autism,  middle school,  milestones,  motherhood,  social skills,  teen years,  track

One year later

J lined up to race. He’s the third in from the left with the yellow jersey. It cracks me up that he made his way to the front, inside lane. He’s not THAT competitive yet!

One year later and here we are again, the first track meet of the season! I was a hot, anxious mess at last year’s first meet. We had tried in every single way to prepare J for his first race. From the sound of the gun, to practicing a few times on the track, to schedule strategies we had thought of everything. And still, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it through that first track meet. J was a ball of anxiety himself that first meet. And not everything went exactly as planned (the gun didn’t go off TWICE!). But J made it. He ran the entire race, with a little help from some friends, and it was an incredible experience. I couldn’t breathe through the entire thing I was so nervous. When I read the post on J’s first track meet and watch that video, I still get overcome by so much emotion.

One year later and it’s completely different. J is a completely different kid. The team arrived, set up camp, and J sat patiently with his other teammates waiting for instructions from his coach for warm-up times, waiting to marshal up for his event–the event of the entire meet–the 1600m! He lined up, ran 1, 2, 3, and mostly 4 (2/3 of the way on the last lap he realized that all of the other kids were done, got confused on which lap he was on, thought he ran too many laps, and stopped for a few seconds. Sorry J, they’re all just faster than you 😉 ). Once he realized how much farther he had to go he ran hard–hard like he knew what he was doing. Hard like he was racing. Which is the first time I’ve actually seen that “I need to compete look” in his face. And he finished. With a time of 7:50. 27 seconds faster than his PR last year.

And this was his first race!

Just waiting for his race with some friends.

J spent nearly 6 hours at the track meet (there were 17 teams at that meet!) and I barely needed to supervise him. Of course I was always in close proximity, because I still am that autism parent because autism makes you a helicopter parent by default. But I was able to chat with J’s coach, chat with Steve, check in with W, visit with other parents. I was able to be social and not have to worry about J all the time. J knew where he needed to be and had great peers that would ask him to come with them if they got bored at camp and wanted to walk around. A few times, I had people start talking to me and then ask, “wait, where’s J?” because he just blended in so well with the team. He wasn’t off wandering around, stimming. He was either with a group of boys, or wrapped up in his blanket, soaking up the nice weather we are finally getting in North Dakota!

J marshaled up, waiting for the Girls 1600 to finish (W was running in that race). Last year at every meet, I was so worried he would just wander off, or not hear the instruction on what he was supposed to be doing. This year he knows exactly what he’s doing.

J only ran 3 track meets last year. Half of his meets were cancelled because of weather. So I’m not quite sure that doing 3 track meets with a year hiatus gave him the skills to be where he’s at right now. No, I’m pretty sure it’s the slow, sometimes painful, daily changes and progress–those proverbial drops in the bucket–365 (give or take) drops that got us where we are here in this moment. Summer running, XC, winter running, track practice that help shave those 27 seconds off his time. The meditations, letters of apology, taking deep breaths while waiting, “finishing the work like we’re finishing a run” self talk that gets him through homework assignments–mental endurance drops in the bucket–that got us here in this moment. It’s hard to remember that through mundane days. baby steps are adding up over time. It’s really hard to see when you’re stuck in a rut for a while, when you have those demoralizing French onion soup Thursdays. But looking back, reading back on J’s first track meet, seeing where we are now, it gives me hope that we’re moving forward, even if it’s at a slow, nuanced pace.

Bring on track season! This kid is getting it!

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