By Lyn Waldeck
When I was in Junior High, I happened to be a very versatile track runner. Whether I was needed for a 50-yard dash, or a 4-mile relay, I could usually step in and take up the challenge. I had no idea at the time that some important lessons would be learned during those years that would help me both as a mother and as an NACD Developmentalist. I had a great coach who would harp on a specific phrase every time it was my turn to compete. Right before the race, with great intensity, he would remind me “Use your head; know your race and set your pace.”
So often, I think about giving those same words to mothers on my caseload. Use your head; know your race, and set your pace. In our family I have had to run multiple races at various paces. Many of you share similar challenges in your own household. It was a marathon that first brought us to NACD. I am the very proud mother of a 19-year-old brain-injured son who has far surpassed the original prognosis that was given to us. Never walk, never talk, never see were words that he chose to ignore and NACD gave us the means by which to surpass them. In a beautiful irony, he is actually in training to someday run his own version of a marathon. He has now completed a few 5K races and plans to start with a 10k after recovering from upcoming oral surgery. However, our race did not get us to this point in the time of a dash. Evan has been a marathon on program as well. I was given some very wise consul after having been on program for 6 months. It seems that I had forgotten that advice that my Jr. High coach had given me. I had started program with Evan is such a state of desperation that I tried to begin the race as a sprint. My pink sheets were sent in with seven days of at least 90% accomplished on a regular basis. Bob was wise in reminding me that we had a long race to run and that I needed to pace myself in order to finish it and remain sane. In watching marathon runners on television, I always notice the people on the sidelines as they cheer the runner on and hand them water. For me, it has been you guys, the NACD families who have cheered us on in our race. I got involved early on volunteering with NACD and then came on staff a few years later. Being closely involved gave me a wonderful benefit in getting to see so many other children doing well and running their own races with great determination. There were times when our progress slowed down a little bit, but we kept running. And as you would come in with your children, it was just the push we needed to keep up the race. I often think that without this involvement and without you guys cheering us on, we might have run the pace of a sprint and died out somewhere along the way. Many of us have marathons and we have to remember that it may take time to reach our destination.
Now about the many sprints I have run along this course of parenting through NACD. In finding help for one son, my other four sons have had their lives transformed beyond measure. Of the four non-brain injured, two of them had significant learning difficulties. They were my sprints. To drag out their races could have caused great difficulty in getting them to their finish lines. My oldest, if not for NACD, could have been a poster child for Ritalin. He was hyper-active, low processing, hyper auditory and mixed dominant; a recipe for frustration at the age of six and a half. By the time he was eight, we had built a much more efficient brain and he was off and running. With a sprint like this, you want to start fast, run hard and leave the worries behind in the dust. To drag this race out makes it miserable. It is like one of those nightmares where your feet are moving and all you do is stand still.
Now that I am older, and wiser, I continue in my races with my children. While Evan will always be my marathon child, the others today seem to vary between fast and furious spurts of running to glorious walks in the park. The walks in the park occur when I have done the work to increase the processing and organize the brain and then I get to enjoy the scenery. One of these recent walks in the park was getting the news that my High School Senior had, for the second year in a row, won the Gold Medal Award at the Academic Decathlon. For those of you who are not familiar with an Academic Decathlon, this is a competition of top performing students who come together and are tested in various categories. In our town, we are at a disadvantage in that we do not have classes dedicated to these students that prepare them all year to compete. Our resources are spent on the students who cannot pass their state mandated standardized testing. We had to compete with schools that specialize in these high performing students and who prepare them all year for this meet. What my son received were 5 huge binders full of information. Fortunate for him, his processing skills and the work that we did with him as a child created the ability to be self taught and developed an individual who thirst for knowledge. While he only medalled in a few of the individual subjects, both years he received the highest scores for his subjects combined, therefore overall all first place. He is my walk in the park.
Whichever race you are running with your children, remember that it is a worthy course that you have set upon. Remember that you have coaches to lead the way and you have a crowd cheering you on just as you feel you can run no more. And, when looking at the finish line: use your head, know your race, and set your pace.