February 22, 2012

My Not So Amazing, Amazing Race

On Sunday, I ran another race, a half-marathon. I ran in my hometown, passing the sights and landmarks from days that seem so long ago, when life was simple.

At mile 10, I passed my children.

They stood along a residential street with my parents, who got them ready and out the door in time to watch this group of half-crazy people who paid money for the privilege of climbing out of bed and running 13 miles in the early morn.

Olivia has been to a couple of my races, but just a few, and always at the end. She has seen me at the finish, but this was her first time to stand alongside the race route, and it was the first time she has been to a race event longer than a 5K.

I am always so happy to have her there. She is my greatest joy, after all--the child who fills my life with words, the one who can say, "I love you, mama," the one who provides the kind of rewards I envisioned when I imagined myself as a parent.

But it was just as important to me to have Daniel there on Sunday morning, even though his understanding of what was taking place was limited.

At mile seven, I passed the spot where I thought they were going to be. I was a bit disappointed to not see them; I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to find them somewhere else along the route. But at mile 10, even my terribly near-sighted eyes could make out the four figures in the distance--two children standing close to their grandparents, one watching each runner with an intense focus, the other holding a sucker and looking every which way.

I smiled and waved, and the cheers rang out--from the three of them who can cheer. And then there was Daniel, still looking all around, taking in the bright sun, I suppose, or the slight chill in the air ... who knows for sure.

It is a peculiar thing when you see the people you love cheering for you during a race. Your feet really do start to move faster without any conscious direction from your brain. In an instant you feel ten pounds lighter, and you just GO, even though you would like the moment to last. In a flash, your loved ones are behind you, and you wish you could still see them, still hear them. Three miles left, my body was starting to feel a bit tired, my right knee was predictably starting to twinge, and I could've used a bit more cheers, a bit more love.

But in that moment--that fleeting moment when I passed my children--I witnessed something so typical of my daughter--so amazingly, wonderfully typical of my little dancing, singing six-year-old girl.

You see, as I glanced at my family, the person I focused on--the one whose face and eyes I sought--was Daniel... Daniel, the boy who has broken so much of my heart, but never with such intention ... the child who has taught me what it truly means to be responsible for a child ... dear Daniel.

I wanted him to see me.
Would he see me?
Would he be able to focus, with all that was going on around him, with the crowd and the noise and the unfamiliar setting ...
Would autism keep him from seeing me in this moment when I wanted it so badly?

Please, let him see me .... run, run, run... Daniel! Daniel!... run, run, run ...Please let him look ... Daniel! Daniel!...run, run, run...

And there it was: my daughter being her typically amazing self.

She turned to Daniel just as soon as she saw my face.

"Daniel'" she said, pulling and tugging and tapping at his arm with one hand, while pointing at me with the other. "Daniel, THERE'S MOMMY."

She knew.
She is six years old, and she knew.
She knew how much I wanted my boy to see me, and she did everything she could to make it happen.

And he looked.
And my feet soared.

After the race, Olivia took the finisher's medal from my neck and the race-bib from my clothes, just as she always does. She once suggested that perhaps it wasn't fair, that perhaps I should give some to Daniel.

"They are for you, Olivia," I told her. "And it is OK for me to have something special that I share just with you."

Yes, it certainly is. Because my girl knows so much more than I did at her age. She knows about differences and disability. She knows about unfairness, and she knows about fear. She knows so much about her brother, and, God help her, she knows so much about me. She knows that I worry so very much about Daniel. She knows that I long for him to be happy, that I hate it when he is not, that I apologize more than I should I ever need to, to both of them, because I sometimes let frustration get the better of me.

She even knew, in that flash of a moment, how much I wanted to feel that connection to her brother.

My amazingly wonderful, typical Olivia made my race -- which was quite unremarkable by a true runner's standard -- truly incredible.
And my heart soared.