Sam came home today after spending three days in Fort Worth. He has competed every year at the Chisholm Challenge, a series of horse shows for riders with disabilities. It’s part of the events that lead up to the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
Sam added another silver belt buckle to his collection, but that wasn’t the big accomplishment this year.
This was the first year, since 2003, that no one in the family was able to go with him to Chisholm Challenge. (So, dear readers, there is no video to share of the many events he rode, both English and Western, including several competitions hosted the first day by the American Quarter Horse Association.)
He’s been going to other horse shows this year as part of his preparations. I’ve been able to get to a few of them. But more often than not, he’d get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and drive himself to a nearby arena and compete for the day.
This was also the first year he drove himself to Fort Worth and back. And the first time he traveled to stay in a hotel where he wasn’t with family.
There were always plenty of longtime friends around looking out for him, so I knew not to worry. Some of the good people at Born2Be, where he rides, have known Sam since he was in elementary school. At this point, I think they know, too, how important it is that Sam be his own grown-up self.
I wasn’t there because I was I traipsing around Austin, on assignment to cover the first day of the Texas Legislature. I was doing a whole lot of things I’d never done before, or hadn’t done in a few years. I kept thinking about Sam being in Fort Worth at the same time, also doing a whole lot of things he’d never done before. I became keenly aware each time I was problem-solving. (Am I facing north or south? How do I get to that building? Where’s the elevator? Where’s the bathroom? Where can I plug in the charger for my laptop? Why isn’t the wi-fi working? If I sit here, will I be able to see? Should I leave now, or do I have time to chase that down? Do I have enough gas to get out of Austin before the traffic gets bad? Oh, gosh, I am so hungry.)
It was a lot of problem-solving. That’s what we expect adults to do. Just drop yourself in the middle of something and start solving all the problems. Adults with autism don’t do that very well. They get overwhelmed. People around them step in a lot and help them solve the problems.
Still, kids with autism are no different than other kids: to grow up strong and resilient, they have to learn to solve their problems.
The newsroom I work in has short cubbies. It fosters teamwork, but it also means co-workers often can hear your half of your telephone conversations. One time, a former co-worker was in a testy, problem-solving conversation with his mother, who, as a civil rights activist, is no wallflower. It was hard not to take note when he told her, “I’m a grown-ass man.”
I keep that little descriptor in my head. I know Sam will probably never say it to me, but I want him to believe it about himself, more and more each day.
Yes, he can. He’s a grown-ass man.
It takes a long time for the sun to come up in the mountains, too. Old men step outside at dawn to drink their coffee and breathe the air and they all remember to say good morning and their dog doesn’t follow you. There is no flat route in the mountains, even old mountains. If you run down, you will run up. But when you are done, you will know the best place to come back and watch the zombie parade.
First, if the crowd you are running with considers a 20K a “fun run,” consider yourself warned. Keep the rain guard off your tent and you can watch the satellites fly by. You can also wake up to the full moon’s travels across the night sky. Walking down the draw before sun-up to the starting line, where a guy is playing bagpipes, lets you imagine you are heading to the Quidditch World Cup instead.
The trail is well-groomed, but sometimes feels as if there’s little difference between that kid free climbing the rocks and your own dash along a skinny trail around the formations. Sunrise takes a long time in the canyon. Texas is so very beautiful, in this big, unfathomable way. Don’t even try to take photos, except of the turkeys.
Peggy: So how was it, being in the Aubrey Peanut Fest parade?
Sam: It was good. Really good. Almost as good as Fourth of July.
You really can forget your race bib on the top of your dresser. No one thinks you need to be stopped from running 20 kilometers around White Rock Lake at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Trimming your toenails before a race is not optional, no matter how recently you last did it. I don’t know about the psychological stamina of the runners at the front of the pack, but at the back of the pack, people get creative. Don’t judge the Brooklyn 2016 T-shirt guy and his whoops and hollers all for himself, because he might manage to finish the race when you do. On a humid September morning, the still air can nearly suffocate you while a breeze off the lake can give you chill bumps. Take a cue from the kids. When you’re done running, skip the lawn party and head straight for the frog fountain.
Peggy: So how was horseback riding today? Were you back on Revenue?
Sam: Yep, back on Revenue.
Peggy: How was he?
Sam: Revenue is back to his usual misdemeanors.
Yesterday Sam and I went to a funeral. They are always hard on us, and this one underscored both the hope and the cruelty that comes in the march of time.
When it was time to go, Sam came out of his apartment clutching a tie he’d gotten from his brother, Michael. I didn’t consider it the best match for the shirt he was wearing, but it was acceptable. He needed my help putting it on. He’s always needed my help knotting his ties.
Before I even thought about it, I blurted, “I won’t be able to do this as well as Michael.”
Michael visited a month ago, when Sam rode both English and Western in an able-bodied horse show organized by North Central Texas College. When it was time to knot his tie, Michael helped him with a beautiful, neat knot that I knew he didn’t learn at home.
He was in the middle of his junior year in high school when Mark died. He went off to college at Texas Christian University knowing a lot of things about how to take care of himself. But he never learned to knot his ties other than the simple way I faked up trying to help my boys look good. He wasn’t going to get away with that at such a prestigious school.
Michael said he watched lots of YouTube videos to learn how to knot his ties.
I wish I knew why the little things always break my heart.
When all your favorite trails for training have been washed out, or are under water, and you haven’t run a real trail race in a year, take an 8-mile romp to get your footing back. It’s not too short. It’s not too long. It’s just right. Drive two hours to run two hours and you will be with the other runners that look like runners. (It’s not your family’s Reindeer Romp. HT @PaigeCWolfe, first-time 8-mile trail racer). Chia seeds make a first-time trail racer hyper. When it rains in Texas, Texas turns green and purple and green and yellow and green and white, and green. A mockingbird perched on the safety light by the port-a-potties will sing all he knows, the chirps, the tweets and warbles, the chirrups and gurgles, the cardinal song, and the car alarm. What do you name your back country road when you can’t think of a name for your back country road? “Our Road.”
Sam competed for the first time in Western style horseback riding at the North Central Texas College stock show last weekend in Gainesville. He competes with “able-bodied” riders from time to time to challenge himself. This was great practice for next weekend. The regional equestrian Special Olympics are being hosted by the stables where he rides, Born 2 Be, in Aubrey.
His coaches have been encouraging Sam to ride Western for a while. Sometimes it takes Sam a little bit to warm up to an idea. He put jeans on for the first time in about 20 years when he tried on a new pair of Wranglers at Weldon’s Saddle Shop last week. (Like his great-grandfather, whom he was named for, Sam’s a khakis man.) Kippie helped him look good, although it’s a mystery where those most excellent chaps came from. Sam says they were, like lots of gear, donated to the stables.
Sam said he knew when he went into the ring, he was up against some stiff competition this year. He still had a great ride.