self.com that outlines how to train for a half-marathon. What I have been doing is very similar to this:

Self.com

Self.com/fitness

Not ready for a half-marathon quite yet? Never fear…Self.com also has training plans for shorter races, such as this one:

Now that you’re ready to train, what do you wear? While I usually forego style when sweating it out, I have discovered that the right running gear makes a difference. Here is what I keep in my closet:

Footwear:

Shoes – Asics work best for me, specifically their Gel-Nimbus 12 running shoe. I go half a size up when purchasing running shoes. I also replace the insoles that come in my running shoes with Sof Sole Athlete Cushion insoles.

Socks – Socks can make an enormous impact on how my feet feel during and after a run. I can tell when I hit 7 miles because that distance is when my soles start to ache a bit. Purchasing socks with cushioning around the heel and the ball of the foot with a compression band around the arch helps my feet stay comfortable longer. Brands to shop for include Under Armour, Sugoi, and SmartWool PhD, all of which offer both low-cut and knee-high lengths.

ID tags – Road ID sells personalized ID bands for your wrist, ankle, and shoe. I always run with their Shoe ID attached to my shoelaces. It contains my name, my city of residence, and an emergency contact number in case of an accident. While none of us intend to become injured while exercising, you never know. I have tripped over my own two feet many a time.

Clothes:

Bottoms – What I wear in the summer differs dramatically from what I wear in the winter. Year-round, however, I choose running gear that wicks away moisture and contains a hidden compartment or two for keys and such. My favorite brands for running in warm months include Skirt Sports, Sugoi, and Zoot. Skirt Sports offers a wide variety of running skirts with attached bottoms that come in short, capri, and long lengths. Sugoi sells both running skirts and shorts with liners. Zoot also sells running shorts with liner and has a good selection of thermal running apparel for colder months. If you have chafing issues, try Body Glide’s Anti-Chafe Balm. Usually I do not having problems with chafing, but there is a seam on one of my running skirts that starts to chafe during the last couple of miles of my long runs. An application of balm before running to the part of my skin where I know the seam will start to rub has helped me a lot.

Tops – What I wear on top during the summer doesn’t make much of a difference to me, but for winter running I prefer running shirts from Under Armour and Skirt Sports. Under Armour designs unbelievably warm clothing that stands up to our cold Minnesota temperatures, and Skirt Sports sells long sleeved tops with thumbholes to cover the tops of your hands. Skirt Sports also sells arm warmers, which are good for running in layers. While most running gear comes with pockets to stash keys and other small items, my favorite and most useful running purchase of 2013 has been the Women’s Stow-N-Go Sport Bra from The North Face. The front of this sports bra has a double-layer chest pocket that is actually quite large, the advantage being that whatever you stow is easily accessible.

Fuel:

Food – You truly are what you eat. When I run, I know within the first couple of miles whether I have been eating properly or not. I don’t run on a full stomach, and my breakfast of choice before a race consists of one hard-boiled egg. I am also careful not to overhydrate since that results in trips to the bathroom and nausea for some runners. Most of the race courses I have run have water stops every couple of miles, so if you’re in need of a quick drink, one is close by. For training, I keep my diet mostly vegetarian with white meat and/or fish every other day. Eggs, wild rice, salmon, chicken, hummus, and plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and mustard and collard greens provide me with plenty of energy and endurance for long runs.

Hydration – I drink plenty of water throughout the day and keep my alcohol intake to approximately three drinks per week. For long runs over eight miles I always bring a water bottle with me. If the weather is above 80ºF, I also bring a water bottle along on 5-8 mile runs. Staying hydrated is important, especially in drier climates. I have found that underhydration results in extreme thirstiness after a run (of course!), leg cramps, longer recovery time, and sleep disruption. I don’t do energy or sports drinks, but if those work for you, use them. I also don’t drink a lot of juice and honestly don’t know whether juice helps or hinders running…I’ve heard both.

Where to run:

The awesome part about running is that you can run anywhere. Lace up your shoes and go! I have started running on Minnesota’s Gateway State Trail due to its length. The trail is 18.5 miles, stretches from St. Paul to Stillwater, and is relatively quiet. There are no cars to contend with, and all of us who exercise on the trail share it with each other. Running for me has a large mental component, and my long runs are easier if I split them up into two smaller runs. I will start at one point in the trail, run half the distance I want to run, turn around, and run back. While I run I see other runners, cyclists, roller bladers, Nordic skiers, and people on horseback. The horses are fun because when I come upon one, it will match my pace. The owners are usually tolerant and let their horse run with me for a few minutes before either trotting ahead or pulling it back into a walk.

Below is a map of the Gateway Trail. I included this last winter when I wrote about snowshoeing. This is also blissfully fun to do on the trail when the weather allows for it, which in Minnesota can be 6-7 months of the year.

Here are some photos I took one evening while running on the Gateway Trail. I love running on this trail because the scenery changes every mile or so. Enjoy and happy running!


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9 + 1

I’m wearin’ fur pyjamas. ~ Wild Wild Life, Talking Heads

and

Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

My Bonus Sister took this photo from her hotel room in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

My mind has been rather distracted over the weekend and into the beginning of this week due to the number of my friends and family on the East Coast who are experiencing the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Actually, Hurricane Sandy has morphed into Cyclone Sandy after hopping out of the Atlantic Ocean and onto dry land. Currently, Sandy is over Pennsylvania, and you can click here for this morning’s update from CNN.com.

With natural disasters such as these, people have some time to prepare, but not a lot. Most of the people I know who live out East bunkered down in their homes instead of clearing out for a few days. They experienced a lot of rain, high winds, flooding, cancelled school days, and closed shops, but they made it through safe and sound, for which I am very grateful.

The weather in Minnesota, however, has been absolutely gorgeous. I feel guilty for the string of sunny days we had this weekend and into the week, with crisp fall temperatures that are perfect for outdoor activities. Most of us who live this far north are spending as much time outside as we can before the temperatures drop below zero and we need to bundle up. But then once the temperatures drop most of us still spend a fair amount of time outside because, as everyone knows, Snow Is Super.

One way to spend a gorgeous fall day outdoors is running. During a routine checkup with my general practitioner a few weeks ago, she took one look at me and stated, “You’re training for something.” She hadn’t even touched me yet. She was just giving me the once-over before starting the actual physical. I told her I was training for a ten mile race at the end of October. She asked me how many miles I was up to running at a time, and I told her nine. Her response was, “If you can run nine, then you can certainly run ten. You don’t need to be able to do that before the race.”

My doctor was correct. I indeed did not need to actually run the full ten miles before race day. All I needed to know was that I was capable of going the extra mile. This was not a matter of convincing my body, since my heart, legs, and feet don’t know the difference between nine and ten miles. It was a matter of convincing my brain. Nine days before the race I went on my last long run, and when I was done I felt in my mind that I was ready for the real thing. It was a subtle mental shift from wondering whether I could run the entire way to knowing that I was capable of accomplishing my goal.

The Monster Dash race course through St. Paul.

This past weekend three of my friends and I ran the annual Minnesota Monster Dash. This year the race was in St. Paul, and there is a 10 mile and a 13 mile (half marathon) course. We signed up for the ten mile race, which had about 3400 participants. Costumes are highly recommended but not required, so two of my friends dressed in identical tiger costumes, one was Mickey Mouse, and I dyed my hair purple and threw on a Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt and a pair of black angel wings over my usual running gear. Mickey, by the way is my usual go-to friend for high adventures, including trudging through six miles of mud and snowmobiling in Yellowstone. I had never run ten miles before, and after the conversation I had with my doctor, I decided to have faith in my own abilities and save it for the race.

Do you see the tiger? We’re somewhere between Mile 8 and Mile 9.

Mickey was running on an injured knee, so when we were walking to the start she told us to go ahead without her. The tigers and I stayed together, and no matter where I was on the course, all I had to do was look for a tiger to encourage me to keep going. Somewhere after passing the Mile Seven marker, I started to feel the first twinges of tiredness. When I reached Mile Eight, the idea of running an entire ten miles began to become a reality and excitement replaced the tiredness. Seeing the Mile 9 marker made me realize that the finish line was only 5280 feet away, and I could definitely run the rest of the way.

The finish line! We made it!

I ran the entire ten miles that morning. I did not walk. I did not stop for water. When I saw the clock at the finish line, I knew that I had met my personal goal for time. The race results which were posted online later that afternoon put me about one minute ahead of the average finishing time, which is exactly where I wanted to be…ordinary, in the middle of the crowd, with the majority of the other participants. The training I did over the summer had paid off.

The lesson for me is to be confident in my abilities. To go with my instincts, which sometimes butt up against rational logic. I constantly tell Tim to have faith in himself and not worry about what other people do or think. I want to be a good example for him, especially now that he is nearing young adulthood. I also want to stay healthy and live as long as possible since Tim has special needs, which is why exercise is an important part of my life.

Setting goals also helps. Back in April I knew I could run a 10K. Then in August I knew I could run eight miles. In September I could run nine miles. In October I decided to look beyond what I knew for a cold, hard fact and have faith that I would hold out for one more mile. When I was running last weekend and the ten mile course split from the half marathon course, I looked over to the half marathoners on my right and at that moment believed that I would have been able to finish with them if I had chosen that path.

Next time.


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PACER Center Run/Walk/Roll October 6

Bullying builds character like nuclear waste creates superheroes. It’s a rare occurrence and often does much more damage than endowment. ~ Zack W. Van, author of Inanimate Heroes

I find Fall in Minnesota to be the most beautiful time of the year to run. Spring is soggy, Summer is sweltering, and Winter is, well, really, really cold, so Fall is by far my favorite running season.

October is National Bullying Prevention month. This is a campaign founded in 2006 by PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention. The PACER Center is kicking the month off with a Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying. The event, held on October 6 at Mt. Normandale Lake in Bloomington, MN, has both a 4-mile run and a 1.5-mile fun walk/roll. Participants are encouraged to ask friends, families, and coworkers for pledges, which are due to PACER by October 4. Funds go directly to PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention.

The PACER Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Program and based in Minnesota, is dedicated to helping parents expand the quality of life for children and young adults with disabilities. PACER provides a wide variety of training programs, workshops, and seminars for families of children and young adults with a wide range of disabilities. These resources range from the Simon Technology Center, which provides software and adaptive devices to help children with special needs communicate effectively, to employment and housing information for young adults up to age 21.

Entry fee for the Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying includes a T-shirt and is as follows:

  • $20 for people aged 17 and older
  • $10 for people aged 6-17
  • Free for people aged 6 and under

Event schedule:

  • 9:00 am – Registration/ Race packet pick up – Chalet Road Parking Lot
  • 10:00 am – 4 mile Run
  • 10:00 am – 1.5 mile Fun Walk/Roll
  • 11:00 am – Presentation, speakers, prizes and music

Here are some helpful links for more information.

I cannot think of a more wonderful way to spend a crisp fall day. Hope to see you there!


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The Fear Of Falling

or, perhaps, a more appropriate title for this entry is, “Why I Run”.

My son fell asleep at 7pm tonight while we were watching an episode of  “Chopped” on our DVR. We had been lying on opposite ends of the couch, sharing a blanket, when I made a snarky comment about one of the Mystery Basket ingredients and he did not reply. I looked down to his end and saw that he had drifted off into dreamland. My son has always slept well through the night, but he has never needed as much sleep as other children his age. Now that he is entering his teenage years, he is beginning to need more and more sleep. Like when he was much younger.

Over the weekend I called my father to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving. He asked me how I was recovering, and I told him that at my doctor’s checkup she had declared me A-OK and ready to return to work. He mentioned how he and my mother were both amazed at how quickly I healed after surgery, and he thinks it probably has something to do with all the running. When I went out running one morning while visiting my parents’ house this past summer, my father was puttering in the garage when I returned. He took one look at me and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator for me to rehydrate. I was fine, just a little hot, but he seemed to have thought that I had just done some really hard thing.

When my father blamed my rapid bouncing back due to running, I told him why I run, and why I do it so often and for as long as I can. I told him it is not an attempt to stay young. I run because I want to stay in as good of a shape as I can for as long as possible in order to make sure I am present for my son. In addition to the obvious physical benefits of regular exercise, it also wards off depression, dementia, and anxiety. Running helps me sleep better, boosts my self-esteem, and helps me deal more effectively with stress. All of this is important in caring for my son because he needs to be the center of my attention, not my bad day at work, my argument with my boyfriend, or the person who cut me off in traffic.

What an amazing sunset!

I have been doing some morning and afternoon runs outside before the weather turns too much colder. Then it is treadmill season for a few months. The morning runs are mentally challenging because I do them in B.C. (Before Coffee) time, and Minnesota mornings are quite nippy in November. Afternoon runs are better because the day has warmed up, but since we are closing in on Winter Solstice, the sun begins setting shortly after lunch. The sunsets this far north, however, are like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else.

When the snow and extreme cold sets in, I would rather run indoors on the treadmill like a hamster than risk slipping on an icy trail. My son would be responsible for somehow getting me back to our house. Even if he called Daniel, Daniel lives 20 miles away from me and is hit-or-miss since he exists in a different sort of B.C. time and, like me, usually does not have his cell phone on him. This type of situation serves as an example of how not to care appropriately for my son, and I try to avoid potential predicaments like these at all costs.

There is something to be said for treasuring another person so much that it makes one treat one’s own body and mind with the utmost of care. Having a child takes the focus completely off yourself, for a bit. In order to be a good parent, at least for me, requires turning that focus back around on myself, on how much energy I have to keep up with him, whether I am mentally in a place of peace and calm, and whether I have tended to my needs so I can fully meet his. It’s similar to the oxygen mask instructions given before a plane flight, that in case of the plane falling out of the sky, you, the adult, need to put your oxygen mask on before your child’s.

My brother, the eternal jokester, asks me what I am running from. It is not what I am running from, but rather what I am running toward that motivates me and brightens my every step.


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The Rocky Road

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

My son had his first day of eighth grade today, and it was uneventful. For the past month I have been reading magazine and newspaper articles about mothers who breathe a huge sigh of relief when their children are back in school. I remember my mother becoming increasingly frazzled as my brother and I increasingly picked at each other more and more aggressively during our summer vacation. Today my brother and I get along exceedingly well, and talk on the phone for hours when we have the chance, as if we are making up for all the quarrels we had as children.

I am not one of the mothers who breathes a sigh of relief as tranquility returns once my child is back in the classroom. Quite the opposite – I can feel my stress level rising as the hot August weather begins to cool, the sun begins to set sooner, and the first leaves start to fall from their trees. The articles I read make me laugh and think if only I had little terrors in my home who would somehow amazingly fall into order once they re-entered the school doors. If only.

This hill, starting at the trees in the distance, makes me cuss a little I must admit.

The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? And if we by chance happen to hop the fence and set foot upon this idyllic emerald greenery, we sometimes find that it is the same grass we had to begin with. I do not wish for another child, or for my son to be different than the person he is. What I do wish for is that I understood how he feels in his slice of the universe. All the conversations we have get me no closer. Bonding activities don’t work for me either, not in the sense that I feel as if I understand him more. I have the greatest love for my son, and I often tell him that he is my favorite person to spend time with. My problem is that I simply do not have the mind my son has, not at all. I do not know how to relate to him since his interests are extremely focused and intense. Other children and adults do not know how to connect to him, and they do try, but without much success.

I have been running hills the past few weeks around my neighborhood, including stairs. There is also some major road construction going on, so I have been playing Make-My-Own-Obstacle-Course and sprinting down unpaved streets and through overturned sidewalks. Our town is nestled in the bluffs of the St. Croix River, so I am talking about some long, serious hills. Running down the hills is easy, and really fun, but running up is another story. For the biggest hills, I bribe myself with small goals, such as, Just run to that favorite Victorian home of yours and then you can walk, and then when I get to the house, I tell myself, Self, you don’t seem quite tuckered out yet…there is a lovely flower garden just two minutes further up…you can walk when you reach that. And I go on and on that way for the rest of my run.

Oi.

Running hills makes running my regular route much easier. The hard work is paying off. My legs are stronger. My heart is stronger. My mind is stronger. I have become more resilient, and my endurance has increased tremendously. Lately, with the summer wrapping up, I have been comparing running to parenting, since one allegory for raising a child is running a marathon. You need to have the right equipment and be prepared for what you are getting into. My son happens to be a marathon with some added bonuses, such as hills, gravel, and sometimes just plain old muddy dirt.

Last week I attended a meeting with the special education department at my son’s school to discuss his IEP goals for this year. His caseworker Sherry had quite the to-do list going with what she needed to accomplish for my son, just one child in an entire school of children, before the school year began. This included informing all of his teachers that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, securing him a permanent hall pass in case he becomes overstimulated and has to leave the classroom, finding him a quiet place to eat his lunch, finding a place for him to change his gym clothes so he can avoid the locker room (the boys’ locker room is a HUGE problem at his school for reasons completely unknown to all the adult staff), reorganizing his class schedule to make sure he has time for his social skills group, and working out a plan with me on how to make sure he gets his homework done and turned in on time.

Major road renovations in town.

I keep asking Sherry what I can do to help make my son’s school year less stressful for him, and for me. And for her. She never has much of an answer. I want to make the hills smaller, the road smoother, for everyone involved. One key factor, however, is that my son has to want to be successful in school, both in academics and in his social life. If he doesn’t want to make the effort, we can rearrange his schedule and make allowances for him until the cows come home, but it won’t make a bit of difference. As his parent, my responsibility is to help my son navigate the road he has been given in life. At times it may be smooth, at times bumpy, and at times there may not be any road at all. Whatever the case, it is his road for him to travel, and I want him to learn use its challenges to his best advantage.