Mile Marker 25

I ran a marathon once. Well, ran is too robust a word – but I trotted, limped, cried, & heaved myself over that finish line some 8 years ago now. It was, at the time, my way of trying to process my son, Elliott’s, diagnosis with autism.

I’m not an athlete, and truly was that kid always picked last in gym class to be on someone’s team – not because I didn’t have friends, but because I truly sucked in every way athletically. So, in a weird sort of way, it was me – the unlikeliest of characters to ever run a marathon – actually doing it. I wanted to understand how Elliott might feel, being part of a world that was confusing and overwhelming, even with a bunch of strangers cheering you on. In the end, the lessons I learned were more about me than Elliott – I really am a slow runner, and I’m stronger than I thought I was.

But for anyone who has put one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles, you know it’s not necessarily that last .2 miles that are the most difficult – it’s more the 24-25 range that does you in. It’s all mental by then – the body is starting to shut down, you can’t even sweat anymore, and you have this weird paste of dried salt all over your body. It’s too soon to hear the crowd at the finish line, or the “Chariots of Fire” theme song playing, and it’s just you, the open road, a body screaming “I cave” and a brain that’s fighting back.

And that, my friends, is how I feel right now – 9 days before school starts. I’m at mile marker 25, my body has shut down, I can’t quite hear the music from the finish line yet, and it’s all a mental game from here. Many thousands of people have done this better, faster, more attractively and with more charisma than me, but I can’t quit now so I’m going to play “Tragedy” from the Bee Gee’s one more time and just keep limping along.

The Red Couch has been quiet this summer – & with good reason. We’ve been crazy busy, and (gulp) most of the time, it’s been ok. We started strong – family vacation which went better than any other, a variety of camps, tutoring sessions, friendship groups, summer schools that took up some chunks of our days, yet allowed us to have down time as well, and time to do things we don’t usually get to do. Ada’s therapy came to a close, and the world did not end. I had 3 kids all day-every day, each with a variety of strengths & challenges, without a consistent therapy program in our home for the first time in 9 years, and we have all survived, and even had some fun! Who knew?

But, the last couple of weeks have reminded me that ugliness still exists, and I need a break. It’s a struggle for Henry to complete his task list each day without frequent “reminders” which he for some reason calls nagging – whatever! Pulling him away from technology devices is like taking crack from an addict, and I’m tired of the daily struggle. Ada has made great strides in her literacy tutoring this summer, and is genuinely excited about starting an all-day 1st grade – but just in these last couple of weeks as she’s spent significant amounts of time with her brothers, I’m noticing some really old “stims” coming back for a visit, and I hate that they bother me so much. Hand flapping, tense face, jumping – they are subtle, and not hugely noticeable to people who don’t “know” ASD, but I own that they make me terribly uncomfortable. Elliott has had moments of intense anxiety about middle school – mostly related to the construction and revamping of the parking lot – that have made some days really, really challenging. While I must say that overall, he’s had a terrific summer, and continues to amaze me with his emotional and social growth, when he has a really bad day, it can take me a week to emotionally recover. To say Elliott is an overwhelming person to spend time with is an understatement.

Bottom line – I’m an “INFJ” (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) on the Myers Briggs, and while I genuinely love being around people much of the time, I do not get my energy from being with people. I need quiet time to recharge – alone time – time to ponder my own weird thoughts or to sit on my red couch and write some wacky story about Elliott’s latest passion – creative ways of asking about religion (oh, the poor young man named “Christian” we ran into at Subway) or showcasing his new found talent with combination locks are current favs. That, or some funky life lesson that we have learned in an unorthodox way, which seems to happen to us a lot at Target.

And while Elliott has not yet taken the Myers Briggs (oh, that could be very interesting), my guess is that he is the most opposite thing from an “INFJ” that is humanly possible. He gets his energy (and a LOT of it) from being with other people, and talking (mostly) at them for 12-14 hours a day. Usually – that person is me, and while I love him to the ends of the earth, even with increased medication, I am losing my patience, my nerves are raw and exposed, and even the cats are giving me funny looks (not good, right?)

And this is why I’m falling apart so close to the finish line. Granted, I know I’m not alone – many parents are doing the count-down, and some (the ones I’m thinking evil thoughts about) have already sent their offspring off to school. Autism just often adds a scoop of interesting to the mix.

But in spite of feeling like I’m at mile marker 25 just waiting to hear the music faintly playing from the finish line, I’m going to try to look around me and enjoy the sights along the way. (Easier now that Dad has taken the trio for 2 hours to give me a brief “recharge”) Sometimes it’s hard to see the beauty while you’re nearing the end of a long race, but these days, I don’t race alone. Elliott, Henry & Ada are all much better runners than their Mom – they are faster, stronger, and much cuter. And thankfully, they wait for me, (usually) patiently, at the finish line . . .