Musings on Highway 1

Sign near a rare patch of trees

I’ve never encountered a Highway 1 before. It felt kinda odd. I always thought road and highway numbers were like checks–they just jumped to bigger numbers so the other highways would be impressed. But here we are on a sweltering July Saturday rolling along on ND Highway 1. It seems a tad surreal. But then again any road trips in North Dakota seem surreal to me.

I was born and raised, for the most part, in the great state of Ohio. There a drive involves changes of scenery and terrain. There you will find rolling hills with dense trees breaking open on to lush farmland. Even the farms seem to spring up between tree lines that are thick and tall with old growth. And the farmland will break into cities if you drive for a bit.

Did you know Ohio has more cities over 100,000 population than any other state? At least it used to. My useless facts about my home state are kinda dated since I haven’t called it home since 1990. But suffice it to say I’m a city girl and I like even my country well covered in beautiful trees and rolling terrain.

But here in the plains state of North Dakota you’ll find flat. Lots and lots of flat farms and grassland dotted by short trees only when water is nearby and only when they’ve been planted by man. Occasionally a tiny town will break up the flat expanse. And I do mean occasionally. The last number I heard had the entire state’s population matching that of my home town of Columbus, Ohio.

My husband finds comfort in the flat surroundings. He likes being able to see what’s on the horizon. I feel exposed and a little hopeless that our destination will ever get any closer. When we visit Ohio, he feels claustrophobic–scared the close trees by each twisting road moving up and down the rolling landscape hides a deer waiting to jump out and meet our bumper. I feel calm; nestled in a green blanket of God’s beauty.

Time to stop now. We’ve encountered some modicum of civilization here in the great expanse of Highway 1. Better take advantage of bathrooms and cold drinks while we can. I wonder if they have Frappaccinos?

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Lump in my Throat

The Special Olympics is a wonderful thing. In case you don’t know me, you should know my son, Ryan, has high-functioning autism. Through the Special Olympics he has discovered his love for participating, competing, and learning new sports. It has provided fantastic opportunities that we could not have afforded on our budget with four kids. With this great organization he’s become a bowler, a snow skier, a swimmer, and, this summer, a golfer.
Yet sometimes when I take him to a public event like a swim meet or the recent Torch Run, I have found myself struggling with an emotion that until now I could not name. It brought a lump to my throat and raised an instinct of protection.  Today, watching proudly as he enjoyed swimming in the State Swim Meet, I figured it out—it’s grief.
By participating in something so wonderful and yet so public, I am admitting my son is different. My son has a disability.  He’s not like most of the other kids.
I’ve had this conversation with myself before—many times in fact.  A long time ago I realized grief was a normal part of the roller coaster ride of having a child with autism. I think when you are raising a special needs child, life is a process of joy and grief; of encouraging them to reach for more and accepting limitations; of hoping for miracles and finding joy in the present reality.

Ryan with his former babysitter and Miss Sturgis (SD), Lexi.
I am so proud of my son. Ryan is an amazing boy. His autism does not define him but it is part of who he is. As a mom perhaps this is something I will always struggle with. For now, I will continue to help him find exciting opportunities like Special Olympics that make accommodations for him while pushing him to be his best. And perhaps when I feel that lump in my throat at one of these events and feel like shedding a few tears, I just will.