It’s been interesting to watch the last week two weeks go down. After the Minneapolis fiasco last weekend I’ve been high alert for J’s triggers while looking back to the days leading up to that weekend, trying to understand why he just couldn’t pull through things like those two darn numbers.
J had two cross country meets in the last two weeks. The first one was in Wahpeton/Breckenridge (North Dakota/Minnesota) on the Thursday before the long weekend. Historically, this meet has been one of the worst meets for J. I’m not talking worst times–I’m talking worst because of not finishing the course/having a meltdown during the race, so Steve and I were a little worried about this meet. The world of the XC 4K is a new one for J and even though he held his own in the first 4k of the season, we weren’t sure if he would for the second.
Of course he proved us wrong. We had absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, he ran his best time yet–for a 4K (19:51) and broke under 20:00!
That Wahpeton/Breckenridge meet was hands-down the best meet of J’s life. Not just for his time, but because J did things he’s never done before in an XC race. He ran hard at the gun start to keep up with the kids. He kept with a pack/tried to work with a pack the whole race. He started doing things he’s never done before as a runner. Not once did he ask “how much longer?” he legitimately looked like he enjoyed not just running, but racing.
And then came this weekend’s race.
This weekend’s race was in town, almost right across the river from our house. J woke up that morning coughing and with some congestion. Once again, I was nervous for this race. Not only was it a brand new course for J, but he would be running sick. Running sick is a recipe for disaster. In fact, last year’s Whapeton/Breckenridge race was a disaster because J was battling a head cold that race. I thought that for sure J would meltdown during the course.
Right when the gun went off, J was already struggling. Instead of sticking with the pack out of the start, he was already lagging far behind. I thought, “well, if he just makes it to the end, then we’ll call it a win.” Within a few minutes, Steve texted me from the other side of the course letting me know that he had to be redirected, “already got off trail once. we need to trail him.” J was already so far behind everyone else, he was getting lost. I ran to the half-way part of the first lap and tried to encourage J to “run red” to catch up with the person in front of him. At this point I wasn’t thinking about finishing times, I was thinking about how his mental strength was deteriorating because he was falling behind. In that instant instead of my cheerful, “you’ve got this! you’re rocking this!” I yelled out, “catch up so you don’t get lost!” I wasn’t sure if that would backfire and increase his anxiety and backfire, but to be honest, I never know the right thing to say to J when he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown.
(By the way–“you’re almost there” was a total lie. And a total risk for backfiring, especially when he asks me how much farther it is and he hadn’t finished the first loop yet.)
And somehow, J started to pull forward. Enough that he caught up to two other boys and was able to keep up with them for the second lap and finish. I thought the Wahpeton/Breckenridge race was incredible. The fact that J ran this race sick and congested, fell back, and was able to pull up again with a small group to the end is absolutely incredible. Saturday morning J showed true grit–through all of those things that make him feel terrible: new places, new courses, head cold, he made it work. 40 seconds slower than last weeks race, but he made it work. And he felt good after the race.
Not only did J handle Saturday’s meet, he handled his church dance Friday night and our friends’ wedding in Brainerd, MN Saturday night, just hours after his race–he handled his disappointment of the ravioli with balsamic vinegar–he only eats marinara sauce on ravioli (I think the Shirley Temples and the cupcakes helped him cope with that ;)) which is some autism maturity right there. He handled the loud noises and music and a new venue as his congestion progressed throughout the evening. He handled getting home past midnight Saturday night. So why is it that sometimes J can pull through some incredibly hard things sometimes and other times he can’t? Why can he use his coping skills and self-regulate some days and other days it’s an impossible task?
After watching J push through these two races, I’ve learned that neither J nor I are very good at gauging his grit threshold. And then this morning happened. This morning J was still feeling under the weather, but I sent him to school anyway, considering at how well he did over the weekend and how he had a big recovery day lounging around the house with Dayquil and NyQuil Sunday and watching TV all day, only for him to be sent home for bad behavior almost first thing in the morning. He came home in tears, walked straight into his bed and sleep the entire morning long. He’s a terrible communicator about his feelings, and I can push too much, and that’s always a recipe for disaster. Somehow we need to get our communication lines in better sync.
We also need to find that fine line between grit and endurance and radical acceptance–accepting the situation for what it is and being okay with it. But I have a feeling we’re not the only ones on the planet trying to figure that out.