autism,  cross-country,  mental health,  motherhood

This week I cried over running shoes

Wednesday night, hours after J told me that he was going to handle the first day of school (only after I assured him that it would be a stupid idea for his principals to have a fire drill on the first day of school), I sat in bed and cried over his running shoes.

“His pronation is worse in those shoes,” I bawled to Steve, “he’s had them only four days and he looks like he’s going to sprain his ankles he’s wobbling so much in them. I know if we don’t get his shoes fixed right now, he’s going to get injured, and he’ll only be able to run for a few weeks of the season and he’ll be so upset. That’s what happened when he was wearing the AFOS–the big clunky plastic ankle braces. He got injured because we took the AFOs out of his shoes when he ran XC and without that support he got shin splints. And he couldn’t run for the rest of the season. I should have never listened to that guy at the store–he doesn’t know how bad his pronation really is. Like J’s just barely out of the AFO range. I can’t believe I walked out of that store without a stability shoe. I swear the specialist said he needed a stability shoe with his orthotics, but that was like two years ago…I know the guy said you don’t need a stability shoe with orthotics but J’s pronation is so bad…”

This is J. None of the normal rules apply to J. Including rules on orthotics and stability shoes.

J on the first day of school, wearing the new shoes we bought him on on Saturday. The pronation looks okay when he is standing, but as soon as he starts walking, his ankles start rolling and knocking into each other.

I’m sure Steve couldn’t follow my thoughts because I was blubbering and I’m not sure all of them made it out of my head.

“It’s going to be fine,” he assured me. “We just need to call up the specialist tomorrow, confirm with them that J needs the stability shoe and then call up the store and see if we can exchange them.”

I just started bawling harder. “I’m just done with going to all of the appointments and getting all the things!” (earlier that day I did a last-second roundup in the house to see what school supplies we were missing and what I needed to get at the store). The last two weeks involved optometrist appointments (for both kids), hair cuts, making sure meds were refilled, taking the kids to registration, forgetting to pay for J’s school pictures online and missing the cutoff date (and I was in phone tag negotiations with Scherling–the photography company). I had already sent Steve with J to Sanford accessories that afternoon to buy a new cushioned insole to see if that would help the pronation issue–it didn’t.

“It’s no big deal. I’ll call the store and tell them what happened.”

“When are we going to find the time to get there? School starts tomorrow. XC practice is right after school. They have a meet on the weekend. The soonest we can get there is Saturday afternoon.”

“We’ll get the shoes on Saturday.”

J before his Saturday race.

I’ll be straight up honest–this happens to me every 4-6 months. I’m handling all the things until I’m not handling the things. The night before school started, was one of those times where I couldn’t handle all the things. And here’s the kicker: I know how to fix it. And I’m trying hard to fix it. Steve does a great job of helping out when he can, J’s got awesome teachers and coaches who are very aware of his needs and can help negotiate him through his stressors, and over the years, I’ve let go of A LOT. I mean, I have no qualms about texting Steve at work to let him know: “I need you to take J to Sanford accessories in the next 15 minutes–they close at 6:00–and you need to find a new insole that is exactly the same as the one in his shoe right now” or during the school year, “I need you to run to the school and talk to J about his issue” or “I need you to do the visual therapy homework with him.” But sometimes–especially with the years of experiencing J’s autism alongside him–I can’t. Because I was the one who took him to early intervention preschool once a week when he was two and sat with him. I was the one who sat with him and the speech teacher when he was two. I’m the one who hashed out strategies with his early intervention preschool teacher for 30 minutes every day after school when he turned 3. I’m the one who taught him how to read and count and do early math. I do most of his school homework with him. I’m not putting this out there to make myself sound like some amazing mom–because I’m not. Autism has changed my brain chemistry. Autism is my wheelhouse. I keep track of all the little details and special considerations that come with that wheelhouse.

And I have a lot of PTSD associated with that wheelhouse. Meltdowns don’t happen as much as they used to, but I still get really stressed out anticipating if one might happen. We’ve had some epic, traumatic meltdowns. When I see someone else’s kid meltdown in the store, I feel that stress of J as a toddler melting down in the store all over again, and I feel it in my neck and shoulders. That’s the crazy thing. J has gotten SO much better, his meltdowns are shorter and less frequent. He’s become really good at self regulation. He’s become a really polite, funny kid. But all of those years of the really hard stuff have really settled inside of me, and even though life is WAY less stressful than it was, I’m just as stressed out. It’s as if now that things are easier (at least on the autism front), the true intensity of those stress levels that I fought back during those tough times are finally coming back to haunt me and begging me to process them. It’s a weird thing. My life is easier in a lot of ways, but I still have that emotional baggage.

And when it comes to autism (my wheelhouse) and running (my wheelhouse) and J’s running shoes, my brain is thinking, “I’m the one in the family who ran track and XC in high school and 20 some years after that. I’m the one who sat with the specialist to get his feet fitted for the orthotics. I’m the one who’s kept track of the fit differences between J’s Asics, Brooks, and Sauconys. If I’m not there to make sure he gets the right fit…I’m going to have to go back again. And try to fix the problem again. And take time out of my day again to do it.”

So as a control freak, how do you let go? How do you let go when your child has special needs and the stakes are that much higher? When you’re trying to avoid triggering panic attacks or stressful situations in your own kid? When your child can’t advocate for himself in even the little things like making sure his shoes feel right? How do you get better at trusting everyone else? Lots of things here for me to work out.

J’s number 250. Running in his 3 month old Brooks that are pretty worn out but were still the better choice over the shoes we bought Saturday.

Thursday Steve called the store. I called J’s specialist. At the end of the afternoon, J was out of his new running shoes and back into his old ones. J ran his first meet in his old shoes Saturday morning and that afternoon, we got him his stability shoes. Sauconys. They have a wider toe box than the Brooks he tried on, which gives his toes more room because his orthotics take up so much room in the shoe. More details to remember.

Oh–and J? He survived the first two days of school just fine. He had no clue his mom was so stressed out over his shoes.

We’ll be back at the running shoe store in another 3 months. Because J’s orthotics are that hard on his shoes and wear them out that quickly. Next time I’m hoping it will be a little less dramatic. After all, I’ve got a few months to recover until my next personal autism wheelhouse meltdown. I’ve also got a few months to work on some better coping strategies for my own personal autism stress.

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